Walk the Walk Week continued Wednesday with a live taping of Black@ND —a podcast focused on the experiences of Black students, faculty and staff — in the Debartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC).
The live podcast was hosted by sophomore Isaiah Hall and junior Luzolo Matundu. Hall and Matundu invited 12 panelists made up of undergrads, graduate students and staff, who discussed their understanding of Black excellence and being Black at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s. Each panelist was affiliated with a campus organization uplifting Black students.
The panelists addressed how they seek to promote Black excellence in their respective organizations. Senior Thaddea Ampadu is the co-president of Shades of Ebony, an organization founded by Black women at Notre Dame that aims to “unify, empower and inspire women of all shades.” Ampadu said she hopes to promote sisterhood through Shades of Ebony.
“Something I always say about Shades is that it provides a space for us to truly be ourselves and speak about anything,” Ampadu said. “Because there’s few spaces on campus where we can make those meaningful connections without having to explain multiple parts of our identity.”
Junior Bupe Kabaghe is co-president of the African Student Association (ASA), which strives to be a home away from home for African students at Notre Dame. Kabaghe plans events related to African cuisine and music, as well as their flagship event, Africa on the Quad. Recently, the ASA has organized the Pan-African Youth Conference, bringing together African students from all over the world to discuss challenges facing the continent.
“We really do try to promote Black excellence by just creating a community of African students who hold their authenticity and also know about where they come from and what they can do for the African continent,” Kabaghe said.
Several panelists belonged to industry-specific advocacy groups on campus. Vongaishe Mutatu, a senior studying mechanical engineering, is the president of the Notre Dame chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).
The NSBE helps Black engineering students succeed in their classes and get a job post-graduation. 4.3% of engineers in the US are Black, so Mutatu says that her organization works to bridge that gap and help Black engineers excel.
“Promoting Black excellence is also showing you the possibility that, even though you might not see Black engineers in media … as an engineer you have so much that you can do and you can enter so many different places,” Mutatu said.
Sophomore Daymine Snow is a member of the Black Business Association of Notre Dame, and he is currently working on a project to connect Black alumni with undergraduate business students during the summer.
Snow said that many Black alumni don’t return to Notre Dame after graduation because of negative experiences during their time as students. However, Snow sees maintaining alumni connections as paramount to building community amongst Black students. He said he hopes his initiative will rebuild those connections.
“Undergrads can start to build a stronger relationship with the alumni and have them more inclined to come back and contribute to the community and maintain that connection that a lot of us need,” Snow said. “Because community will take you so far in life. And that’s something that a lot of times is skipped over when it comes to the Notre Dame Black community.”
Mike Brown, class of 2001, spoke both from his personal background and about his experiences as the first Black Leprechaun.
He told the story of his cousin Netta, who upon hearing that her friends didn’t receive any gifts for Christmas, gave them her gifts on her sixth birthday. Netta was tragically murdered by her father three years later, an event which Brown said shook his family. Nevertheless, Netta’s death inspired his grandmother to form a support group for families affected by homicide which has been meeting for almost 40 years.
Brown said that his cousin and his grandmother personify Black excellence to him.
“If these two people can find a place in their heart to take action and walk the walk, I know we can do it, too,” Brown said.
Brown’s biggest advice for current students is to attend as many events as they could.
“I feel as though my experience at Notre Dame was enriched because I went to so many events,” Brown said. “I went to the Keenan Revue, I went to the Glee Club something, I went to Latin Expressions, I went to Asian Allure … Be present! Show up!”
Despite organizations such as the ASA, Shades of Ebony and the Black Student Association, many panelists explained how they and others encounter obstacles at Notre Dame.
Snow said that he often deals with imposter syndrome, especially when he is the only Black student in his classroom.
“I really struggled with it my freshman year. Literally, I was so close to having a breakdown after class, but the only thing that stopped me from having a breakdown was seeing that there’s a bunch of white people around,” Snow said. “I don’t want to be that Black person that breaks down and they look at you like: ‘Is this how Black people act?’ I don’t want to be that representation.”
Camille Mosley is a graduate student studying recreational fisheries ecology. She said that for Black graduate students, it’s difficult to find mentors who look like you, especially in the College of Science.
“It’d be nice to have someone who could tell me, ‘When you go to professional society meetings or conferences, your hair might not be considered professional’ or how to navigate conversations with [employers] when you’re getting questions that you don’t think other candidates are getting asked,” Mosley said.
Mosley explained how finding those mentors takes valuable time from her classes and research. She said she hopes that the University will increase the diversity of the College of Science’s faculty to address this issue.
“Those different, informal mentorship channels I have to go pursue on my own, and that’s time that my non-Black peers might not have to [spend] that takes away from my research progress. But I’m expected to still hit the same bars,” Mosley said.
Jakim Aaron, a second year law student, said he feels a lot of pressure to be palatable.
“I think that in that pressure, there’s almost an erasure of your Blackness,” Aaron added.
Aaron said that there’s a lot of emphasis in professional programs on how students present themselves, but that it tends to focus on being more approachable to people who are not Black.
“I think that learning how to strike that balance between being authentic but still being professional, but also looking at how being Black is a strength versus something that you have to compensate for, can be challenging as well,” Aaron said.
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