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Members encourage diversity discussions

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Student leaders brainstormed ideas on how to create a more inclusive Notre Dame family at Tuesday’s Council of Representatives (COR) meeting.

“My roommate is African American, and already this year she has had people automatically assume she’s an athlete here – which she is not,” sophomore class president Lulu Meraz said. “I know I’ve had people come up to me and comment on my being a Mexican.”

Meraz raised the problem of racial insensitivity at last week’s meeting. While possibly unintentional, the tension caused by this type of racism is what COR members targeted in Tuesday’s discussion.

“There are people who have a really hard time here,” Meraz said. “We need everyone to see that this is a family and that there are no distinctions.”

Students are careful not to come across as racist, Pangborn senator Sheena Plamoottil said, but this sometimes may lead to a lack of real discussion.

“A lot of times our community is a very polite community,” she said. “We’re afraid to rock the boat, to discuss important issues, in fears of offending someone. So instead nothing gets said.”

And without dialogue, representatives said, the problems persist.

Senior class president Sheldon Dutes explained how many dorms miss opportunities for change when they plan “multicultural” dorm events.

“I know my dorm [multicultural] events were activities like eating dinner at Casa Del Rio – but without learning anything about the Mexican culture in the process,” he said.

Students attended for a free meal, and the “multicultural experience” was more of a joke than a reality, he said.

Steve Cartwright, COR liaison from VOICE, agreed with Dutes.

“We can’t measure cultural openness by the number of ‘Soul Food Dinners’ planned and the number of Spike Lee movies watched,” he said.

Dutes said the problem is that students do not want to delve into intense, open discussion or confront serious issues.

“Whenever I tried to open a real discussion it got turned around,” he said. “I appeared [to be] the hypersensitive minority and the discussion went no where.”

Student Union treasurer Steve Friend said the word ‘multicultural’ makes students feel like they’re being educated. Dorms should show a culturally interesting movie without the pretense of a ‘cultural learning experience,’ he explained.

While HPC co-president Bryan Lowery said the Hall President’s Council does require multicultural events for dorms to be eligible for monetary awards – provided by Vice President for Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman – COR members agreed that multicultural awareness must be improved in the dorm setting.

Dutes recalled experiences of cultural insensitivity in his dorm and said he does not feel the problem can be solved with more extensive multicultural commissioner or RA training.

“If one person would stand up and say, ‘That comment is not cool,’ things could change,” he said. “I don’t think any more training could change anything. One person with one comment can change the atmosphere of a situation.”

Many group members felt freshman year was the place to start breaking down racial prejudices. COR members discussed the possibility of improving the diversity portion of the mandatory Contemporary Topics portion of the physical education rotation, but a limited time frame for the class makes thorough discussion difficult.

Chief executive assistant Liz Brown explained that the University has a committee looking into the possibility of mandating a Cultural Competency class for freshman in a few years. A full semester-long class, she said, would give professors ample time for in-depth coverage of the sociological issues present.

In other COR news:

u Tom Lamontagne was approved as the Academic Delegate for the College of Architecture.

u Joey Brown was confirmed as the Sophomore Class Liaison to Freshman Class Council.

u Ryan Ricketts was named Student Government Web site administrator.