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Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024
The Observer

Invisible Irish: Standing up for the seated students

Every single football game, I take my place in the student section. With fellow seniors to my back and the 50-yard line ahead, my spot is a prime position. It’s the ultra-exclusive, invitation-only, hottest section in Notre Dame Football. It’s the handicap-accessible accommodations. What a great spot to not only see, but to be seen. The roving Fighting Irish Media camera crew is constantly passing a foot away from our VIP row, the equipment close enough to reach up and touch. Yet by some mistake, that camera is never pointed at me. At anyone in the accessible seating, actually. The videographer’s back is to us. Like we aren’t there.  Instead, they choose to point the camera on audience members like throngs of Katies from Chicago or babies that don’t even go here. They don’t pay baby tuition or have $50,000 in baby loans! So what gives?  If anyone reading this knows, please tell me.  Do we not have enough spirit and hunger in our eyes? Dare I mention the discomfort people often feel with seeing disability rendered in pixels 50-ft high? Is executing the perfect Irish jig really that vital? Perhaps we just lack that je ne sais quoi which makes fans Jumbotron-worthy. Whatever the reason, it’s too bad. Because representation matters. And right now, we’re not doing a great job. According to a 2017 report from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, only 2.7% of speaking characters in the 100 highest-earning movies of 2016 were depicted with a disability. That’s far below the estimated proportion of Americans with disabilities, ranging from about 1 in 8 (US Census) to 1 in 4 (CDC). However, I also recognize that I have privilege as a straight white woman who is still able to see herself represented in film more often than many other marginalized groups. For example, in the same USC analysis, just 1.1% of speaking characters were depicted as LGBT. This kind of representation discussion indeed belongs in our football stadium. Football Saturday is akin to a spiritual pilgrimage, one of the centers of Notre Dame culture. So why not show that Notre Dame embraces all types of students, and we don’t solely celebrate the abled bodies of the elite athletes on the field?  Take the inimitable Sam Jackson’s performance as our Gold Leprechaun this season — just the 2nd black leprechaun. In a September Scholastic article, he tells a story about affirming to a young Ethiopian fan that leprechauns may always wear green, but Notre Dame’s mascot isn’t limited to light skin and ginger hair. Don’t try to tell me that there isn’t at least one child that would benefit from viewing a wheelchair-user screaming along with his or her fellow students. We owe it to that young Irish fan to step into our discomfort and be better. As a senior, I’ve already attended my last game in the student section. I may be midway through the Kübler-Ross grief model (perhaps in the bargaining stage), but there are several more students who will fill the accessible seating section in the coming falls. We are here. We are Irish. And we’re ready for our close-up.

Alexandra Rudin


Dec. 8

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