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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

Tri-Campus Thursday: Students consider diversity at Notre Dame with conclusion of Black History Month

As Black History Month draws to a close, our community and the nation as a whole faces the annual question of how we will fight for racial equality and acceptance year-round. In more recent years, many people have come to realize that one month of performative recognition of Black history is nowhere near enough. So, with the last days of February slipping away, it is time to think about the efficacy of such efforts and how they can be improved going forwards.

One might look to institutional initiatives at Notre Dame to gauge the work being done on diversity, equity and inclusion. This year marked the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day observed as a University holiday at Notre Dame. Last summer, the Notre Dame Board of Trustees issued a task force report on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

While such changes and improvements are welcome, one must also wonder if a university that holds an annual “Walk the Walk Week,” is, indeed, walking the walk. This week, The Observer heard from students who shared their perspectives on diversity at Notre Dame. 

Over the past few years, the nation has undergone a great deal of change. Now, more than ever, people are more in tune with racial justice issues and aware of inequities across all facets of life.

One way this manifested at Notre Dame was through Stand Together, a subcommittee of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) with a focus on diversity and inclusion. Created in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Stand Together seeks “to establish and maintain an inclusive culture that fosters equitable participation and opportunities for all,” according to the subcommittee’s charter. Student-athletes involved in Stand Together have organized “town halls” to facilitate conversations about inclusion and can be seen in promotional videos at sporting events promoting the group’s values.

Bryan Silver is a senior midfielder on the Notre Dame men’s soccer team who serves on Stand Together within SAAC. For Silver, Stand Together has given student-athletes a way to support one another while utilizing their platforms for good. 

“We have a very diverse athletics group, so it is important that our athletes feel as though they can be comfortable with whatever background they come from,” Silver said. “Being an athlete allows you to be the face of something, and I think part of what we want to do is allow and set people up for those kinds of discussions and to be in the public's eye.” 

As any Notre Dame student knows after taking their Moreau First-Year Experience course, the University was once nationally involved in the Civil Rights Movement, a period of time preserved in memory by an image of Martin Luther King Jr. and Father Hesburgh holding hands. Decades later, there is still much to be done. 

“Since then, I don’t know if we’ve really been a big proponent of any kind of civil rights activism, as much as we would like as a University as a whole,” Silver said. 

As seen through Stand Together, students are taking initiative to be forces for the change they want to see. However, there are voices calling for more action to come from the University. 

Notre Dame senior Xolisa Ngwenya has been a member of the African Students Association (ASA) since her freshman year. Hailing from Swaziland, Ngwenya is also involved with Notre Dame International (NDI) in promoting study abroad and other means of cultural engagement. Through ASA, Ngwenya promotes events across campus that celebrate and educate people on African history, current events and culture. Although these events are open to everyone, attendance does not always reflect this. 

“I feel like organizing those events, most of the time, it’s only the African American students or African students that attend them, as opposed to everyone else that should be attending because they’re the ones that actually need to get the knowledge and learn,” Ngwenya said. 

Events such as Africa on the Quad and Show Some Skin have served the student body as ways to celebrate diversity and express the experiences that have come with having a minority background, but it also matters who attends those events. This call for action was heard in a recent interview with Student Body President Allan Njomo, who asked the University and the student body to make Notre Dame a place that is willing and able to support students of all backgrounds. 

Njomo is not the only one to call for more proactive work to create changes in the campus community. Aside from having the communities and spaces to be heard through clubs and organizations, students also need to see concrete action taken to support them and their needs.

“Information about the experience of minority students, specifically Black students, is already out there; there’s so many things. Now, it’s a matter of just implementing them,” Ngwenya said. “Even if it’s just one thing, how exactly are you going to implement strategies to educate the student body or make the students feel more comfortable being in this environment?”