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Student senate criticizes lack of diversity, inclusivity on campus

| Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Leaders from the Notre Dame student senate delivered a critique of what they call the University’s “blind spots” regarding inclusivity on campus on Monday evening.

“If we have an administration that’s hell-bent on having a majority white, conservative, Catholic, wealthy student body, then there’s not much we can do to change that,” Morrissey Hall senator Patrick Paulsen said.

Student government leaders are preparing to deliver a report to the student affairs subcommittee of the Notre Dame Board of Trustees on Thursday.

Chair of the Student Diversity Council, senior Alyssa Ngo said many first year students on the Asian-American Winter Retreat said they were considering transferring schools because of the University’s exclusive environment.

“We have a lot of minority students who are miserable here,” Ngo said.

Some student leaders suggested the University may try to dismiss criticisms about inclusivity based on the results of the Inclusive Campus Survey, which found that 85 percent of students feel comfortable at Notre Dame.

The survey results presented two different narratives regarding the campus climate, one in which most students feel included and another in which minority students feel uncomfortable.

The underlying question of Thursday’s meeting is “which narrative will [the University] believe,” student government chief of staff Bri Tucker said.

The senators discussed potential solutions to improve campus inclusivity, focusing on the roles that both students and faculty play in excluding vulnerable students.

Senators deliberated over potential reforms to the Moreau First-Year Experience curriculum. The course was implemented four years ago as a required course for all first-year students. The Moreau curriculum explores issues of diversity and inclusion, making it a key element of the University’s campaign to make Notre Dame a more welcoming environment for minority students.

“Obviously Moreau is not a silver bullet for all these issues on our campus, but it’s currently the means with which the University is trying to address some of them,” student body vice president Corey Gayheart said.

Many senators stated that the current structure of the Moreau First-Year Experience course is not conducive to organic or productive conversations on hot-button topics such as race and gender.

“I really wonder if a class taught by a professor is going to change your opinion,” sophomore and Fisher Hall senator DC Morris said. “People are going to view that as forced indoctrination into a culture.”

Senators suggested shifting the Moreau course to a student-run model, with upperclassmen facilitating discussions with first-year students. Other senators said that discussion groups sponsored by individual dorms could be more effective than a class, referencing Keenan Hall’s “Man-day Nights” and Alumni Hall’s “Man Time for the Boys” as successful examples.

But Tucker indicated that some students may not feel fully comfortable discussing personal topics in their residence halls.

“A lot of the adverse treatment that students identified feeling [took place] in the dorms,” Tucker said.

Senators said improving dialogue between students will not solve all of the University’s problems with inclusivity, saying that the University will also have to examine its administrative policies and practices.

Ngo proposed that the University could tangibly improve inclusion by increasing funding for the Gender Relations Center and placing more diverse artwork in new dorm chapels. Ngo also called for increased diversity among resident assistants and faculty.

However, Gayheart said that increasing this diversity may be difficult given a variety of “institutional challenges,” including the University’s desire to hire Catholic faculty. Additionally, Tucker argued that the lack of diversity within the University Board of Trustees contributes to flawed hiring practices.

“Not having [diverse] voices at the table can lead to potential blind spots,” Tucker said.

Although many senators said they were skeptical that the University would make substantive changes, Tucker said they had reason to remain hopeful.

“Change doesn’t happen overnight,” Tucker said. “I don’t want anyone to feel discouraged.”

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