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Now is the time to make real the promises of diversity

Observer Viewpoint | Monday, February 26, 2007

Sitting in the auditorium of Hesburgh Library, enjoying the performances on stage, a black student turned to me and said something to the effect of, “You know, it’s not really like this. It’s not like this every weekend. They just do this to try to get people to come here.” I smiled and nodded, a bit confused, but also with a few of my suspicions confirmed. You see, I was at one of the series of events put together for Spring Visitation Weekend (Spring Vis) which brings in minority students for a visit to Notre Dame and showcases the diversity which is supposedly present at Notre Dame. I was there to watch several of my friends perform in their groups: First Class Steppers and Voices of Faith. While I was amazed all over again at how excellent both of these groups are, this fellow student’s comment brought questions back regarding diversity at Notre Dame and how we go about multicultural recruiting and, even more so, the integration of various ethnic groups here on campus.

These prospective students were surrounded by minorities in the auditorium; in fact I was a minority in a social setting for the first time at Notre Dame. However, once the doors opened, the reality of ND set back in. Despite the genuine efforts of the administration, this University is not diverse. Additionally, I have found that much of the “diversity” among undergraduates is literally at face value. Sure, we have students who look different, but does this really contribute to the goals of an academic environment? The number of students, and I certainly know several of them, who bring a diverse perspective to this campus is the benchmark we should be searching for. Simply using the ethnic background bubble of an application to imply a diverse pool of applicants is not enough. Shouldn’t we be looking for diverse religions as well as cultural and economic backgrounds for the discussion of issues in classes and around the campus to be well informed and have these viewpoints represented? Isn’t it a bit presumptuous and onerous to present minority prospective students with only the activities that are entirely composed of people that look like them? Doesn’t that then imply that once they are students, they must represent this demographic? Isn’t it a bit dated to think that students who come from a different ethnic background automatically come from a different cultural background?

Putting these questions aside for discussion in a larger venue, I’d like to discuss integration, a topic that I consider to be similar to but wholly independent of diversity. Our campus is not integrated. Walk through the dining halls and look at who is sitting with whom. Go to a folk choir or glee club concert, then go to a Voices of Faith concert. Before anyone gets on the defensive, I’m not accusing any groups of active discrimination. As a member of the cast of Ragtime as well as the other PEMCO musicals for the past three years, I know that this year was the first year that more than one or two black people even tried out for the show. However, due to proactive prodding, and perhaps a bit of coercion as the show’s opening approached, the cast became more integrated than any other performance group on campus. Professors and administrators alike commented on how this was one of the most integrated activities that they had ever seen here at Notre Dame.

It took work. It took work from the white majority and the minority groups alike. There were people upset at the show’s content. There were those in the black community that challenged the ‘blackness’ of those who participated in Ragtime. However, these issues were brought up and discussed, both among students and at the panel discussion that was held regarding these issues. Was everyone happy with the outcome? No, of course not. But the fact remains that this cast will hopefully prove to be a major mile marker in the campus’ growth toward better integration.

A word of caution: there’s no proof that effective integration will be inevitable or swift. History has proven this to be true. Anyone who has had a TV on post-Katrina has seen this to be the case. Here in our little microcosm of Notre Dame, though, we as students, faculty and administrators, can make diversity and integration work. We shouldn’t force integration of activities or suggest that just because any group is majority black or majority white that they aren’t trying hard enough. We simply need to ensure that we are actively creating an environment where black students don’t have to defend their actions when they participate in a mostly white group and vice versa. We must not pretend that the status quo is acceptable or justifiable.

For those who need a bit of inspiration, I suggest walking through the west end of LaFortune and glancing at the picture that speaks volumes more than the 860 words of this article: Father Hesburgh holding hands with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in defiance of persecution and ignorance. In order to affect positive social change, we must each day live this image.

In observance of Black History Month, the author urges you to, at the very least, read (and reread) the text of MLK’s “I Have A Dream Speech” from which this article’s title was composed. Will McAuliffe is a

senior political science major who

welcomes all comments and criticisms at [email protected]

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.