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Student Senate discusses inclusivity on campus

| Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Notre Dame’s Student Senate challenged vice president for student affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding to outline the University’s plan for inclusivity at Monday’s meeting, the first of the semester.

The discussion followed the school-sponsored, diversity survey, which revealed nearly 50 percent of students have experienced adverse treatment based on their identity while on campus.

Hoffmann Harding presented the results of the Inclusive Campus Survey to the Student Senate, stating that non-white, non-religious, non-citizen and LGBTQ students reported feeling a lower sense of belonging at Notre Dame than their peers.

Hoffmann Harding called the reports of adverse treatment “sobering,” and expressed the University’s desire to change the culture.

“Adverse treatment is happening widely, and we would like to bring that down in terms of frequency,” Hoffmann Harding said.

Alumni Hall senator, sophomore Daniel Rottenborn raised concerns about the adverse treatment that transgender, non-binary and disabled students reported experiencing in the classroom.

“I noticed that 25 percent of the negative experiences [transgender and non-binary] students and the students with disabilities came from faculty and staff,” Rottenborn said, asking Hoffmann Harding whether University administration had “done workshops or staff evaluations on professors or reconsidered [its] hiring practices.”

Hoffmann Harding said that while the University is “not there yet in terms of [developing] specific strategies around hiring professors [in response] to the survey,” she believes other University initiatives will increase staff and faculty sensitivity.

“I know that each of the deans have put together their own inclusion and diversity plans long before we put together this survey,” Hoffmann Harding said.

She added that the Office of the Provost is developing “incentives and mechanisms that could help us either diversify our pool of potential faculty or make sure that faculty who are on hiring committees are well-trained in terms of issues of implicit bias.”

Notre Dame’s Catholic tradition could present a host of challenges for the University as it transitions to a contemporary model of inclusivity, student senators said, specifically highlighting the Church’s stance on LGBTQ issues.

“It seems almost natural that certain groups would feel less welcome at a Catholic institution,” Fisher Hall senator, sophomore David Morris said.

But Hoffmann Harding pushed back on that notion.

“I believe deeply that our mission actually is an asset and not a deterrent in terms of thinking about building that community that we all hope to be,” she said.

The administration only has about a year before its progress will be evaluated by another Inclusive Climate Survey in the spring of 2020, Hoffmann Harding said.

She explained to the Student Senate that the school’s only measure of progress will be the 2020 survey results. Hoffmann Harding said that the 2020 deadline “feels to me like it’s coming awfully fast.”

“Some [solutions] I think will be no-brainers. We talked about if somebody doesn’t know where to report [adverse treatment], that’s something we could do a publicity campaign on,” Hoffmann Harding said.

However, Hoffmann Harding does not anticipate that all of the problems revealed by the spring 2018 survey will be addressed by spring of 2020.

“So much of this is an ongoing and long-term conversation on perhaps bigger changes on campus,” she said. “I’m going to do everything to share information and actions we take and hope for improved results the next time around, but it’s not going to prevent us from doing it again.”

In the meantime, the Student Senate is working to improve the campus climate. The senators broke into committees to discuss solutions to a variety of issues on campus, including issues lower-income students face.

While neither the senators nor Hoffmann Harding offered a panacea to the problems with Notre Dame’s campus climate, all said they are committed to progress.

“This is all of us growing together,” Hoffmann Harding said.

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