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Trustees respond positively to diversity report

Meghanne Downes | Friday, February 4, 2005

Following a fall Board of Trustees report that received harsh criticism, trustees widely praised student government’s winter report, applauding its diversity theme and stating that it was one of the more comprehensive and researched presentations in recent history.

Student body vice president Karla Bell, chief executive assistant Dave Baron and co-founder of Sustained Dialogue Tessa Garcia delivered the report, entitled “Issues of Equality: Creating a Welcoming Endlioivironment for All, Part I: The Situation,”

Thursday afternoon as the first of a two-part presentation that explores racism, heterosexism and sexism at Notre Dame. For the upcoming spring report, student body president Adam Istvan, Bell and Baron intend to provide solutions for working towards increasing diversity on campus and addressing the question, “Can one be different at Notre Dame?”

Baron said this report is addressing and attempting to counter the popular stereotype that defines the Notre Dame student image as a straight, white, Catholic male.

Garcia stressed the majority at Notre Dame often does not understand the minority’s position or reactions, citing the firing of football head coach Tyrone Willingham as an example. Garcia said even though the firing was not racially motivated, the majority of students do not see the pain the event caused to minority students who viewed Willingham as their advocate.

Garcia also noted there is a demand within the student body to increase diversity education, citing the inability of students to register for professor [Alvin] Tillery’s Race and Ethnicity class, the overwhelming popularity of CSC seminars that cannot accommodate more than 75 percent of its applicants and the overabundance of over 400 applicants for only 35 diversity educator positions.

“We should give [students] the opportunity … We aren’t doing a good enough job if we have to expand classes and turn away diversity educators,” Garcia said.

Baron spoke mostly about heterosexism at Notre Dame and the “invisible minority,” adding that homosexuals have an “unwelcoming sense [that] they don’t have a place here.”

Baron said Notre Dame perpetuates this feeling through its Frosh-O activities and dorm dances that solely emphasize heterosexual relationships. Baron added that a distinction must be made between homosexual orientation and homosexual acts, stating there is wide confusion over this Church teaching throughout Notre Dame.

“As a Catholic university we have a responsibility to understand the other,” Baron said.

Bell focused her presentation primarily on sexism at Notre Dame and said women and men are treated unequally. She cited an example of inequality where men are allowed to conduct semi-annual “bun runs” but women were told they would be reprimanded if they conducted a similar run in their underwear.

“Women are treated like children, but expected to act like adults,” Bell said.

She added that in the classroom, certain male professors will selectively disregard a female student’s responses. However, she clarified this could be due to the fact the professor was from a foreign country or the ratio of men to women was high in his department.

Bell said this “atmosphere of sexism” varies across departments at Notre Dame, but emphasized certain departments needed more female role models as professors.

At the conclusion of the presentation Baron emphasized addressing diversity at Notre Dame should be one of the University’s primary goals.

“We’re talking about changing a culture here,” Baron said. “And that takes years … We want to create a Notre Dame where everyone can feel welcomed.”

The trustees responded very positively to the report. A 1996 Notre Dame graduate that was present for the report said a presentation on the topic of this nature would have been unprecedented in his time at Notre Dame.

The Observer has a policy of not attributing information or quotes to specific members of the Board.

The trustee added the fact that two of the three presenters, Baron and Bell, were members of the majority student population spoke volumes for how seriously the student body and its leaders regard this topic.

Another trustee implored the student government leaders to work actively with the Office of Student Affairs to explore avenues for utilizing University resources to fund additional diversity programs.

Bell drew on student government’s research to answer one trustee, who asked the leaders to put the report in context. He asked if issues of diversity are more difficult to overcome at Notre Dame than in society in general and if diversity problems at Notre Dame are being handled properly.

“In the focus groups [student government conducted],” Bell responded, “a lot of people expressed that it is more difficult here than at home.”

Baron added Notre Dame is making efforts to counteract diversity issues, but noted due to the upcoming presidential transition and recent diversity-focused events, now is the time for the University to recommit to diversity.

A trustee said the issue of diversity is a topic that generates discussion amongst the entire board, and applauded student government for having the courage to make the report.

Another trustee implored the students to make increasing diversity a permanent platform in student government especially since the dynamics and awareness of the Notre Dame student body are ever-evolving.

The meeting concluded with a trustee suggesting that student government identify some of the “diversity success stories” as role models and explore whether specific committees would more acutely direct the focus of improving diversity.