Student government, administration discuss routes to address inclusivity survey
Claire Rafford | Tuesday, February 12, 2019
Student government leadership met with members of the Notre Dame administration and Board of Trustees to discuss the results of the Inclusive Campus Climate Survey released in October.
Student body president Gates McGavick, student body vice president Corey Gayheart and chief of staff Briana Tucker, all seniors, discussed the problems the survey presented and potential solutions with vice president for student affairs Erin Hoffman Harding and chair of student affairs subcommittee on the board of trustees Anne Thompson.
The main survey result that McGavick, Gayheart and Tucker discussed with the administration was that the majority of discrimination that Notre Dame students faced was classified as student-to-student.
“It’s a very intangible problem, and we’re trying to come at it with tangible solutions, which is obviously a good thing but we want to do it in an organic way,” Gayheart said.
One of the areas that the students want to address is the structure and attributes of the Moreau class, McGavick said.
“We talked about some tangible ways that we felt we could improve on the results of the inclusive campus climate survey,” McGavick said. “One idea that we were discussing in senate, then brought to Erin, was having student leaders interact with Moreau in some capacity, maybe not fully teaching but leading some lessons and kind of trying to build more student-to-student connections in important places like Moreau, as opposed to teacher-to-student.”
Gayheart added that some of the specific changes they suggested making to the Moreau class include adding a student mentor program to the class, making the class pass/fail, adding bystander training to the class and making sure the class makeup is diverse.
“One of the issues that we heard about when we were discussing Moreau with different people was, second semester, there was a university staff member teaching a class with 13 males and one female,” he said. “It’s extremely difficult to have a conversation on gender relations at Notre Dame if you have a class makeup of that. And also we need to be sure that we’re not tokenizing certain people within these classrooms as well and tokenizing their experience, but it still brings up an important point that the classes need to be representative of the student body as a whole.”
Gayheart said making Moreau a pass/fail course could help take some of the pressure off students and promotes dialogue between students.
“We feel that the grade actually hinders high-quality conversation,” he said.
Another issue student government hopes to address in response to the survey is diversity in leadership roles on campus, specifically in regards to residence hall staff.
“We also focused a lot on residence life, so diversifying hall staff and working to form more inclusive financial policies that allow students to take advantage of opportunities within the residence hall and not be financially exclusive,” Gayheart said.
McGavick said that the time commitment involved with leadership combined with the lack of fiscal support can make it difficult for students who need to have a job on campus.
“There are kids here who have a full class load but also have to take a job on campus, and then there’s just not enough hours in the day to do a high-level student government or RA [position],” he said.
Tucker echoed McGavick, saying the leaders suggest offering some kind of financial incentive or stipend in order to make it more possible for students from diverse backgrounds to hold leadership or hall staff positions.
“Everyone’s not made to have a job, be a student and do this. It’s very taxing,” Tucker added. “That shouldn’t be the standard for you to be able to participate and want to have a seat at the table. And so making sure that there are financial considerations, because we do work a lot and this is very demanding, and it’s a lot to ask of a student to do this full time and also work 20 hours a week but also be a student.”
Gayheart said, in addition to diversifying people in leadership roles, it is important to make sure that all students feel welcome in their residence hall communities.
“Part of it is financial incentive for socioeconomic inclusivity,” he said. “But another part as well is making sure our residence hall communities are welcoming for all, no matter their race, religion, background and so again, that’s a very intangible concept … but it is important to make sure that everyone feels welcome in these communities and everyone’s voice feels valued, and we feel that a lot of these more tangible steps will make students feel more welcome in these places.”
McGavick said that the administration and board seem willing to financially support methods of increasing diversity in leadership roles.
“Erin and Ann both agree that there can’t be any financial barriers to kids who want to get involved in extracurricular activities, especially student leadership at Notre Dame,” he said. “I think they really heard us there, and they expressed a willingness repeatedly to spend money on issues that we felt were important, so hopefully we’ll possibly see some movement in that area.”
In addition to these measures, Gayheart said student government is committed to increasing club funding, especially for groups that focus on diversity, like the Gender Relations Center and the Office of Student Enrichment.
Tucker said the group framed their proposal around three values — accountability, consistency and leadership.
“We want the University’s mission and values to be consistent, so it’s not just starting with welcome weekend or just heard one time, it’s continually being reinforced in a way that’s genuine, so that students feel empowered to hold their peers accountable, and that all kind of stems back to leadership,” Tucker said. “We need, obviously, student leaders to help with this, but also leadership from the administration to really walk the walk, if you will, in regards to that.”
McGavick added that students will have to work with the administration to truly improve the results of the survey.
“We just feel like the community can only be improved by forging stronger relationships between students and the leaders in our administration,” McGavick said. “As the adults and as the people in charge of the administration, they’re the ones that we look to for guidance on what kind of culture and community this should be.”
Hoffman-Harding said in an email that the University will be hosting student focus groups in order to gain feedback on ways to improve the campus climate at Notre Dame.
“The kind of climate shift we’re aiming for, in which students of all backgrounds and identities feel they belong and no one experiences adverse treatment, will require a campus-wide response and efforts from staff, faculty and students alike,” she said.
Gayheart said that students will have to be honest with each other in order to truly understand the varied experiences that make up the Notre Dame community.
“Ultimately, it also comes down to honesty,” he said. “Our students have to be honest with each other, they have to be honest if someone doesn’t understand a problem another person faces. That’s okay, but it’s a learning experience, and I think we all have to be honest in our assumptions about people. We have to be honest in our lived experiences, and we have to be honest in addressing problems when we come across them, because that’s what it’s going to take to change this place for the better.”