‘It was never about a dream’: NAACP president and CEO speaks at Notre Dame Black excellence celebration dinner

On Thursday evening, hundreds of Notre Dame students, staff and faculty weathered the northern Indiana winter to gather in the Morris Inn Smith Ballroom. 

From the other side of the nation, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Derrick Johnson and other activists traveled to join them. 

Together, they all joined in a celebration of Black excellence as one of the final events of Notre Dame’s annual Walk the Walk week.

Although the goal of the week has been to consider realistic future steps towards diversity and inclusion while reflecting on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., Johnson made a different point during his keynote address. 

To begin, he joked to the audience about the pitfalls of the “preach and sleep” method, saying that he was not a fan of a speech format where he spoke about issues unrelatable to the listeners. Johnson urged the audience to both listen and participate in the dialogue during the event and beyond. 

“From our perspective, as NAACP, we see that our democracy is on a shoestring,” he explained. “Being able to pursue life, liberty and happiness as guaranteed in our Constitution is eroding fast and is eroding because of tribalism — using the current political climate to destroy social norms and expectations.”

And instead of preaching, Johnson started to tell a story. He told the audience about a man named A. Philip Randolph and his work as one of the first leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, organizing one of the first labor unions and campaigning to integrate armed services. Johnson also brought up Medgar Evers and an important woman whose true narrative got lost in American history. 

“She always looked much younger than her age. She was a fierce fighter. She was a secretary for the NAACP in Alabama,” he noted. “When there was an incident, she would be the person to go in and investigate those incidents. Does anyone know who I’m talking about? Rosa Parks.”

Pulling it all together, Johnson detailed the events after Parks’ arrest.

“[E.D. Nixon] called three people.” The first two were pastors, who wholeheartedly agreed to participate in whatever Nixon was organizing. The second was MLK Jr., who hesitated due to a fear of being driven out of a town he just moved to. 

“And the reason why I’m going through this part of the journey [is] because in movements, everyone has something to contribute and that as we think of the Civil Rights movement or journey, it was never about one person,” he declared. 

And when the audience was listening in silence, Johnson emphasized: “It was never about a ‘dream’! It was always about the demand that the social contract we call the Constitution will be applied to all.”

Expanding on that idea while the listeners hung on his every word, Johnson proclaimed again. 

“Race is a social construct. It is a political title that we carry around to create ‘others,’” he said. “It is a tool that is still being used today so effectively that it is tearing this democracy apart.”

Moving on, Johnson addressed the audience and called on them to take part in a dialogue. Both faculty members and student leaders stood up to make additions and asked questions regarding steps moving forward at the closing of the event.

The last question was posted by Balfour-Hesburgh scholar and senior Kirsten Williams. 

“When I look at black communities in my local area, it’s disheartening to see that they’re plagued with a lot of violence,” she asked. “What are some strategies or methods that we can employ to uplift and empower Black communities?”

Johnson’s answer was that everything boiled down to hope. “What you are witnessing is the legacy of systemic barriers resulting in hopelessness,” he explained. 

To close, he told one last story about his time in a class that was a requirement for his college graduation. His teacher, Johnson said, was upset one day because of a batch of bad test scores. 

“This particular day, Dr. Simmons was late to class,” he began. “We all get there, we’re sitting quiet. He comes in and was visibly upset… He said to us ‘some of you are resting on your laurels; I assure you, they are not strong enough.’”

Johnson looked around the room and then repeated: “Some of you are sitting on your laurels… Don’t rest on your laurels.”

“All of us in this room have an obligation because we are in a top-tier percentage of those who have the skill and the ability to protect it, grow it and ensure that the social contract we call the Constitution applies to all,” he added. “But the question is, are you up to that challenge?” 

The dinner had many different sponsors, including the Multicultural Student Programs and Services (MSPS), the president’s office and the Department of Diversity and Inclusion, but the event was mainly organized by Notre Dame student government. Leading the charge was Eliza Smith, director of diversity and inclusion – race and ethnicity, and her department. Additionally, biology graduate student Camille Mosley served as the event’s emcee and first-year Bernice Antoine led the group in an opening prayer. 

“We pray for the Black community here and around the world for justice where there is in justice, peace on every street corner and hope for your grace to pour out on this nation,” she invoked with a loud “Amen” and agreement heard around the room. 

At the end of the evening, after dinner and Johnson’s talk, Mosley announced the recipients of the Black excellence staff, faculty and student awards. She explained that the nomination committee decided on the two winners in each category based on a very rigid rubric that took into account many factors including personal accomplishments and their commitment to the legacy of MLK’s dream

The staff award had 19 total nominations and winners were Barbara Wadley, the coordinator for the Balfour-Hesburgh Scholars program, and Harold Swanagan, director of basketball operations. Out of eight possible candidates, the faculty award was given to associate professor of management and organization Angela Logan and associate professor of architecture John Onyango. Finally, students Daymine Snow and Temitayo Ade-Oshifogun were chosen out of the 15 other student nominees.  

Contact Bella Laufenberg at


Black@ND hosts live podcast recording on Black excellence

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.

Contact Katie at


Petition advocating for American Sign Language at Notre Dame circulates social media

Over winter break, a petition advocating for the acceptance of American Sign Language (ASL) at the University of Notre Dame was posted on the Disability Justice ND Instagram account and circulated on social media. By signing the petition, students call on the university to accept ASL as fulfillment for the admissions requirement of taking two years of a world language in high school, provide proficiency exams for students with experiences in ASL and to offer classes in ASL that fulfill college-based foreign language requirements. 

The petition originated as a class project for sophomore Jill Maudlin and her peers in their “Disability at Notre Dame” course. 

“We had to do a final project that culminated in somehow bettering the lives of disabled students on campus or furthering the cause of disability justice, so we chose to take on ASL for that project,” Maudlin said. 

Maudlin, who is also the Director of Disability Advocacy in student government, specified undertaking this project was due to her assignment, not because of her position in student government. 

When she was first assigned the project, Maudlin said part of the reason they chose to address this specific issue was because of a story she had heard about another student in her dorm. 

Junior Caitlin Papalia grew up in a household with two deaf parents, so ASL was her first language and her foreign language in high school. Upon her Notre Dame acceptance, however, she was told that her high school ASL classes did not meet the foreign language admissions requirement. Papalia said she had to take Spanish 1 and Spanish 2 the summer before her first year in order to attend the university. 

Furthermore, students interested in studying ASL while at Notre Dame must do so through another institution. Junior Chloe Lestitian takes ASL courses through Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf over Zoom while attending Notre Dame. 

“Right now, I’m thinking about being a physician, and sign language is a skill and language that would be really important,” Lestitian said. “It’s really useful to know how to communicate with patients in the deaf and hard of hearing community.”

The petition is not students’ first attempt at promoting inclusivity towards ASL at Notre Dame. Papalia wrote an argumentative essay titled “American Sign Language: Why Notre Dame Should Validate My First Language,” and a  resolution presented to the student senate on Oct. 12, which called for the acceptance of ASL as the world language admissions requirement. 

Maudlin helped write and present the resolution to the student government. She said it was an attempt to attain student government support before it was presented to the administration. The Senate decided to refer the resolution back to the Department of Disability Advocacy so the department could continue working on the resolution and present it again once it has more information.

“When student government turned [the resolution] down, it felt almost invalidating because that is what I speak at home,” Papalia said. “I was hurt already by Notre Dame not accepting it, but hearing other students say that we shouldn’t do it because of X, Y and Z made it a lot more difficult to hear.”

The petition, which now has almost 1000 signatures, was an alternative way of demonstrating student support of the cause, Maudlin said. She also expressed her belief that the University will be pushed to introduce ASL because many other elite institutions in the American Association of Universities (AAU), an organization composed of research universities in which Notre Dame is not included, already accept ASL.

95% of AAU schools accept ASL from high schoolers, 63% offer ASL proficiency tests for free and 75% teach ASL, Maudlin said. 

“There are only a couple other elite universities who don’t do all three and Notre Dame is one of them,” Maudlin said. 

Even so, Maudlin is hopeful for change. She said she believes that an optimistic timeline for Notre Dame to start implementing these three measures is by the spring of 2024, but a more realistic timeline would be the following fall. She believes these changes are doable during her time at the university.

“With Notre Dame’s Catholic, service-based mission, we should be able to communicate with the people that need to have their voices heard,” Maudlin said.

You can contact Gabby at


Notre Dame honors Potawatomi land 180 years after Fr. Sorin’s arrival

Nov. 26 marked 180 years since Fr. Sorin’s arrival in 1842 on the land now known as South Bend and as home to the tri-campus community. This land is the ancestral home of the Pokégnek Bodéwadmik, which are the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, an indigenous nation.

The Potawatomi migrated from north of Lake Huron and Lake Superior to present-day Wisconsin, southern Michigan, northern Indiana and northern Illinois. Their first contact with European settlers was when they came upon the French in the 1600s. 

In the mid-17th century, the Potawatomi entered the fur trade with the French. Catholic French priests, like the Jesuit missionary Claude Allouez, were even invited by the Potawatomi in the late 1670s.

In 1754, the Potawatomi were brought into the French and Indian War, a war between the British colonies and the French in North America where different Native American tribes supported different sides. After the British won the war in 1763, they focused on profits rather than the more mutually beneficial relationship the Potawatomi had with the French. 

Brian Collier is a faculty member and fellow for Education, Schooling and Society at the University, a historian and the senior advisor to the American Indian Catholic Schools Network (AICSN). Talking about this time of upheaval, Collier said, “different Native people sided with the French and some with the British– they were just trying to find the best deal for their families in a time of war and chaos.”

This continued period of changing politics forced the Potawatomi to take sides. In an article in Notre Dame Magazine, Collier writes, “there were Potawatomi who sided with the British during the American Revolution and the War of 1812, both of which led to citizens of the new United States calling for the removal of the Potawatomi from their ancestral homelands throughout the Great Lakes region.”

The Battle of Fort Dearborn in August 1812 also contributed to the new American citizens having ill-will towards the Potawatomi people.

Collier said, that “when the Potawatomi burned down Fort Dearborn — which is located where Chicago’s ‘Miracle Mile’ is today— the newspapers made a big deal of the incident and portrayed the Pokagon band as dangerous.” 

The Indian Removal Act was signed in 1830 by then-President Andrew Jackson. Leopold Pokagon, a tribe leader within the St. Joseph River Valley Potawatomi, asked Fr. Gabriel Richard in Detroit to send them a priest that year. Leopold Pokagon knew that showing the American government that the Potawatomi could integrate into American culture through Christianity would give the nation a greater chance of keeping their land.  

On Leopold’s request, Richard sent Fr. Stephen Badin to minister to the Potawatomi along with two other Catholic missionaries — Fr. Benjamin Petit and Fr. Louis Deseille. Petit was eventually martyred on the Trail of Death as he administered to the Potawatomi during their forced removal. 

Though the Pokagon Potawatomi’s connection to Catholicism aided in them getting to keep their land, it was also the coincidence of geography that led to this fact. Collier explained that another Potawatomi tribe that lived in what is present-day Rochester, Indiana, was forced to vacate their ancestral homelands.

“At the time, what is present-day South Bend and Mishawaka was officially part of Michigan territory which had a lot of French and Catholic influence, which was why Leopold Pokagon was able to make the argument to keep the land,” Collier said.

Collier explained that the other Potawatomi tribe was residing in what was considered to be Indiana territory at the time, which was being influenced by the Ku Klux Klan and Protestant-nation building forces rather than a Catholic one. 

 In the early 1830s, Badin bought the land that would become the University, and then in 1835, Badin donated that property to the Diocese of Vincennes who ended up giving it to Fr. Edward Sorin, on the condition that he establish an educational institution there. When Sorin first arrived, the Potawatomi were the ones who welcomed him in the winter. 

Talking about the current relationship between the Pokagon Potawatomi and the University, Collier said that the University engages in the annual tradition of sending Potawatomi families food baskets during the holiday season. 

On the occasion of Indigenous People’s Day, celebrated Oct. 9, until the weekend of the Stanford game on Oct. 15,  the University flew the flag of the Pokagon Potawatomi above the football stadium.

“The Provost office has been giving out Pokagon flag magnets which have been going like hot cakes among professors,” Collier added.

Collier also said that Jason Ruiz, associate professor of American Studies, received a grant to acquire more flags in a collaboration with Pokagon Potawatomi artist Jason Wesaw. 

Andrew Crowe ’06, a member of the board of the Native American Alumni Association of Notre Dame (NAA of ND), weighed in on how the lack of acknowledgement of the University’s connection to indigenous people can impact the experience of native students.

“[There is] little to no acknowledgement of Chief Leopold Pokagon’s work to ensure that the Potawatomi land that included what would become Notre Dame was already a Catholic stronghold before the University was founded. He remains a forgotten ‘founding father’ of Our Lady’s University,” Crowe said in an email.

He encouraged students to research and gain awareness about the “historical role of the Catholic Church in the creation and running of residential and boarding schools.”

Zada Ballew ‘19, director of student relations in NAA of ND, posed some questions that students can consider as they learn about the history of the land that the tri-campus inhabits.

Examples she gave over email included, “Why are there carvings of Indigenous peoples on South Dining Hall and ‘the Rock’?” and “Why are Potawatomi people buried in [mass graves] in the campus cemetery?” 

Ballew said she appreciates the University leadership’s efforts to “acknowledge failures of the past and recommit to the work of the future.” She points to increasing efforts to recruit Native and Indigenous students, increasing the number of Native and Indigenous staff, faculty and course offerings, even a major or minor, as a way to “raise awareness of overlooked, but no less significant, aspects of our shared history.”

Collier also suggested the revival of the tutoring program Notre Dame students used to run with Potawatami children in Dowagiac, Michigan, a few years ago.

“Some of those Potawatomi kids actually grew up and attended Notre Dame, so that kind of interaction and engagement really makes a difference,” Collier said.

Collier also proposed making the Moreau First-Year course curriculum more inclusive of Native history.

“We could have elders in residence come and share their story with first-year students,” he said.

The Native American Alumni Association of Notre Dame has set up ‘The Native American Alumni Fund,’ a scholarship intended to provide much needed financial support to current Native and Indigenous students. The scholarship is solely funded through donations and private giving. Crowe encouraged all readers, including alumni, staff and friends, to consider donating to the Fund on ND Day.

Contact Angela Mathew at


University files brief defending affirmative action in Supreme Court cases

Last week, the Supreme Court heard two concurrent cases on the state of affirmative action in college admissions, Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina and Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College. The petitioner in both cases — Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit that has taken issue with the race-conscious admission policies at UNC and Harvard — has argued that those policies constitute racial discrimination, especially against Asian-Americans.

The University of Notre Dame has taken a side in the case, signing onto an amicus brief alongside 56 other Catholic colleges and universities, supporting the institutions that have employed affirmative action in their admissions. The brief at one point quotes Notre Dame’s mission statement, which says that “the intellectual interchange essential to a university requires, and is enriched by, the presence and voices of diverse scholars and students.”

Asked for comment on why Notre Dame chose to weigh in on the case, University spokesman Dennis Brown said the school’s “position as stated in the brief speaks for itself.”

Jennifer Mason McAward ‘94, a Notre Dame law professor who serves as director of the Klau Institute for Civil and Human Rights, said there is some incentive for institutions like Notre Dame to defend race-conscious admissions. 

“I would think that, at a Catholic university that really does come from a faith tradition that values diversity and inclusivity, it is a core part of who we are to recognize that there are many parts of the body of Christ, and we want to have all of them represented at our school,” she said.

Richard Garnett, a law professor with concurrent appointment to the political science department, said that it’s unlikely that Notre Dame’s stated concerns on racial diversity and the religious freedom to consider race will be primary considerations for the court.

“Because Notre Dame is a private institution, its ability to consider race is not limited by the Constitution, only by its acceptance of federal funds. It is unlikely, in any event, that the justices will rely explicitly on considerations of institutional religious freedom or of Catholic mission,” he wrote in an email to The Observer.

Mason McAward explained that the legal history of these affirmative action cases goes back to 1978, when the Supreme Court decided a case called Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, when a white man seeking admission to medical school was rejected twice despite qualifications exceeding those of 16 minority students admitted in reserved seats. 

“The controlling opinion in that case ended up being Justice Lewis Powell’s solo opinion, which concluded that, although racial classifications are ‘inherently suspect,’ such consideration could be justified ‘under some circumstances,’ when necessary to the ‘goal of achieving a diverse student body,’” Garnett wrote. “The Court has never embraced the position that four justices took in Bakke, namely, that affirmative action in admissions is justified as a reparative or remedial measure.”

According to Mason McAward, Bakke was the law of the land through 2003, when the Supreme Court heard Grutter v. Bollinger.

Grutter “reaffirmed that diversity was an acceptable goal for universities to have and that race-conscious admissions were permissible,” Mason McAward said. “Race could be only one factor among many that schools could consider and so they had to be very careful in how they use race as one factor in a broader picture understanding of what diversity really means.”

Harvard has been specifically accused of discriminating against Asians in a variety of ways. The Trump administration had taken up the case of those students, siding with the petitioner’s argument. Under the Biden administration, the solicitor general’s office has reversed course, arguing in favor of the universities and affirmative action processes. Mason McAward says the broader questions around affirmative action expand these critiques.

“Those questions that are swirling about whether promoting racial diversity in some sense leads to racial discrimination in another sense is a concern that is underlying some of the justices approaches to the case. And there’s their assessment that really, maybe we should just take race out of the conversation altogether, because there’s just no good way to make sure that everybody has equal opportunity, that it’s a kind of zero-sum game,” she said, drawing from oral arguments.

Garnett identified two questions facing the court.

“The questions for the justices are, first, whether ‘diversity’ in these institutions is such an interest and, second, whether race-conscious admissions practices are necessary to accomplish it,” he wrote.

Ultimately, the justices are tasked with setting out a legal view of race and admissions, and whether to overrule Grutter. Mason McAward outlined a number of possibilities.

“One big question that the justices have to decide is whether the US Constitution ever allows the consideration of race in any context, but especially in the university admissions context. So the court might say that race just can never be considered at all. Or the court could say ‘we think that diversity is an excellent goal, but schools can’t use race as one of that one piece of that constellation.’ The court might say, we actually don’t think diversity is a concept that is concrete or constrained enough that would justify the use of race,” she said.

Garnett said that the court is dealing less with whether these practices are discriminatory, but rather if they’re justifiable in light of the government’s interest.

“In addition, in part because a majority of the current justices embrace the textualist and originalist methodologies, it seems clear that they will be asking whether the text of the federal civil-rights law, and the original understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment, permit race-based government policies,” he wrote. “Both of these questions are, of course, challenging and much-debated.”

Garnett said that the impact of the ruling relies on how much the court chooses to address.

It “ will depend on, among other things, whether the justices address the constitutional question, the statutory question, or both. This is because only state-run institutions are constrained by the Fourteenth Amendment,” he wrote. “A Court ruling against race-based admissions would not prevent universities from aiming at diversity, in various forms, including but not limited to racial diversity.  Instead, it would require them to develop new strategies for achieving this goal.”

In the case that the consideration of race is totally prohibited in the admissions process, Mason McAward anticipates the path forward that institutions might take.

“Some state university systems have been precluded from using race for some time. I think the experience in California was that the number of racial minorities in the flagship California schools dropped precipitously when race conscious admissions were initially taken away. But what I think you’re going to see over time is that schools try and come up with other ways of creating a diverse student body,” she said.

Mason McAward said there are other ways to ensuring diversity with explicit racial considerations.

“So whether it’s a focus on socioeconomic diversity, whether it’s, as we see in Texas, a top 10% program where the top 10% of high school graduating classes are guaranteed admission to certain schools, I think that what you will see is a continuing commitment to diversity and an experimentation in other ways to get there,” she added.

You can contact Isa Sheikh at


Explained: University leaders talk about the history and purpose of SpeakUp

SpeakUp Notre Dame is a call to the campus community to not be silent but heard.  

Following the Inclusive Campus Survey, which uncovered that only 15% of the student body knew how to use SpeakUp, the Observer spoke to University administrators and other leaders to dive deeper into the history behind the tool, the intended purpose and how it works in practice. 

Historical Significance 

SpeakUp was first published as a resource for the Notre Dame campus in 2015 after recommendations from the Diversity Council and the Division of Student Affairs. 

Director of communications for the division, Kate Morgan, explained that around the same time, student affairs was made aware of several “concerning” incidents surrounding racial discrimination on campus. 

“The roots are in really related to race,” she noted. 

They realized, she said, there was a need for a space where anyone on campus could file a complaint or report an issue to the correct office. 

“[The division] wanted to make a space for people to be able to report and have more ease doing that, because [anyone needing to report] didn’t know where to go,” she said. 

After the first iteration, SpeakUp underwent a reorganization in 2019. Morgan said she oversaw the redesign that was informed by the 2018 Inclusive Campus Survey. 

“We revamped it based on the student feedback, and I think it’s a lot easier to follow once you get on the site and really realize that it is a reporting tool,” she explained. 

As part of the reworking, Morgan said she and Office of Community Standards (OCS) director Heather Ryan worked together closely to make the site more user-friendly and answer common questions about the reporting process, including detailing the difference between confidential and non-confidential resources on campus, options for reporting and what reporters can expect next. 

Morgan noted specifically that anyone who works with the University is a non-confidential resource, with the exception of medical staff, anyone within the University Counseling Center (UCC) and a vowed religious acting within the capacity of their vows. One example Morgan used was a priest who also serves as the rector of a residence hall. She explained that he would be considered a non-confidential resource because he is not specifically working within his duties as a priest. Morgan also mentioned there is a difference between being a non-confidential resource and a mandatory reporter. 

Morgan said she is very proud of how the SpeakUp site is organized now and believes that students will have an easier time navigating the site to learn the tool’s purpose and filing a report correctly if the need arises. 

The Mechanics

Anyone with a Notre Dame NetID (the beginning part of any Notre Dame email address) can access SpeakUp and file a report. 

Ryan referred to the tool as a “landing page,” explaining that from the SpeakUp website, a student can file a variety of different reports based on the specific incident. On the reporting page, a reporter has five different options of which type of report to file: an incidence of racial or discriminatory harassment, anything related to sexual harassment and wrongdoing, hazing or initiatory events, retaliation or violation of a University order, and any other type of incident. 

Based on which report is chosen, the completed form is routed to the corresponding office. For example, an incidence of sexual harassment that was reported would go directly to the University’s Title IX office. 

Director of diversity and inclusion for race and ethnicity Faith Woods explained that the purpose of SpeakUp is to be a “direct connection” between the administration and anyone who has been involved or witnessed an incident of wrongdoing. 

Ryan and Morgan both emphasized although the process varies within the circumstances of the incident, someone from the addressing department on campus will reach out to those involved in a timely manner about the next steps. 

“I think one piece that’s important to note is that [within 48 hours], you will hear from someone to go through what next steps would be appropriate for that particular complaint or grievance,” Morgan noted. 

Ryan said that specifically within OCS, outcomes of a filed complaint will take one of three routes: the meeting, the conference and the hearing. She said the meeting is the least formal, consisting of a meeting with a rector or hall staff for a first-time offense; whereas, the hearing is a more severe outcome with possible University dismissal in the realm of decisions.

“The conference is the middle part, it’s sort of a middle ground with a lot of formation and growth can occur,” she said. “It still has some disciplinary status outcomes available, but that’s not maybe the first place those conversations start.”

Future Directions and Drawbacks

Both Morgan and Ryan acknowledged there is still work to be done to publicize the SpeakUp tool. 

Outside the student-led focus groups coming out of the Inclusive Campus Survey, another of the steps taken recently was a joint campaign with the Division of Student Affairs and Notre Dame student government, specifically student government director of gender relations for Title IX and woman’s initiatives Lane Obringer. 

Obringer said she noticed that a lot of the promotional material for SpeakUp was outdated and saw an opportunity to raise awareness for a tool she believes is extremely important. 

“I thought that just bringing [SpeakUp] to the forefront of the student body’s attention would be super important as we began the school year, especially because the time from the first day of school until Thanksgiving break is known as the Red Zone of increased sexual assaults and violence on college campuses,” she said. 

Over the summer, Obringer worked with Morgan to design new promotional material for SpeakUp.

One place Obringer hesitates in regard to SpeakUp is that she knows the decision to bring an incident forward to University officials is difficult. 

“I’m really, really grateful that SpeakUpND does exist — we need a platform for students to be able to share their experiences of the bad things that have happened on this campus,” she emphasized. “But I also understand its downsides.”

When asked about her views on SpeakUp as a whole, Obringer began to tell a story of when she sat in on a faculty senate meeting. 

Obringer said that when SpeakUp was brought up in the meeting, none of the faculty knew what it was or how to access it. 

“That was really worrisome to me, that faculty, and sometimes staff members aren’t aware of SpeakUpND, and they don’t know its purpose,” she said. “Yes, SpeakUp is important. Yes, it is a vital resource for our campus, but all eyes need to be on it.”

Director of multicultural student programs and services (MSPS) Arnel Bulaoro said he encourages students to utilize SpeakUp when they face situations with harmful racial harassment, bias or discrimination. He noted that part of his role as director is to help the administration and assist students who experience racial microaggressions. 

Bulaoro pointed out that although the reporting tool aims to decrease incidents of wrongdoing on campus, reporting itself can be a burden at times. 

“The nature of SpeakUp as a tool is to raise awareness of incidents, investigate and to support. It is not designed to cause harm to those who are injured by these incidents, but it is fair to say that reliving them can be a source of pain,” he said in an email. 

As far as the future goes, Bulaoro wrote that he believes the University can do more to promote SpeakUp to the student body. 

“Several years ago, Diversity Council suggested to the University to create a reporting tool and to that end, SpeakUp is serving its intended purpose,” he said. “Perhaps, it is more fair to say that our campus community can raise awareness that this tool is available to help make our community a better place.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the housing office of SpeakUpND. The Observer regrets this error.

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Notre Dame law school hosts Uyghur-American lawyer and commissioner to speak on Uyghur genocide

“People often say history repeats itself, but we allow history to repeat,” Commissioner Nury Turkel said in his conversation with Stephanie Barclay, a professor at the Notre Dame Law School, this Monday. In the talk, Turkel detailed the ongoing genocide against the Uyghur people in China.

Turkel, who was born in a Chinese “re-education” camp, is the first U.S. educated Uyghur-American lawyer. He was appointed commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in May 2020 by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. He also recently published a book — “No Escape: The True Story of China’s Genocide of the Uyghurs.”

Turkel began his remarks by describing the situation of the Uyghur people, who are a Muslim ethnic group native to the Xinjiang region in China.

“The Chinese government has locked up anywhere between 2 to 3 million Uyghurs in industrial secure concentration camps that the world has not seen since the Holocaust era,” Turkel stated.

China’s motivation for the imprisonment of the Uyghurs, beyond wanting a cheap labor force, Turkel said, is a desire to suppress religion in China as a whole.

“Abrahamic religion and communist ideology are not compatible,” he said. “The Chinese government wants the state to be the highest force in people’s lives and thus religion is seen as a sign of disloyalty.”

Turkel continued to detail the many ways in which the Chinese government is suppressing the religious expression of the Uyghurs.

“In April 2017, the legislative body […] essentially criminalized 48 behaviors: growing a beard, wearing a religious outfit, praying, keeping a prayer mat or religious text, adhering to holidays, refusing to smoke or drink,” Turkel said.

Turkel described the situation as an “everyday Kristallnacht,” referring to a specific instance of Nazi terror targeting the Jewish population in Germany with vandalism, destruction and broken glass.

As of 2022, Turkel stated that 800,000 Uyghur children have been imprisoned and separated from their families. Women have been subject to forced sterlization, rape and forced abortion.

Turkel stated that the Chinese Communist Party has attempted to eliminate the Uyghur ethnic group by forcing women to marry Han Chinese men — women who refuse are imprisoned. As a result of these policies, the growth rate of the Uyghur population has fallen by 65%.

Turkel added that the prisons have gotten worse over time. While a few decades ago, they would have been more similar to the gulags found in Soviet Russia, today they are more akin to Nazi concentration camps.

Turkel himself has been affected by the actions of the Chinese Communist Party. In the 1970s, Turkel’s father was sent to a forced labor camp, and his mother was sent to a re-education camp. There, she was beaten, almost starved to death and gave birth to Turkel in the prison while suffering from a broken hip.

Today, Turkel is being sanctioned by China for speaking out against the genocide. His mother cannot leave the country to meet her five grandchildren in the U.S., and he is unable to visit her in China.

“I could not attend my father’s funeral or hold my mother while we were mourning,” Turkel stated, “I do not think that I will see her again in this life.”

In order to control the Uyghur population, Turkel said the Chinese government has developed a massive security apparatus. Security cameras are incredibly prevalent and track the activities of all citizens. More invasive, however, are the roughly 1 million Chinese government spies who have been sent into Uyghur populations, Turkel explained. 

“Chinese spies are sent to Uyghur homes — specifically those who have no male household leader — and are sleeping and eating with those female mothers and individuals in their homes,” Turkel said. He added that these spies ask children to report on their mothers.

Turkel praised the work that Congress has done in passing bills that limit American business in Xinjiang, as well as the over 100 punitive sanctions imposed on China by both the Trump and Biden administrations. Turkel also applauded the U.S. government for officially classifying what is happening as genocide.

“Words matter and are incredibly consequential in a situation like the Uyghur crisis,” he said. 

At the same time, however, Turkel declared more work needs to be done by the government to combat these atrocities.

“U.S. foreign policy establishment can no longer ignore the human rights abuses being committed against the Uyghurs, Tibetans and now the people of Hong Kong,” Turkel said.

America should also urge its allies to take a stronger stance, Turkel argued, but responsibility is not solely on the government to act.

“If we continue to look the other way, then other nations will be emboldened, encouraged that they can get away with this kind of crime in broad daylight,” he said.

Turkel explained that many American companies do business in Xinjiang, and 80% of cotton exported from China is farmed in Xinjiang by Uyghur forced laborers — much of which is sold in the U.S. Turkel implored Americans to stop buying cotton apparel made in China and said he hopes mainstream U.S. culture takes a stance against China for their crimes in the same way it has against Russia.

“For the first time since the heyday of antebellum South, cotton slavery is once again polluting the global economy on a huge industrial scale,” Turkel declared.

Concluding his remarks, Turkel read a passage from his book.

“As 18th century English statesman Edmund Burke once observed, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” he said. “That is why I will always speak up, even if it is through my own tears.”

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University leaders talk next steps after campus inclusive survey results

The Campus Inclusive Survey, which has been done previously in 2018 and 2020, asked the Notre Dame student population to reflect on their sense of belonging and what factors have influenced how at home they feel under the golden dome. 

Data was collected from February to March 2022 and yielded a 42 percent response rate, according to vice president of student affairs Fr. Gerry Olinger. 

“We had 5,380 respondents [to the] survey, which we were actually very pleased with,” he said. “On average, the national response rate for these types of surveys is about 20 to 24 percent. So, we had a significantly higher response rate than many other institutions.”

The results of the recent survey, Olinger explained, are entirely accessible to anyone within the campus community, except in cases where anonymity could not be preserved. Students, faculty and staff can log into the survey results using their Notre Dame NetID and password. 

Viewers can find the survey results in their aggregate form by clicking through data in each of the nine survey topics: respondent characteristics, student experiences at Notre Dame, comfort sharing aspects of identity, recommending Notre Dame, how Notre Dame has changed, insensitive remarks, adverse treatment, resources for reporting and open-ended comments. 

Out of many result statistics, Olinger highlighted a few that he said stood out to him, both good and bad, including that 89% of students reported feeling a sense of belonging on campus. This number correlated with the 50% of students who responded to experiencing adverse treatment ranging from verbal comments or jokes to threats of violence and personal property damage.

Additionally, only 7% of reported instances of adverse treatment were reported, either to a staff member, SpeakUp or another reporting mechanism. Although he did express concern about the low number of reported cases of adverse treatment, Olinger noted that most of the respondents did respond that they knew how to recognize and report instances of discrimination.

“We can celebrate a strong sense of belonging, we can celebrate some of the more positive, but we also need to acknowledge that there is work, important work, to do ahead. And that’s where myself and others are so committed,” he said. 

In response to a low familiarity rate with the reporting database, Olinger said the steering committee is entering into an advertising campaign with Notre Dame student government and added a new racial discrimination and sexual assault awareness module to Welcome Weekend. 

While the Office of Strategic Planning and Institutional Research (OSPIR) collected the data and worked to format the results to assure anonymity, Olinger said the steering committee oversaw how the results were organized, interpreted and merged into both existing and future programs, including the creation of more listening sessions.  He also noted his weekly office hours and fireside chats as being open to anyone wishing to talk about campus issues. 

Alongside Olinger at many of those student-led sessions will be the inaugural vice president for institutional transformation and advisor to the president, Hugh Page. A part of Notre Dame faculty since 1992 in theology and Africana studies, Page transitioned from his former position as vice president and associate provost for undergraduate studies in July. In his current role directly under University President John Jenkins, Page said he works on campus wide diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. 

“My responsibility now is to help coordinate and catalyze progress on DEI initiatives on campus and to collaborate with the President and key leaders on campus, for example, members of the President’s Leadership Council and the deans in ensuring the success of those efforts,” he said. 

Although Page acknowledged his importance to the University, he explained that he is not necessarily the face of DEI on campus. 

“We have so many people working on DEI related projects and a collective sense that even though I’m in this role, if you were going to ask the question, ‘who is the face of DEI at Notre Dame,’ the most reasonable answer would be all of us,” he said. “I am, in some ways, the first among equals in this sort of work.” 

Page noted his eagerness for student guidance to inform their actions.

“In this day and time, there can never be too much conversation about issues that enable us to feel a sense of belonging and focus on the kind of community that we want to be and the steps that we need to take,” he said. “More intensive conversations, opportunities to get to know one another and the infusion of the efforts everywhere … I think that’s something that we need to see going forward.”

Page and Olinger emphasized their joint intent to not only have conversations surrounding DEI but also to put more informed ideas into action. 

“[The changes will] not be done in a vacuum but it’s done in very much of an iterative way,” Olinger said. “Sometimes the fear is that the University is just listening, and I think it’s important to show that there are important action items and steps taken, but we also need to make sure that that action is being informed by student voices.”

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Notre Dame Law School scraps binding early decision application

Notre Dame Law School has ended binding early applications, the school’s office of admissions announced in a press release Wednesday. The release cited unfair wealth advantages and anxiety as main reasons for the elimination.

“Early decision programs tend to advantage wealthier students and create anxiety for many students when choosing an application program,” the release said.

The early decision application program bound students to Notre Dame Law School before they could weigh financial aid options, sparking the concerns that led to this decision.

Instead of the early decision program, applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis, according to the press release.

“Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis beginning in Sept. and initial admissions decisions will be released in late Nov. or early Dec. While the application will close on March 15, prospective students are encouraged to submit applications early in the admissions cycle,” the law school wrote.

The law school heralded increasing diversity and first-generation law students in its last two classes, and said this latest step would promote further “diversity, equity and inclusion.”

“Our success at enrolling diverse students who have demonstrated excellence will be amplified by this modification of our admissions procedure,” G. Marcus Cole, dean of the law school, said in the statement.

Experts told Reuters, a news agency, that the move was expected, and that other law schools may follow. They cite “ongoing uncertainty about the national applicant pool and concerns about access and equity.”

The press release also said that students are encouraged to show commitment to the program in their “Why Notre Dame?” application essay.