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Second Student Life Council meeting addresses diversity and inclusion

| Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Students and administrators gathered in Dahnke Ballroom on Monday evening for the second meeting of the Student Life Council (SLC), which was reinstated earlier this year.

The focus of Monday’s meeting was “diverse perspectives and inclusive experiences at Notre Dame” and the University’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) plan. Rev. Hugh Page, the inaugural vice president for institutional transformation and advisor to the president, joined the three permanent members of the SLC: vice president for student affairs Fr. Gerard “Gerry” Olinger, vice president and associate provost for undergraduate education Fr. Dan Groody and student body president Daniel Jung.

Kathryn Muchnick | The Observer

Each meeting of the SLC focuses on a different topic, identified by Olinger as five strategic themes around student life. The first SLC meeting focused on faith and formation, and the upcoming themes include health and wellness (with an emphasis on mental health), connection and community and then reflection and discernment.

The SLC was pioneered by Fr. Theodore Hesburgh during the Vietnam war as a way to connect students and administrators. After its 1968 formation, the council lapsed until student body president emeritus Patrick Lee and student body vice president emeritus Sofie Stitt revived the council during their term.

Page opened the meeting with an update from the office of institutional transformation, which is tasked with leading the DEI strategy across the University.

“There is a special role for universities like Notre Dame to play, particularly when DEI work is understood as part of our institutional DNA,” Page said.

Page referenced the board of trustees’ task force report on DEI, issued in June 2021, calling the strategic framework outlined in the report “the parameters for all our endeavors.” He added that most of the office’s work since its establishment has focused on examining the impact of DEI initiatives that are already underway.

“Going forward, one of our most important tasks will be to find that ideal balance between central and distributed oversight of the work,” Page said. “Another will be to make abundantly clear that our efforts must be intensive and for the long term — there are no quick fixes in this work.”

For the remainder of the semester, Page said the office of institutional transformation plans to develop a “university-wide strategic road-map” to monitor progress on current and future DEI initiatives.

“My vision of change is a communal rather than individual one,” Page said. “This is something for which we all must have ownership.”

After Page’s remarks, Olinger provided an update on the DEI initiatives within the Division of Student Affairs. 

He highlighted the most recent inclusive campus survey, which took place in February and March 2022. 42% of the student body responded to the survey, a number which Olinger said he was pleased with because the national response rate for similar surveys is between 20% and 24%.

“Over the course of the fall, we were able to both share the full results of that inclusive campus survey with the entire campus and begin to think about and identify priorities for the years ahead,” Olinger said.

Those priorities include the creation of the DEI center, which will open on the second floor of LaFortune Student Center in Aug. 2023, and increasing awareness of Speak Up, a reporting tool for incidents of bias, discrimination and/or harassment.

Olinger also said that he is looking at increasing representation within hall staff, especially for resident assistants (RA). 

“One of the things that we understand is that part of the compensation right now for RAs is room and board. For those students who already have full room and board as part of their financial aid package at Notre Dame, but might need to work in order to both support themselves and perhaps family members, that can be a barrier for them applying to be RAs because they aren’t able to actually work as an RA,” Olinger explained. “So thinking about the compensation structure for RAs might be able to encourage greater diversity of applicants for that.”

On the academic level, Groody said he hopes to support an increasingly diverse student body through improving Moreau programming, increasing the number of academic advisors and expanding tutoring resources.

Student body president Daniel Jung also outlined his goals for DEI within student government, which he said will be detailed in the progress tracker to be published by the end of the month.

Following these updates, students were able to ask questions of the SLC members during a question-and-answer session, moderated by chief of staff Collette Doyle.

Tavin Martin, the former director of diversity and inclusion: first generation low income (FGLI) in student government, asked about supporting student leaders from FGLI backgrounds who cannot work because of their extracurricular commitments.

“These positions are unpaid, even though they can have up to 40 hour workweeks, especially our chief of staff, president and vice president,” Martin said. “Are there any plans to support students within leadership positions, whether that be in the student union or clubs, who are facing these financial barriers?”

Olinger said that though he is interested in further discussing specific needs, support of that nature is “going to take financial resources to align.” In response to an earlier question, Olinger noted that the Office of Student Enrichment has also seen “a dramatic increase” in the total number of student requests for increased support.

Groody also highlighted that 19% of the incoming class is from a first generation or low income background.

“I think it’s important for people to know that the board of trustees, board of fellows, the president and on down through the administration is just unanimously committed to this,” Groody said. “Now, that being said, … we’ve got a long way to go. We’re not where we need to be yet.”

Page also addressed the slow increase of Black faculty at Notre Dame over the last decade. 

“The faculty recruitment numbers are probably the most difficult marker to move over the course of time,” Page said. 

The percentage of Black faculty members has increased from 1.7% a decade ago to 3.4% now, according to Page. He explained that despite recruitment efforts from each department, they face competition for faculty across the nation.

“I think the strategic thinking that’s going on within the University, at the upper level of the administration and at the departmental level, is trying to be attentive to those challenges,” Page said.

Groody, Page and Olinger all emphasized the connection between Notre Dame’s Catholic mission and DEI initiatives.

“We choose to look at diversity because we’re a Catholic University,” Groody said. “That’s the challenge — to say that to be truly Catholic, it means really welcoming that diversity, learning from embracing it and being transformed.”

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