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Accepting diversity

| Wednesday, September 6, 2017

I’ve often been asked by friends, relatives, hopeful high schoolers and their concerned family members what diversity means on Notre Dame’s campus. I’ve faltered in my attempt to describe it, never having had enough words or the right words to describe the experience. It won’t be a far stretch to call diversity on campus quite limited. If there wasn’t much to talk about, what could one say?

Students who are perceived and perceive themselves as different often walk a fine line of retaining their individuality and blending in. In a sea of white, it can often seem daunting to flaunt your shade. As a shy freshman, I remember having initial reservations about getting involved with cultural clubs on campus. I had the irrational fear that it would not only limit me from exploring the remainder of the “Notre Dame experience” but also that I would be perceived solely on the color of my skin. As I learned what the average Notre Dame student was like, I fixated over every difference, big and small, in our lifestyles and our histories. The consequent denial of acknowledging our differences was my method of avoiding being the “token minority” in class debates about race, immigration and religion.

My insecurities were laid aside during a chance conversation with an endearing senior who expressed going through a similar sentiment of confusion her freshman year. Conversing with her, I realized that by avoiding my interests and curiosity in order to fit in, I was probably going against the very core of what the Notre Dame experience stood for. With her help, I discovered the small but vibrant diversity at Notre Dame. The students I met had found ways of interweaving their identities into the Notre Dame story. I realized how no two student narratives were exactly the same and that these students had found ways to celebrate their uniqueness, rather than shy away from it. Doing so had not made them any less of a Domer or a Fighting Irish. I found people dedicated to using the spotlight, that being different at Notre Dame puts on them, to pursue engaging conversations and constructive actions on issues important to them. And most importantly, they showed me how being involved with their cultural clubs along with their other commitments had not limited their Notre Dame experience, but had instead, enriched it.

There is no denying that diversity, at Notre Dame, is still a conversation in its growing stages. But in today’s troubling times, I believe it’s a conversation worth having. Given the burgeoning vibrant community and the inclusive spirit of the Domer Family, I have faith that the conversation won’t end here and that it will be steered in the right direction.

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

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About Vaishali Nayak