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Stand up, show up

| Thursday, April 20, 2017

As a white, female, middle class student, I’m a part of every majority at Notre Dame, except one: I’m not Catholic. While this sometimes causes some minor “inconveniences” (to dramatize) like having to notify my Foundations Theology professor that I had a different version of the Nicene Creed memorized for our exam or missing out on jokes about awkward encounters at dorm masses while exchanging the sign of the peace, it has not done much to directly interfere with my experience here. I wish I could say that other students who are part of various minorities on campus have had similarly inconsequential problems here, but unfortunately I cannot.

For spring break the past two years, I went on a Center for Social Concerns immersion trip to Chicago and St. Louis with the Realities of Race seminar. On these trips and throughout the preceding classes, we spoke frankly and openly about race in our country. We heard directly from people who were a part of the unrest Ferguson. We were confronted by the systemic nature of racism. We were sometimes overwhelmed with hopelessness, and other times with hope. It was intense to say the least.

I would have hoped that at least Notre Dame provided a safe place from this strife. Some naive part of me wishes that my friends and fellow students weren’t suffering in the bubble of this campus. However, personal testimony from people of color on this campus forced me to confront the truth: Notre Dame has a race problem, just like the rest of the nation. Many of my friends told me that they seriously considered transferring after their first year, or even their first semester. Some told me they are frustrated that they are automatically placed on the multicultural student programming services email ListServ, but no white students are, furthering barriers for expanded cultural conversations and understanding. Some feel cheated by Spring Vis, an admitted student weekend specifically for racial minorities, where a few of my friends say they were given an unrealistic and idyllic idea of racial relations on campus. Some feel singled out by their classmates, often assumed to be athletes whether they are or not. I was told stories of microaggressions many are confronted with every day. They reference the blatant racist comments on Yik Yak the year before I was here. As a person coming from a place of privilege, it is my duty to not only listen to these stories, but also to believe them.

Our student body jokes about our racial diversity, or lack thereof, all of the time. But for those of us who don’t actually belong to these minority groups on campus, it’s not really seen as a big deal, just a joke. These are members of our supposed Notre Dame family. We have no right to reduce their situation to a joke, particularly when we go on to not recognize the struggles they might have or work to make it better. If nothing else, our school’s Catholic mission should draw us to action, to fight for the life and dignity of all human persons, and all of the other tenets of Catholic Social Tradition.

Obviously, I can’t assume to speak for everyone, particularly not for those I do not know, and particularly as a white person. I sincerely hope that these have not been the experiences of all of our students of color. I hope that many of them have thrived and enjoyed their time on this campus, as I wish for every student. But I have been confronted with too much to ignore our problems. If there is one thing I learned from my discussions over spring break, it is that the most important thing is to not remain silent, but to stand up and show up for people and movements that need your support.

I chose to start acting by writing this letter, but there are a number of ways to act, even while here on our campus. Go to the events of cultural clubs. Take classes in Africana Studies or Latino Studies or Poverty Studies or Gender Studies (the list goes on). Read something like “White Like Me” by Tim Wise or “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates or “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. Watch documentaries like “13th,” which is on Netflix. Mostly, just try to have discussions about it. If reading this article leads you to have even one conversation about race either on our campus or more broadly, it has done what I intended. Our campus, our University, is an amazing place and we have all worked hard to get here. It’s time to start making sure everyone can experience it to the fullest extent possible.

Abby Ferguson
April 18


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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