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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Observer

Our shared destiny

I sat on the floor of the shoebox-sized office we were occupying, my hands firmly wrapped around those of my friend. Between sobs, she told me how hard it was for her to be on this campus because she didn’t feel like she belonged. Shocking me when she said, “I wish I never came to Notre Dame.” She’s someone who weaves people and groups together to build a rich social fabric. Every week her goal is to find one stranger to get coffee with and once a month she transforms her room into a fort and invites her friends to come for a sleepover.Weaving is one of the world’s oldest art forms. It involves the intertwining of singular threads to build larger works. A bird weaving together a nest to protect its young, a person weaving a basket tight enough to hold water, a spider weaving strong webs to catch its prey.She represents but a single thread, yet brings together others, in the larger woven tapestry of the Notre Dame family. She has a loving awareness of the contract that each of us enter into when we commit to come here: that we are not disconnected from each other, but joined in a splendid universal communion to one another united in our concern for the common good. With tears streaking down her face she told me how she had come to terms with her own sexuality. How she recently made the courageous step to tell her friends and was subsequently exiled from her friend group. This ended with her taking a leave of absence for the second half of last semester. The threads she worked so hard to bring together were torn from their stitches in a matter of moments. Recently I was talking with a member of the Black Alumni Association, where he shared another story of a promise unfulfilled. Through a laughing, but slightly pained voice he said, “Notre Dame is a great place to get a degree, it’s not a great place to go.”It’s something echoed in another friend’s tale, where she has come from an academic background where the longest paper she had to write was one page and now she’s being given a Notre Dame workload, but not the resources to keep up with all of her work. Notre Dame’s promise is working for some but not for all. What is seemingly a beautiful woven tapestry of family as long as you look, think, and act a certain way but what otherwise is a bedraggled fraying fabric.A single thread on a campus of 8,000 might not seem like a lot, but with one thread undone a young bird might fall from it’s nest, water might spill from it’s basket, or a spider might go without food.While many, like my friend, attempt to weave together threads of the Notre Dame community, others follow right behind attempting to undo their woven threads one by one.There are parts of our family who have ripped at the cords of our home — calling people and their existence “erosive”, a welcome weekend of allyship and being a good neighbor “secular” and an educational environment for all to succeed too “woke.” A gospel of weaving being overtaken by a gospel of exclusion. Exclusion hidden under a cloak of “Catholicism,” but when held up to the light of the teachings of Christ it looks nothing alike. I believe in a divine, loving presence that binds all life. Jesus walked around on this earth as a poor, brown, Jewish man who, in his free time, met with prostitutes, tax collectors and those on the margins. Our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared: a destiny that requires work from us all to maintain. Our singular threads are woven together to create the Notre Dame family. However, if we allow individual threads to fray, become unwoven, broken or excluded, that harms us all.If you don’t have the resources to succeed in your classes, that matters to me even if we’ve never shared a class together. If your mental health is struggling that makes my mental health poorer even if we aren’t best friends. If you don’t feel like you belong on this campus that makes me more isolated, even if we’ve never met. To live by our values as a Catholic institution means doing justice to the stories of the people I’ve talked about. It’s not secular. It’s not a “woke leftist agenda.” It doesn’t harm our faith. It’s what we’re called to do precisely because we’re Catholic.In a recent Forbes college ranking, Notre Dame ranked 41, despite comfortably having sat in the top 20 of most other rankings. I don’t care about the ranking itself, what I care about is why we were so much lower. We came in at 41 because their analysis weighted more heavily on, “how schools are treating their low-income students.” A major part of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts of the past provost was attempting to rectify these inequities.One of the ways we must start working towards this shared destiny is by ensuring we have a provost that it’s not enough for just some of us to succeed for only some of us to belong.Notre Dame stands at a crossroads — do we pick a Catholicism of weaving, of ensuring that every student, no matter their background feels like they belong and are able to succeed here; or do we pick a veneer of Catholicism that values the fragile exclusive existence of some while leaving our friends on the side of the road?If you believe in a Catholicism that stands for a more inclusive community take five minutes today, write a letter, and send it to the Provost search committee. Ask for a Provost that understands this shared destiny. One letter may seem insignificant, but the accumulation of letter upon letter expressing this vision for the University will impact the committee’s discernment.If you desire a shared destiny on this campus and beyond in which we live up to our Catholic mission I beg you to send an email to stating that need. Describing the need for a Catholic education that prioritizes the dignity of every thread, story and person on this campus.Our shared destiny relies on the work of each of us to preserve it, progress isn’t inevitable, it requires each of us to take part and ownership in ensuring that destiny includes all of us.

Dane Sherman


March 23, 2022

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