Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

Pricking the consciences

Congratulations to University President Fr. John Jenkins, Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves, Provost Tom Burish and the other officers of the University and the Staff Diversity & Inclusion Committee for what was truly a remarkable and historic Walk the Walk Week at Notre Dame — a week, and a series of excellent events, programs and very honest discussions, which truly honored the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. My hope is that we will be able to build on this success.

For the last several months, it has been my pleasure to serve on an informal committee with 15 dedicated members of the Notre Dame and local communities — faculty, staff and alumni — whose goal has been, and continues to be, to encourage Fr. Jenkins and the Officers Group to host a series of major lectures and programs informally dubbed, “Race Relations in America.” A series that would, and could, deal with crucial race issues of our time, about which we would acknowledge that as a country and University we have been only mildly successful. At the same time, to acknowledge our failures. And, to provide necessary recommendations where these issues can be successfully addressed and begin to be implemented.

Our belief is that Notre Dame is uniquely positioned “to prick the consciences” of our fellow Americans and world citizens. Only at Notre Dame. America and the world, do pay close attention to what is said, and being done, at Notre Dame.

Many of us realize that what we experienced last week really is only a beginning. Planned, executed and accepted with a seriousness, which struck many as pretty remarkable.

I experienced “a beginning” 60 years ago, when I enrolled as a freshman at ND. I arrived on campus in September 1955, but quickly discovered that there were only two black students in my ND class of 1959. And, only ten black students in the whole University. My two classmates, Tommy Hawkins, the first black All-American basketball player at Notre Dame, and Murray Turner, M.D., went on to distinguished careers in basketball, broadcasting and medicine. But, in June 1959, there were only two black graduates among the 1,203 who received undergraduate degrees that day. So, it was a small beginning.

A big “thank you” to The Observer for printing the wonderful column by Brenna Leahy last Wednesday, “It’s time to walk the walk.” Excellent. Brenna’s message is certainly a much needed charge to those of us in the white community.

Yes, we continue to make progress. We made progress during the administrations of Frs. Hesburgh and Malloy. Now, under the leadership of Fr. Jenkins, we appear to be making considerable progress. I am aware that in past years there were efforts to honor and remember Dr. King at ND. However, this year, the program and possibilities seemed to really come together. I suspect that a great deal of credit should also go to Mr. Eric Love, director of Staff Diversity & Inclusion, in the Office of Human Resources. Kudos also to him, and to his committee. May their work and fierce dedication assist all of us as we move forward.

Joseph P. Mulligan class of 1959

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.