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Observer Editorial: This problem cannot be prayed away. Do more

| Tuesday, June 2, 2020

We’ve heard their names with a rumble of outrage from the white and tri-campus communities for years: Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland — the list goes on and on. And now, George Floyd. For the Black community, outrage, activism and courage have been a permanent fixture. But now, it’s time for the white community — particularly, the predominantly white institutions with significant endowments, alumni and fans across the world — to use its platform to actively advocate for change. An NPR column called the past 10 years “A Decade of Watching Black People Die.” It’s true. But why are our schools still just watching?

The Observer Editorial Board stands with George Floyd and all of our Black brothers and sisters. We would like to make it clear this does not make us any less objective as journalists. We do not consider Black members of our community being killed by police officers a political issue but rather one of human rights. We are so proud and hopeful to see millions across the world, and those in our own community, flooding the streets to march and protest for George Floyd and for Black lives.

With that in mind, we ask why Notre Dame has not been more vocal on the issue, now and in the past decade. University President Fr. John Jenkins initially released only a two-sentence statement, with a predictable callback to the moment Fr. Theodore Hesburgh and Martin Luther King Jr. joined hands during a rally — nearly 56 years ago. He then announced a prayer and “walk” from the library to the Grotto to take place Monday evening. This is simply another version of the trite and ineffective “thoughts and prayers” tagline, and it is not the response we want.

Holy Cross has remained silent, and we are disappointed in their obvious inaction and complacency.

After days of silence save for a throwaway comment in an email Monday, Saint Mary’s released an email statement Tuesday at midnight. We applaud the College for its response, but we cannot look past the large amount of time it took for this committed, comprehensive message to be sent. We understand the College is in the midst of a presidential transition, but this does not excuse the delayed response to such a pressing and immediate issue.

If Notre Dame continues to boast its position as a top-tier institution filled with world-class scholars, we must ask why the administration continues to ignore real-world topics including systemic racism and police brutality. If, as Jenkins professes, Notre Dame is a leader, why are we not taking an active and involved stance on racial injustice today, rather than advertising a photo from an entirely different era? Students have cited multiple on-campus racial incidents and injustices just in the past year; injustices and racist comments written and spoken on campus have gone largely ignored by leadership, leaving students to rally together with groups like End Hate at Notre Dame and the Saint Mary’s Black Student Association. The University’s previous reactions to the struggles of the on-campus Black community align with the administration’s reaction to the murder of George Floyd — weak and ineffective. In 2017, Saint Mary’s acknowledged and responded to race-related graffiti on campus, and we call on the current administration to keep the promises made in their late statement.

Catholic social teaching emphasizes solidarity, care for the poor and vulnerable and the dignity of the human person. The University upholds these values in its participation in and funding of events such as the March for Life, yet it ignores them now. The Church and the tri-campus community prides itself on acting as a force for good in the world. But a one-hour prayer service is not enough. As Catholic institutions, we must acknowledge thoughts and prayers are not enough and lack substance for change. The tri-campus community, consisting of predominantly white institutions, has the privilege to largely ignore these issues. But we can no longer allow our community to ignore protests that have stemmed from our inability to consider hurting communities and hear their voices. These issues are not new. They have endured generations. It is a privilege and honor to stand with our brothers and sisters who have not yet seen the justice they so deserve.

Notre Dame student government released a statement far longer and more comprehensive than any released by administrative leadership in the tri-campus community. For that, we thank them.

But as we have said in prior editorials, we need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. If the leaders of our institutions will not, we need to speak up. If you are ignorant to the issues and injustices facing the African American community, educate yourself. Support Black businesses, writers, creators and community members. And above all, when you see injustice, use your privilege to stand up against it.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “For years now I have heard the word ‘wait.’ It rings in the ear of every [African American] with piercing familiarity. This wait has almost always meant ‘never’ … Justice too long delayed is justice denied.” Although we may be forced to wait for our leaders to step up and hold themselves accountable as advocates for all life, the student body should not wait to acknowledge injustices. If we are to be true advocates for change, we must protest the injustices of the system.

To those who have spoken up, thank you. For those who have not, why haven’t you? Recognize that feeling uncomfortable in these conversations is yet another indication of your privilege. It is not enough to offer thoughts and prayers in a civil rights issue. It’s complacency. Take action, and do not remain idle. Continue to honor George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade and the countless others who have lost their lives due to the color of their skin. Continue the conversations this movement has started. If we cannot rely on our leaders, let us, the student body, be the voice against racial prejudice.

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