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| Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Directly to the President and Board of Trustees of Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame IN 

[Katie Conboy, Mary Burke, Gretchen Flicker, Maureen Smith, Angel MacDonald-Fisher, Michael Scmitt, Sister Alma Mary Anderson, Thomas E. Black Jr., William W Cushwa, Sister Vanessa Cruz Ferreira, Sister Veronica A. Fajardo, Donald R. Fischer, Sister Mary Louise Full, Gregoire Gallant, Delia Garcia, Sister Taposi Gomes, Mary McEnery Harding, Fr. Stephen Katsouros, Rev. Paul V. Kollman, Susan Olney Latham, Michael J. Mathile, Nancy P. Nekvasil, Sister Mary Ann Pajakowski, Patricia Wiedner Purcell, Sister Kathleen Reilly, Colleen Flynn Roohan, Katie M. Vincer Sears, Mary Pat Seurkamp, David L. Taiclet, Jill Tiefenthaler, Monsignor Kenneth Velo, Sister Veronique Wiedower, William J. Schmuhl, Jr.]:

This letter strictly comes from concerned and active alumnae who understand the critical need to address the historical moment we are living within. Our main concern is focused upon current and incoming Black students of the tri-campus area during a time of explicit turmoil and violence against Black Americans.

While the recent public statement made by Saint Mary’s College and multiple departments was sufficient in showing verbal support for Black students and change on campus, more needs to be done. We recognize the significance of creating the Diversity and Inclusion Team. These are all great strides forward compared to where our campus was only months ago. In order to proceed with the dismantling of a racist infrastructure we call upon the president and the Board of Trustees to release a unanimous joint statement in which they extend their support not in vagueness but in clear points with a plan to put our words, values and Holy Cross tradition where our mouths are.

As a predominately white institution, it is our current obligation and responsibility to unlearn and upheave racism and specifically anti-blackness that our past SMC sisters may have stained the soil with. We pride ourselves on a history of Holy Cross morality — one of inclusiveness and meeting the world’s needs. Yet we still find ourselves faced with a community lacking in resources for our Black sisters. Because of this, we have specific demands.

1. A public statement released from the Board of Trustees and president, explicitly denouncing the most recent murder of George Floyd and the continued violence against the Black and brown communities.

2. The institution cannot be a place for any racist-tied relations. Proper background checks should be investigated to ensure that any campus donations are not being accepted from those tied to white supremacy ideals. If a board member, staff member or faculty member is tied to racist organizations they must resign effective immediately. Furthermore, there should be background checks conducted, by a third party, on all new employees ensuring that they are not tied to racist organizations nor ideals. Current students found guilty of hate crimes must be expelled immediately. A code of conduct should be developed to reprimand hate crimes, in this instance defined as any act of intimidation predicated on race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity and sexuality.

3. A fund established solely for Black students, as a form of financial alleviation and reparations for the over 250 years of Black genocide. This monetary fund should be named in honor of Marguerite Edwards class of 1953 — one of the first African American women to graduate from our institution. In the face of racism and sexism, Marguerite persevered. We must continue her legacy and support young women like herself all the time.

4. Create a program for incoming freshmen to enjoy during their Welcoming Weekend. This program will be a modified version of a course that the College offers called Diversity Dialogues. It will include panels specifically aiding in the conversation of diversity and inclusion — with emphasis on racism and the Holy Cross values we hold in line with social justice. Adequately equipped facilitators will include students, faculty, staff and guest speakers. Integrating this program into the First Year Sophia curriculum is also critical in the continuance of dialogue.

5. More monetary support for diverse clubs on campus, especially the Black Student Association. Board of Trustees members must attend or arrange a meeting with each diverse club during their on-campus visits. Every club must be accounted for and the Board of Trustees must take initiative in making sure each club is visited and supported. We would like to see this plan mimicked for faculty and staff as well, so that they may connect with and hear from students as well.

6. The establishment of an annual “diversity” report explicitly released by the Board and published on the school’s website. The Board of Trustees must take into account the students’ Big Board reports and the Student Diversity Board report, completed twice per semester which reports what the College is doing for diversity and inclusion on campus. It is a requirement that each board member reads such reports and takes into account what students are doing and what resources are needed to continue their work.

7. The Board of Trustees and president must guarantee the physical and emotional well-being of Black students. Since many students of diverse backgrounds find barriers to mental healthcare in the lack of cultural competency of counselors, or diversity of counselors themselves, we call for SMC to re-evaluate the accessibility of their mental health resources and make appropriate changes to Health and Wellness Center staff in order to better accommodate the needs of the diverse student population of Saint Mary’s. The College needs to show that they are working toward hiring counselors for students of color and the students of the LGBTQ+ community. We often forget the intersectionality of identities, and this leaves people already on the margins of society even further ostracized. Many students of color and students of the LGBTQ+ community have voiced that they would like to utilize the counselors but find it hard to relate to them given their different backgrounds. These counselors will need to be people of color and/or identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. A Black counselor, a LatinX counselor and an LGBTQ+ counselor would be ideal.

8. Incidences of hate/bias need to start being reported as emails to the entire campus like incidences of sexual assault are reported. The student body needs to know that the campus is taking reports of hate/bias seriously and that an investigation and proper consequences are being instilled. There must be an easily accessible online form that is anonymous for students to report hate crimes.

9. Credit for events regarding diversity needs to be given to the student groups involved on Saint Mary’s social media and throughout the campus community. Credit was not given to the Student Diversity Board and the Black Student Association for Martin Luther King Jr. events and Black History Month events this year. The Board must have representatives in attendance at such events, and they must show vocal support while in attendance.

10. The creation of events that celebrate diversity and inclusion should be hosted and sponsored by the administration and faculty. This would aid in efforts to make diverse students and faculty feel more welcomed and seen within the campus community. Students would also take diversity events more seriously if events were sponsored or hosted by administration and faculty. The Board may use thorough research on other universities and colleges to get ideas on effective events and programming for diversity and inclusion that can be implemented on our campus.

11. The creation of a student board consisting of students from all demographics present on campus. This includes race, sexuality, gender identity, ability, religion, socioeconomic standing and ethnicity. To keep this board focused there should be no more than 13 elected members. The 13th member is to be what is now known as the Board of Trustees Representative. This position, unlike in the past, is to be elected by the Student Body population, as to make sure the person speaking to the Board accurately represents who the student body deems as their voice versus who the Board of Trustees assumes. They should work as an emergency liaison between the student board (the name is to be determined) and the Board of Trustees. This student board will meet with the Board of Trustees quarterly to discuss relevant issues and ideas. There is no GPA requirement to run for this board, as GPA caps are exclusionary and do not account for other academic and social factors. This type of board must be replicated with a group of alumnae.

12. Our final demand is the explicit support of racially diverse faculty and staff (including non-administrative staff) and the hiring of more administration to oversee the support and progress of marginalized students. Currently, only about two to three administrative personnel are overseeing the explicit protection and progress of students of color. We have seen their struggles, their lack of support and their commitment to doing what they can with what they have. Increase their pay or hire more help. We must support not only our diverse students, but also our diverse staff and faculty. They are, in fact, a key part of the very foundation of our students’ on-campus experiences. They greet our students, support our students and teach our students. Thus, it is important to continue hiring more diverse voices and supporting them. It is also critical to train the entire campus’ staff and faculty to work in cohesion towards a more equitable space for all. Current and future employees and Board of Trustees members must be trained on diversity and inclusion with emphasis on racism in the workforce and college campuses. Often, the responsibility of “handling” certain situations regarding race are thrust solely upon our diverse faculty and staff. We must better equip and call upon white staff/faculty to take more accountability in this task. The Board must also be more involved in this process of supporting staff and faculty.

As alumnae, our leverage comes from our pockets and vocal support. We will monetarily boycott you, we will remain loud in our support for our fellow Belles and we will remain consistent in our demands. Our legacy is the protection and progression of those after us, and we remain committed to tangible and sustainable change. Saint Mary’s women are the future, and we will protect them. Saint Mary’s Black women are the future, and we will protect them.

With sincere respect and in solidarity, 

Concerned Saint Mary’s alumnae and supporters

Genesis Vasquez

class of 2020

Teresa R. Brickey

class of 2019 

Stephanie Johnson

class of 2019

Colleen Zewe

class of 2018

Janie Davis

class of 2020

Allie Johnston 

class of 2019

Brenna Leahy 

class of 2017

Marilla Opra 

class of 2018

E.V. Dundon 

class of 2019

Marta Antonetti 

class of 2020

Carmela Marciano

class of 2019

Courtney Driscoll 

class of 2020

Nicole Caratas 

class of 2018

Kaylie Johnson 

class of 2018

Veronika Hanks

class of 2018

Adrienne Whisman 

class of 2017

Alyssa Jones 

class of 2019

Morgan Matthews

class of 2018

Elizabeth Ferry 

class of 2020

Jacqueline Leskovec 

class of 1974 

June 7th

A full list of signees can be found at this link.

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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