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‘Administration is not doing enough’: Student body president encourages student engagement this Black History Month

| Thursday, February 10, 2022

On a campus where only 3.23% of the student body identifies as Black or African American, Black History Month holds particular salience at Notre Dame, Black student leaders say.

Fifty-eight years after the passage of the civil rights and 74 years after the first Black student graduated from Notre Dame, Black students at Notre Dame describe continued experience with racism and discrimination.

Contextualized by recent Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality, including those in the city of South Bend, Black History Month holds important implications.

In an interview with The Observer, Allan Njomo, student body president, encouraged students to combat racism on campus in a variety of ways.

“[It] depends on what is most available to you. It could be a podcast. It could be a book. It could be donating to an organization that is engaged with the fight towards equality, so I think it is different for everyone,” Njomo said. “There needs to be forward progress towards engaging with the effects of race and what all of our roles are towards building a more beloved community.”  

Throughout the interview, Njomo repeated the importance of every student making a conscious effort to create a more inclusive community, rather than leaving the task to a dedicated few.

“Whether we acknowledge it or not, whether we even realize it or not, we are all victims of racism,” Njomo said, quoting the Dean of the Notre Dame Law School G. Marcus Cole from his Walk the Walk prayer service speech.

Njomo said he wants to see the University do more for Black inclusion both at Notre Dame and on a larger scale.

“Perhaps this is my proactive mindset speaking more or less, but yes, I believe that the University is not doing enough,” Njomo said. “Administration is not doing enough to really engage with the question of how do we build a more equitable community, whether that’s here at Notre Dame or in society at large.”

Still, Njomo acknowledged the important ongoing work of those fighting for inclusion.

”I’m glad to say that I know students, faculty and administrators who are working towards engaging those questions more holistically. There are two ways to look at it, there is a way to look at it and say that we’re not at that spot, and I think that is true, but I think we should also look at it and understand that we are calling the university to go towards that position of really engaging in these questions.”

Njomo noted the University’s first observation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as both a positive recent step and an impetus for further progress.

“I’m happy that we were able to observe MLK Day this year. I’m happy that we get to have a more diverse class coming in next year, but the question that I keep asking and the questions students keep asking is, ‘Are there enough structures in place to support more diverse students coming to Notre Dame? Is there a critical engagement occurring at the academic level with what race, privilege and history of the United States means? Are those things occurring currently?’”

Njomo called students and the University to action on the basis of the Catholic faith.

“I really think about our Catholic identity, and how we’re called to build a community not only here at Notre Dame, but a society at large that’s beloved,” he said. 

The University provides several opportunities for students to participate in Black History Month and utilize the resources available to be better equipped to help create a better community at Notre Dame.

During the month of February, Notre Dame will host a plethora of virtual speakers and in person events in honor of Black History month.

The Black Alumni Board will host Surviving to Thriving: Leading Black Businesses Through Unprecedented Challenges” Feb. 11 and and Black Wellbeing“ Feb. 18. Notre Dame will also put on a trivia-discussion virtual event Feb. 10 and a virtual session on the intersections of language, race and justice Feb. 25.

As an opportunity for students to engage with Black culture on campus, the Black Cultural Arts Council Events, will offer a coffee house event featuring live music and poetry Feb. 19th from 3 to 5 p.m. Detailed in a University press release, various other campus organizations are planning a Black Hair Expo, Black Folk concerts and an ecumenical prayer service.

Students can also visit historical sites in South Bend and surrounding communities, from the “We Shall Overcome Statue” in the heart of downtown to the humble Huggart Settlement in a much more rural setting, there are many sites with cultural importance near campus.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article misstated the year the Civil Rights Act passed and the year the first Black student graduated from Notre Dame. The Observer regrets this error.

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About Jack Sirianni

Notre Dame Class of 2025-Reese, Michigan-Fisher Hall-Political Science

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