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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024
The Observer

Students’ silence is the loudest noise

DeBartolo Hall’s room 101 is used to host events when organizers expect a big audience. Yet when I flung its heavy doors open, the massiveness of the room overwhelmed me. In a hall built to hold 465 people, only 13 were present.

I must have gotten the wrong room,” I thought as I awkwardly stood by the door. “Surely more students are coming to the listening session,” I thought as I made eye contact with University President Fr. John Jenkins, who, at this point, was waving at me and telling me to come down.

Yet, it was, in fact, the right room — and no, no other student attended the session besides senior Jack Ferguson and freshman Crystal Lin.

On Wednesday, the search committee hosted a listening session for undergraduates to gain input on the qualities the new provost should have in order to succeed at Notre Dame.

The point was to frame a conversation with students and ask them to comment on issues relevant to the position. It goes without saying that the role of a provost is very important. He or she is “charged with administering and coordinating the academic activities and functions,” as Jenkins explained in an email sent to the whole student body. Essentially, this is the person right below the President or the second-in-command in the institution.

Taking into account the consequential nature of this decision and the potential it has to impact the University, the administration sought to invite students into the decision-making process, but only two of them decided to attend.

In the past few semesters, this same administration has been bashed for taking actions without consulting the people who will be directly affected by them — namely the student body. After stripping student ID cards of access to all dorms this summer and implementing controversial policies regarding dorm life in the spring semester, the leadership of the University has been criticized for not listening to its constituents.

Protests have been organized and calls for transparency have been made. The issue was even the subject of The Observer’s Editorial, in which the Board stated the administration “needs to fundamentally reform the way it goes about implementing major changes in our community.”

It seems ironic, then, that when given a voice to contribute to fundamental decisions, we suddenly decide not to act.

At the meeting, the search committee asked, “What are the challenges and opportunities you believe the provost would have on his or her plate in the next five years?” This would have been the perfect opportunity to raise the issue of student-administration relations and the often hushed and secretive way in which policies are executed. Yet, these important topics were not even addressed because the people who had the duty to talk about them did not rise to the occasion.

As a student, I am immensely proud of the activism that characterizes our student body. When controversy strikes, we rise with impetus. When Maryann White wrote a letter to the editor bashing women for their choice of clothing, both men and women wore leggings as a sign of disagreement. When the administration announced the implementation of the “senior-exclusion policy,” at least 1,000 students protested both inside and outside Main Building. How is it possible, then, that when the administration finally gives students – the same ones who so fiercely charge into action - a seat at the table, almost no one attends?

It might be the case that we feel we are not heard when we do speak. Maybe we feel that our voices are unable to provoke change. But the fact is that silence and powerlessness go hand-in-hand to inhibit action.

As students, we must remember we are the largest group in the community and that the single most important vehicle for change is our voice. We might fear our voice is merely a whisper, but when 8,530 whispers unite, a thundering shout is heard. Just because we feel small or unheard does not mean we should stop persisting. Quite the opposite, really — it means we have to keep pushing on.

Instead of complaining about the administration, we have to seize opportunities for dialogue because, at the end of the day, the greatest noise heard at Wednesday’s listening session was our silence.

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