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Student leaders use forums to shape report

Amanda Michaels | Monday, January 17, 2005

In an effort to make their upcoming Board of Trustees report as informed by student opinion as possible, student body president Adam Istvan, student body vice president Karla Bell and chief executive assistant Dave Baron organized three forums to address the campus’ hot-button diversity issues.

The trio examined the facets of racism at Notre Dame with 35 students from a variety of classes, ethnicities and orientations Sunday night in the first of these informal discussions. The subjects of heterosexism and sexism will be explored during tonight and Tuesday’s sessions, respectively.

Participants were split up into three smaller groups, each exploring a set of predetermined questions that included, “At what point was the first time at Notre Dame you noticed race mattered?’ and “Do you find the administration to be welcoming and willing to follow through with initiatives embracing diversity? What about Student Activities, or student government?”

“The things that was great about these focus groups was that these were the people that were committed to the issue of racism,” Baron said. “They were especially impassioned because of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Meeting with these people tonight was an inspiration for anyone in student government, and motivation to make this report something to mobilize around.”

Though Baron said that they already have a definite direction for the BOT report, the testimonials heard at these forums will be used to supplement and further direct its aims.

“The focus of the report is pretty set, so this is mainly a chance for the students to influence it, for us to find the parts where the most stress needs to be,” he said.

As it stands, the February 3 report will broadly deal with “Issues of Equality and Ensuring a Welcoming Environment For All,” and will be divided into two-parts – “Situation” and “Solution”.

Baron said that the plan was to make the report available for viewing a week in advance of the actual presentation, either through posting online or publication in The Observer.

“We want students to stand up with us on February 3 and show that some things need to change,” Baron said.

Istvan said that while they are prepared to handle 80 participants, they expect about 25 students tonight and Tuesday.

“The great thing about focus groups is that eight people can make a sizeable contribution,” Istvan added.

No particular section of the student population is being targeted to participate, and Baron said that while more minorities represented more than the University’s standard 20 percent at Sunday’s forum, the number of majority students present surprised him.

“We just want a diversity of opinions,” Baron said. “With the focus groups themselves, we’re looking for anyone who has an impassioned interest in one of the three categories to come give us their voice so we can make their voice known to the highest of the highest bodies at Notre Dame.”