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Ty firing dominates discussion

Katie Wagner | Thursday, February 3, 2005

The question of whether Tyrone Willingham’s firing was a black and white issue dominated the discussion of approximately 30 students and faculty in the Diversity Week edition of “Interrace.”

Students’ initial contributions to this discussion, entitled “Relationships from Adversity to Acceptance,” involved stories of negative interactions between Notre Dame students of different races and socioeconomic classes, resulting in biases toward particular groups.

“It gets a little bit scary when you keep encountering the negative things,” said junior Kachi Okoronkwo.

The rest of the discussion focused on the racial division of students that resulted from the firing of Willingham. Okoronkwo believed some focused on race rather than on the true issues behind Willingham’s firing.

“I felt like people were really trying to make it a race issue so we could diminish [the firing’s] importance,” said Okoronkwo.

Alan Green, an employee of the Notre Dame athletic department, said that Willingham had a positive impact on so many things on this campus that people in other parts of the country simply didn’t understand.

“It didn’t seem that it was taken into consideration enough to affect the decision [to fire Willingham],” he said.

Green also disapproved of the news media’s coverage of blacks’ reactions to the firing. According to Green, it wasn’t that the black community didn’t find ways to express their reasons for discontent, but that certain parts of their message were filtered out.

“The journalists chose what to publish,” said Green.

Christy Fleming, assistant professional specialist in the First Year of Studies, agreed that people developed uninformed opinions about the blacks community’s response to the firing

“To me [the Black Alumni’s statement on the firing] was stated very clearly,” said Fleming. “I think people didn’t get it, because they didn’t want to get it.”

She also said that because Willingham was one of only five black coaches in the nation, his being fired was, by necessity, a race issue.

Iris Outlaw, director of Multicultural Student Programs/Services, said that the discussion was an attempt to get people to sit back, listen, empathize and try to understand. Outlaw also said that it was interesting to see the enthusiasm of the students who bought and sold the Willingham shirts.

“You students really are the motor, the driving force behind this institution,” said Outlaw.