Diversity council in the wrong?
Letter to the Editor | Monday, December 7, 2015
“Through collaborative research, programming and service, Diversity Council of Notre Dame explores issues of diversity at the University of Notre Dame in an effort to promote awareness, understanding, and acceptance of all differences that make up the Notre Dame community.”
Last Monday, the Diversity Council of Notre Dame voted to force its elected secretary to resign. Diversity Council is a branch of Student Government consisting of representatives from thirty different diversity-related clubs on campus. Lauren Hill, Diversity Council’s former secretary, had served as an executive member of Diversity Council for the entirety of this semester, and also acts as an officer of Native American Student Association of Notre Dame and as an intern for Multicultural Student Programs and Services (MSPS). She devoted the entirety of her time outside of schoolwork to diversity-related issues. One might wonder why Hill could be ousted from a club that she so deeply cares for.
On Nov. 16, Hill published a viewpoint, “Perfect Place to Grow.” This article described her personal disagreement toward the “ND for Mizzou” rally, which transpired on Nov. 11, the previous Wednesday. This rally had been meant to show Notre Dame students in solidarity with the Mizzou demonstrations.
Immediately, Notre Dame students who felt targeted by the article filled various social media outlets with upset, angry and disappointed posts. This reaction was at least partially warranted; Hill’s article certainly could have been written better and made better points. The subjects of racial inequalities and discrimination are, for good reasons, very sensitive for many students at Notre Dame.
Hill’s article was put up for discussion at the first Diversity Council meeting following its publishing. At the beginning of this discussion, Hill read a statement to all 30 members of the general assembly, stating, among other things, that if any of them wished to discuss her article, she would gladly meet with them immediately. However, at no point during the entire next week did anyone reach out to her. Several motions were made at this meeting, including the demand that Hill resign.
A week later, Diversity Council assembled again for its general meeting. There were several votes throughout this meeting, two of which addressed the previous week’s motion for Hill to resign. After much discussion, Hill called for a vote over whether her article violated the Diversity Council mission statement. Of those who voted, 67 percent said the article did indeed contradict it. Immediately after, a vote to force Hill to resign was called. Hill left the room. To force her resignation, a tw0-thirds majority was required — 66 percent. Hill is now no longer on Diversity Council.
This is unacceptable.
Hill’s errors in her article and the sensitivity of the subject which she wrote about do not forgive Diversity Council for its ousting of Hill. Its reasoning for removing Hill from not only its executive council but also its general meetings is that her article violated Diversity Council’s mission statement, as written above. This could not be further from the truth.
Hill’s article explicitly makes no mention of race; she solely focuses on her problems with the singular ND for Mizzou rally. In fact, the only time race was brought into the discussion was by the response article, “We Are Seeds,” which made assumptions about Hill’s race and was signed by many members of Diversity Council. Hill makes no mention of her agreement or disagreement with the central Missouri protests, no mention of her opinions on topic such as white privilege or racial oppression. Hill should absolutely be allowed to disagree with one rally while agreeing with the overall message that the rally is attempting to promote.
Her article was shared by many on social media and accused of undermining racial relations and the good that the rally was attempting to do. Can Hill not disagree with a rally while agreeing with the overall message that the rally intends to promote? Do we live in a society where we must agree with every aspect of a message, including its means of spreading that message, to agree with that overall message?
Further, the event Hill’s article addressed was not endorsed by Diversity Council or MSPS. If the event was run by clubs Hill was responsible for representing, a highly public Observer article disagreeing with the ND for Mizzou rally would have been inappropriate action. The reality is that her disagreeing with an event completely independent of her clubs should be entirely fine, but Diversity Council still punished her in the worst way possible for writing the article.
Finally, Hill was given little real chance to defend herself; members of Diversity Council attacked Hill and her article on the basis of the offense it caused and the assumption that her opinions were wrong because they contradicted the majority. While Hill could have defended herself more vigorously in the meeting and against members of Diversity Council, nothing she said would have mattered. The council was unwilling to accept a difference of opinion in their community without suppression. Diversity Council was not interested in understanding what Hill meant in her article, but more interested in punishment for what they saw as a blatant disregard for their mission statement.
Before voting for her resignation, not one of the thirty members of Diversity Council directly confronted Hill in person, even when she offered to explain her beliefs to each one of them at any point. Hill was subjected to a guilty-until-proven-innocent mentality in which her guiltiness was based on her difference of opinion.
For a move as meaningful as forcing an officer to resign, one would like to imagine that Hill would have at least been given the benefit of the doubt that she agrees with the overall message of the ND for Mizzou rally because she is involved in so many extracurricular activities involving diversity. No matter how much Hill explained herself, nothing would have changed that Diversity Council members saw her article as wrong and therefore must vote her off the Council.
Hill was voted into her officer position and was voted into that position for good reasons. If members of Diversity Council wished not to elect her in the next officer election cycle, they were absolutely free to do that without controversy. If every politician was impeached or ousted from their job the moment they said a controversial opinion, there would be few politicians. The way Diversity Council acted is an absolute mockery on any form of proper political process.
At the end of the day, Hill was free to write her article. Diversity Council was free to force her to resign. Just because you can do something, however, does not make it the right thing to do. Unfortunately, Diversity Council did not do the right thing.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.