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In support of the faculty letter

| Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dear Notre Dame Student of Color,

When I read the letter from the faculty members, “On Hearing You Might Transfer,” I cried. Yes, me, a 23-year-old graduate cried in front of my computer screen as I was taken back through the tough times of my undergraduate years.

It seems that each year, there is an incident that happens and reinforces how racism still exists on campus. Upperclassmen can remember the chicken incident of 2012, and most of the current student body was present for Ann Coulter’s visit and the surrounding controversies last spring. Each incident hit the core of my being, and reminded me of how very few students of color are on campus. I felt isolated, that “us” vs “them” vibe in my core. At times, I felt inadequate. All the insecurities about whether I deserved to be there resurfaced. I questioned if the stereotypes made about the people of the same ethnicity as me were really true. No matter how hard I had managed to fight the imposter syndrome up to this point, I returned back to day 0, and had to convince myself of my abilities all over again.

The hard reality for me, at the time, was that I could not break stride. No matter the time, nature or gravity of the incident, the engine had to keep rolling. The 10-page problem set needed to be turned in, the research paper needed to be written and that test was not going to take itself. I never considered transferring; changing direction was not an option because there was a widowed mother in Dayton, Ohio, who had spent her life working hard to give me the opportunity to be where I was. I am not sure about the situation of each of you, but I suspect that you have various sources of pressure in addition to the casual, “I don’t want to fail my classes.” For those who find themselves in a situation close to mine, I want to share with you the steps I took. I hope they are of some sort of service to you.

First, find a way to express your anger. After each of the incidents I noted occurred, I was always furious, enraged and confused. These emotions are not the kind that I liked holding around, nor would I feel better by just letting time pass by. I figured out early on that I needed an outlet to express them, and for me this was working out in the Rock. There was something about lifting weights that was therapeutic. I would lift heavy, grunt louder than usual and drop weights just so that I would hear them make noise. I would have shouted if I could, but I think gym personnel would have been a bit alarmed. That was my way of letting the anger out of my body. Lifting weights is not necessarily the best outlet for everybody, but it served that purpose for me. Find a healthy outlet anger that best work for you.

Then, talk about it. Discussing the incidents is the best way to figure out how else you feel about them. However, discussing the events when anger still clouds your judgment doesn’t often lead to great conversations. Relieving yourself of the anger is essential to have a better understanding of how these incidents made you feel, and allows you to come to discussions often less defensive, more vulnerable and more honest than you might have been otherwise. I often had these discussions with my best friends because I felt most safe talking about it with them. Once, I wrote an anonymous monologue and submitted it to Show Some Skin right after an incident unfolded in class because I could not believe what I had heard. The key is to talk to whomever you feel most comfortable with about the topic, be they friends, professors or parents.

Lastly, and perhaps the most important of all, remember that you can get through this all. You were chosen among several thousands of students who applied from all over the country. You were picked because you proved to the administration that the efforts you put forth up until this point deserve the same considerations as those of your peers. Your application was not lesser than theirs, and theirs not more than yours: all of you were accepted.

The last point I will drive home is to remember that your being at Notre Dame means a lot to many people. It means the world to your family, and for the next generation of students of color, it means hope and bigger dreams. They can look up to you and say, “I, too, can make it to Notre Dame.” Let’s keep fueling their ability to dream big.

Irere Romeo Kwihangana

Class of 2014

Jan. 25

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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