Increasing racial and religious diversity
Letter to the Editor | Friday, April 27, 2018
Recently, The Observer published a letter which captured a major flaw of Notre Dame: the lack of diversity. The authors of this open letter, Wonseok Lee, Somin Jo, Meghan O’Leary, Bruce Nakfoor, Brittany Cahill and Connor Delaney, emphasized the disparity in not only race, but also in socioeconomic diversity. The fear of homogenization at Notre Dame has resonated with many, as the authors of the open letter recognized that the lack of diversity in the students and staff is detrimental and causes students to be “trapped in the bubble.” Today, this open letter serves as a response. A response that we hope explains the deeper reasons behind why Notre Dame is lacking diversity and the implications that this has on students, faculty and the nation.
The Notre Dame demographics are congruent with the Catholic makeup in the United States. As seen in a recent census, the black Catholic population makes up approximately three percent of the nation’s Catholic population. Current statistics show that the University of Notre Dame is 3.8 percent black or African American. One could extrapolate from this information that the majority of black or African Americans at Notre Dame would identify as Catholic. You may be thinking: Everyone knows Notre Dame is 80 percent Catholic, how is this surprising? The fact is: It’s not surprising. It is the core Catholic identity that Notre Dame presents that is driving the diversity rates dangerously low.
Notre Dame being such a strong Catholic institution will naturally attract those who identify as Catholic. But, it is clear that a prominently white Catholic population will consequently result in a clear majority of white students at Notre Dame. However, it is imperative to realize why the Catholic identity is historically, and arguably currently, incompatible with the African American population.
The Catholic Church in the United States has had a “long, sad history of supporting the racial divide” as the Most Rev. Edward K. Braxton describes it. From Catholic priests ignoring the atrocities of slavery (even owning their own slaves), to slave owners shouting verses from the Bible while whipping their slaves, to the Catholic Chief Justice Robert Taney’s signing of the Dred Scott decision, the Catholic Church has not fully supported the black population. Sadly, the remnants of the Catholic Church’s complacency in healing the racial divide are present at Notre Dame.
The next time you walk by Touchdown Jesus ask yourself: Why is he depicted as white? Or maybe when you sit in the golden Basilica, see if you can find any black saints, angels or depictions of God. Even as you walk into the building that has given Notre Dame its fame — the Golden Dome — rip your eyes away from the gold-enshrined dome and spot the murals lining the walls. There it is. Christopher Columbus converting Native Americans. Is this the image of Catholicism that Notre Dame wants to convey? The detrimental sentiments of manifest destiny and white exceptionalism that have created a painful history between whites and people of color are still shown at our University. How can we strive to create a diverse student body when there are still prominent shards of the broken history between people of color and the white Catholic?
Notre Dame can actively maintain its spiritual identity while increasing diversity by creating better accommodations for black students on campus, many of whom are Protestant Christians. The theological and cultural differences create a rift on campus that is not adequately addressed and makes many black students feel alienated. We believe that it will do the University more good than harm to bring chaplains of other Christian traditions to campus, as well as consider creating more opportunities for Christians from other denominations to express their faith on campus without being culturally alienated. While we understand there are services and programs like this in existence, we believe that there could be a better advancement of this agenda to help make students of color feel at home at our Catholic university.
The implications of the University’s inaction to adequately address the lack of diversity on campus will only serve to heighten racial tension. As stated on Notre Dame’s webpage, “Notre Dame has a unique spirit. It is traditional, yet open to change.” Well, it is time to do exactly that. Notre Dame can be traditional — supporting the Catholic traditions of love, hope, community and dignity of all. But also, it is time to change the standards of Notre Dame in order to stay in line with these traditions. The University must expand the diversity on campus in the student body, faculty and thought. It is time for the administration to realize the continued preference of Catholic students during admission may be detrimental to all.
We must strive for the improvement of Notre Dame.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.