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.

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Women’s clubs share their experiences

This semester marks 50 years since women first stepped foot on Notre Dame’s campus as students.

To honor this milestone, The Observer reached out to leaders from five student clubs that are either geared toward women or focus on advocating for women’s rights.

Baraka Bouts Notre Dame Women’s Boxing club

When Rachel Salamone was a first-year, she knew she wanted to try a new sport.

Walking the stadium concourse at the Student Activities Fair three years ago, Baraka Bouts, the Notre Dame Women’s Boxing club, caught her attention.

“I had heard a bit about the boxing club, but when I saw people throwing mitts at the Activities Fair, I thought it was the coolest thing I had seen all night and I was sold,” she recalled.

Now in its twentieth year, the boxing club is the largest women’s club on campus, Salamone, now the club president, said. With over 300 members, it is also the largest all-female boxing club in the world.

Salamone said the club “works to instill confidence, skill and community” in its members through daily training. At least 100 club members train each year for the club’s best-known event, the annual Baraka Bouts boxing tournament – three nights of club members going head-to-head for one minute and 15 seconds in the Duncan Student Center’s Dahnke Ballroom.

“The dual nature of Notre Dame Women’s Boxing that blends female empowerment with boxing and makes quality education more accessible in Uganda makes the program especially unique and inspiring,” Salamone said.

Feminist ND

Chess Blacklock, a senior with plans to go into public health after graduation, is the president of FeministND.

She said FeministND was one of the first student organizations she got involved in as a freshman and joined its executive board as service chair her sophomore year before becoming president as a junior.

Blacklock said the club’s mission is to “shed a positive light on feminism and the value of the ideology and movement as well as to bring a greater awareness of women’s role in history and women’s contributions to our current society.”

“We bring strong women’s voices to campus, celebrate powerful women and encourage women to seek out positions of power,” she continued. “Additionally, we seek to provide a space free of political or religious bias [for] students to share their opinions and ideas concerning gender issues and feminism while also acting as a general support group for women.”

One of the club’s biggest events is its annual menstrual product drive, which collects pads and tampons for local shelters for people experiencing homelessness. Blacklock said the success of last year’s menstrual product drive is one of the club’s proudest accomplishments.

“This past year, we collected over 900 products to donate,” she said. “Additionally, we collaborated with Campus Cup to allow students to sign up and receive a free menstrual cup. We had over 300 sign-ups for this programming, and while many students picked theirs up for personal use, many also chose for us to donate them.”

FeministND currently has about 200 members. The club has existed since 2016, but Blacklock said feminist clubs have had a presence at Notre Dame since women were admitted to the University half a century ago.

“Though we know these previous clubs existed because of the active role alumni have in our club, we don’t know too much about how these clubs operated due to the lack of consistent and thorough record keeping,” Blacklock explained.

Magnificat Choir

Hannah Schmitz, a junior theology major living in Welsh Family Hall, is the alumni relations and social media manager for the Magnificat Choir, a liturgical choir that welcomes all tri-campus students who sing in the treble range.

The choir sings each week at the 5 p.m. Saturday Vigil Mass at the Basilica and rehearses three times a week.

Schmitz said she decided to join the choir last fall when she was looking for community and a way to continue doing music ministry.

“I had grown up singing in a church choir, and it was something that I had missed doing my freshman year of college,” she said.

After realizing how much joy the choir had given her in just a year, she said she desired to pursue a leadership position.

The choir currently has about 45 members and Schmitz said they’ve built a great community centered around a passion for music and enjoyment of one another’s company.

In addition to rehearsal, choir members participate in group outings about once a month, including ice skating, volleyball and volunteering in the community.

“But honestly, sometimes we have the most fun just going to dinner together after a rehearsal or Mass and enjoying each other’s company,” Schmitz said. “During the fall semester, we love singing at the football Masses and seeing everyone decked out in Notre Dame gear.”

Schmitz said her proudest moment with the choir was last spring when they recorded the first half of their upcoming album.

“We worked for months to prepare these pieces before diving headfirst into a five-hour long recording session in the Lady Chapel of the Basilica,” she said. “We are very proud of what we accomplished so far and we are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to finish the album this upcoming spring. We are all very excited to hear the final product.”

Network of Enlightened Women

Gavriella Aviva Lund, a senior neuroscience major with a minor in theology, said one of her many passions is “bringing people of diverse backgrounds together to learn more about each other and to find common ground to build stronger communities locally and beyond.”

In fall 2020, Lund and Theresa Olohan ’21 began the process of founding a chapter of the Network of Enlightened Women (NeW) on Notre Dame’s campus.

NeW is a national organization, originally founded at the University of Virginia in 2004, that connects conservative college women and creates a space for them to talk about public policy and conservative values, Lund explained.

Lund said she and Olohan wanted to establish a chapter at Notre Dame to “provide an open community where women on campus could discuss and learn about social and policy issues they cared about while developing a network of women across the country who pursue the same mission as leaders in their professions.”

NeW at ND was established in the spring of 2021, and, now, the club has about 125 members. They meet at least twice a month, and members have enjoyed fun activities such as roller rink trips and ice skating, as well as lectures and professional development opportunities.

Lund currently serves as president of NeW at ND and said, though the club is branded as a space for women with “conservative values,” it does not endorse specific political parties or candidates.

“The university setting was originally meant to be a space where ideas are exchanged, which requires a difference of opinions,” Lund said.

She said NeW at ND plans to highlight this with the theme of the club this year: “Embrace and Engage.”

Instead of being afraid of those with different opinions on social issues or policies, she continued, she encourages people to, first, embrace the dignity and goodwill of every person and then “engage in an open dialogue to understand where our peers are coming from.”

“Coming together as one united community, we can learn so much from each other and make prominent social change,” Lund said.

Shades of Ebony

Thaddea Ampadu, a senior accounting major, is the co-president of Shades of Ebony, a club geared toward Black women at Notre Dame focusing on service and sisterhood.

Shades was founded 21 years ago by Arienne Thompson ’04 and Terri Baxter ’05 to create a space where Black women could come together and share their experiences.

Its mission is to “unify, empower and inspire women of all shades” through engaging in dialogue and service in the South Bend community, Ampadu said.

The club’s general meetings – which take place weekly or biweekly depending on what leadership has planned – often include discussions on topics like mental health, mentorship, career development, social life and equitable access to resources at Notre Dame and beyond.

“There are very few women of color on campus, and because of this, there are rarely opportunities to meet and have dialogue,” Ampadu said. “Attending our meetings is always the highlight of my week because I don’t have to explain certain parts of my identity because most, if not all, of us share those same identities and experiences.”

She said Shades has about 30 active members and about 50 who attend events more occasionally.

The club cohosts events and holiday parties with other student clubs including Wabruda, the Black Student Association and the Gender Relations Center.

Last year, Shades was named the “Club of the Year” by the Club Coordination Council. Ampadu and other club leaders are proud of the events Shades has organized and their successful efforts to revive the club after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The community is absolutely beautiful,” Ampadu said. “When we meet, I can visibly see how relaxed and comfortable our members become surrounded by women that look like them.”