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A new challenge for a new year

| Thursday, January 24, 2019

During the fall semester, I went to a dinner organized to discuss a recent campus issue. The event was called by peers and attended by fellow leaders — students clearly passionate about activism and eager to work toward solutions. During the conversation, the problem of transparency came up, a common complaint about our university. In response, I mentioned the numerous focus groups, office hours and presentations various departments had hosted lately, and I commented on the poor student attendance, prompting the following dialogue with another guest:

“How were students supposed to know about these things? Were they advertised?”

“There was a campus-wide email sent out to the entire student body … ”

“We get so many emails though; it’s impossible to check them all. They should have physical signs so students can see it.”

“I mean, there were also table tents at all the dining hall tables, right where most people eat everyday.”

“But it would be nice to have a big central location where people can see notices.”

“Like the huge banners in LaFun? Or the big screen in Duncan?”

Notre Dame is home to wonderful, talented students who have both the ability and desire to be a force for good. Most of the people I talk to have great goals of improving their communities or leaving an impact on their respective future fields. Yet, it seems that despite these intentions, many of us fail to adequately seize the opportunities available to improve our current community, the Notre Dame campus. We complain to our friends and make suggestions about the way things should be, but when our opinion is solicited, we fall mysteriously silent. How many of us criticize the dining halls, but didn’t take the time to show up to the focus groups hosted by the Department of Student Life in the fall? We fault the administration’s accessibility, yet when three of our vice presidents choose to spend their evenings hanging out in our library and student centers to talk about campus climate, few students choose to access them. Why is this? I am well aware that among the student body, there is an attitude of cynicism and distrust towards university leadership, and I am sympathetic. It is of course frustrating to work hard on a proposal, only to have it shut down, or to hear stories about student reports being hushed up, and I have had my own experiences with these issues. However, over the years, the attitude I have found most personally productive is one that is realistic, yet optimistic. I am realistic about the fact that there are many problematic things about campus, and these things will likely not change without student action. Simultaneously, I am optimistic that student action can, in fact, create real change, and furthermore, I am convinced any activism work cannot be meaningfully pursued unless one genuinely trusts in the other side’s ability to change.

If you have given up on Notre Dame as a lost cause, then I suppose you are exempt from working to improve campus. In response, however, I would point to amazing accomplishments by fellow students which show change can occur. Sophomore Rachel Ingal, for example, worked tirelessly to get the recent trip to the Women’s March approved and organized, and on Sunday, NASA-ND scored a major victory in the protest against the Columbus murals, two things many doubted could ever happen on our campus. These successes were won through perseverance, dedication, and most of all, a commitment to taking action — a commitment I encourage all students on campus to make.

During Monday’s luncheon, I challenged the audience to ask themselves not whether they were doing just something, but if they were doing everything they could to fight against racism. I have chosen diversity and racial equality as my battle, but I believe this is a valuable question to ask yourself about whatever principle you hold most dear to your heart. For this new semester, I ask all of us — myself included — to reaffirm our principles, and do everything we can to prove we really stand for what we say we stand for. If we expect to graduate and go make a difference in the ‘real world,’ we must start with our immediate campus, which, like it or not, is our real world right now. At the luncheon, I was also asked what my recommendations for concrete action steps were, and admittedly, I failed to truly provide any. So, I will end with some here. Attend some lectures and educate yourself on a new topic. Approach your residence hall senator with a concern of yours, or, better yet, go to a Senate meeting in person. Email a student leader or member of the administration and ask to discuss an issue important to you. These may seem like small steps, but in time, they will lead to bigger ones until suddenly, you will find you have somehow forged a path. And in this way, we can show we are not just talking the talk, but finally, walking the walk.

Alyssa Ngo is a senior double-majoring in PLS and English, currently serving as the chair of Diversity Council. For comments, complaints or conversation, she can be reached at [email protected].

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

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