Statement and Call to Action

Collaboration among Black Clubs at Notre Dame

Hear our Voices

                                                                                                                                    Contact: Black Student Association | Email: bsa@nd.edu

Dear Notre Dame,

 

        In light of our nation’s current climate, we, as leaders and representatives of the Black students of the University of Notre Dame, are compelled to voice our thoughts and concerns. Although Black students make up only 4% of the undergraduate population, we are family. When one of us hurts, we all feel the pain, and right now, it is deafening. Although George Floyd’s murder has pushed the battle against racism into the spotlight, members of our community have been fighting this war their entire lives. We mourn George Floyd as we have mourned countless brothers and sisters lost to the hate and prejudice ingrained into our country. We walk with Black Lives Matter and stand in solidarity with those protesting these injustices. We refuse to sit in silence and let our voices go unheard, and we write to call you to action. As one of the most renowned Catholic institutions in the world, Notre Dame’s voice and actions carry extreme weight, and right now, we need your uninhibited support. If the Notre Dame family truly values us as a part of their community, we hope all of its members will answer the call and truly walk the walk with us in this fight for justice and equality.  

 

Campus and Local Policing

 

        While George Floyd’s murder calls for justice in America, shortcomings regarding racial equality on Notre Dame’s campus must not be ignored. Although numerous students and faculty members have reported cases of Notre Dame Police Department racial profiling, the University has remained silent on this issue. Additionally, a 54-year-old Black man named Eric Logan was fatally shot by a South Bend police officer who also failed to turn on his body camera last June. While no charges were brought against him, many members of the South Bend community questioned the police report of the incident. Administration’s silence on these matters highlights the racial disconnect Notre Dame often displays when complicated situations arise.

 

Call to Action

  • NDPD must undertake annual extensive racial bias training in order to actively work against racial profiling of students and faculty. Students, faculty, and staff must be made aware of when these training courses occur and increase accountability.

  • When racialized issues, like the Eric Logan shooting, occur in South Bend, administration must send out emails to the entire student body to at least acknowledge the loss of life. We currently receive emails about thefts that happen in the area so there is a platform for which this action can occur. Acknowledging a loss of life does not require a political stance and would further bridge the divide between Notre Dame and South Bend.

 

Student Life 

 

        Since its first Black graduate in 1947, the Notre Dame community has made very notable progress in creating a more diverse and inclusive space on campus. Progress, however, is not finite, and additional steps must be taken until every Black student feels entirely safe and heard within the community. Administration’s swift and effective response to xenophobic comments directed towards Asian students, regarding COVID-19 in March should be expected, not surprising. Unfortunately, when racial and homophobic slurs were directed towards residents and written on the floors and walls of Stanford and Keenan Halls in the same school year, administration failed to publicly address this manner. Although subsequent protestors were threatened with disciplinary action by NDPD and administration, there was no official acknowledgment of the defacement and little transparency in the incident overall. Confronting the legacy of racism will require specific actions against the perpetrator(s) and specific and public affirmation of the importance and value of Black students within the Notre Dame community. 

        While dealing with racist encounters like those listed above, Black students also face additional burdens as they interact with peers and faculty on campus.  In and outside of classes, Black students are often unfairly expected to educate others on any topic regarding racial injustice. Not only does this force students to relive past traumas, it further labels Black students as ‘other’. There is also additional pressure on Black students to assist in promoting Notre Dame as a truly diverse institution. Whether it is a picture in an admissions brochure or being asked to give a speech of appreciation at an event, these types of promotions feel ingenuine when there are so many racial issues yet to be resolved. If Notre Dame truly aims to cultivate students with “a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice, and oppression that burden the lives of so many,” changes must be made to enforce this sensibility on campus.

 

Call to Action 

  • Administration must work to create a student body more reflective of American demographics by recruiting more students of color, as well as students from under-resourced communities historically neglected by Notre Dame. This additional representation will create a more inclusive environment for minority students on campus by reducing feelings of isolation. 

  • Students and faculty must recognize that it is a privilege to learn about racism rather than experience it and must make a conscious effort to educate themselves rather than relying on Black students to do it for them. 

  • Administration must reiterate the University’s intolerance to any act of discrimination and increase transparency when situations arise. Publicly notify all students and faculty of incidents and release updates of any ensuing investigations. 

  • Students must create an intentionally inclusive environment by avoiding racial slurs and jokes and calling out their peers to do the same. It is not the exclusive responsibility of Black students to hold students accountable, and progress will not be made until everyone commits to this task.

 

Mental Health

 

        Despite progress made over the years, racism continues to have an impact on the mental health of Black Americans. In light of recent events that have taken place across the country and on our campus, we urge Notre Dame to genuinely consider the mental health of its Black students. The impact of racial trauma affects many of its Black students in their day to day lives, especially in classrooms where they are singled out to talk about their race.

        On the University Counseling Center’s website, the section titled “Responding to the Impact of Racial Violence,” included links to resources from other schools, to help students of color, as well as a guided meditation for white people. These responses are insufficient in terms of providing the correct form of help to its Black students who may experience an increase of anxiety and depression and overall uncertainty, during this time. Instead, these resources prove a more comprehensive list and would proficiently check the mental health of Black students during this time. Further, when trying to educate or check up on our white peers, a guided meditation will not suffice. Instead, hold group discussions around racial injustices to facilitate more understanding between different racial groups. These suggestions might have first been put into place if the University Counseling Center had counselors who understood its Black students' individual issues and concerns, but the lack of representation makes it difficult for these topics of racial trauma to be discussed and understood by the counselors. The University Counseling Center has a total of 34 counselors, seven of which are multicultural counselors. Only one of the multicultural counselors is a person of color. Although these numbers are also a reflection of the lack of Black professors on campus, it is a necessity that the University hire Black professionals that are well versed in Black culture and the mental health of Black students on campus. 

 

Call to Action

  • Hire more Black counselors within the UCC to create a safe space for Black students to discuss their mental health and trauma.

  • Add mental health questions to the Inclusive Campus Survey to gauge the wellness of the student body and take action based on these results.

  • Develop a more informative plan of action for Notre Dame students to deal with situations, such as the one we are currently navigating, including group discussions involving all students.

 

Professors and Staff

 

        Professors are leading and creating classrooms where all their students must feel comfortable, be accommodated, and included in civil and equitable conversations. Currently, there are professors who lead their classrooms in such a way, however, there are many who do not. Black students have made note of professors who allow other students to overstep boundaries, professors who force Black students to speak on subjects about Black struggles, or professors who make racist/prejudiced comments or allow other students to make them. This problematic behavior harms Black students. In addition, Notre Dame has a lack of diversity among professors. Students are lucky to see maybe one Black professor outside of the Africana Studies and History department.  Administration, there are a lot of students in schools outside of Arts & Letters who have never had a Black professor at Notre Dame. This creates a learning environment where Black students have a hard time finding ways to connect and relate to their professors. In their own classrooms, Black students feel that their white professors either ignore or do not understand them. 

        At the same time, the Africana department has an abundance of Black professors—  and is one of the smallest departments on campus. However, every professor hired into this department has historically had dual appointments in another department (like History, Political Science, or Theology). To date, Africana Studies is the ONLY department where all professors have dual appointments. Why are there no Africana professors who only teach within the Africana department? While we recognize this is not an explicit requirement, we question historical hiring methods.  

        After speaking with several professors, we have found that there is also a retention issue for what little Black professors we manage to hire. Many Black professors are leaving the university because they are finding little to no avenues for tenure. Black professors have varied bodies of knowledge that are not only reflected in their research but the way that they structure their classes. Even if they are not teaching subjects about race, Black students will still feel more comfortable contributing in class and going to office hours if their professors look like them. As a result of the skills, both technical and personal, Black professors have to offer the University, they’re an asset that should be provided with a better track for tenure. However, there are few Black professors with tenure across the board. 

 

Call to Action 

  • Professors must step into conversations when students are being discourteous.

  •  Professors must make their classrooms equitable— where Black students shouldn’t be forced to speak on or defend subjects about race. 

  • Professors must correct and check themselves when they make racist or prejudiced statements. 

  • Professors need to be required to take diversity training and a cultural competency test before they begin teaching (or ASAP if they are already professors).

  • Administration must become committed to hiring more Black professors and administrators into EVERY school and major.

  • Administration must allow Africana professors to solely be Africana professors.

  • There needs to be more achievable avenues for Black professors to gain tenure. 

 

The Moreau First Year Experience

 

        The Moreau First Year Experience is a staple of every student’s time at Notre Dame. Privilege and Cultural Competency are, as they should be, components of this course. However, they often fall short because of unfamiliarity from both students and instructors. Although discomfort is understandable, it is absolutely unacceptable to use this as an excuse to cut these sessions short or neglect them entirely, as many students have reported occurring. Brushing over these topics directly contributes to the alienation of students, faculty, and staff of color at Notre Dame. As Fr. Moreau once stated, “Education is the art of helping young people to completeness”, and by making these changes, we hope the Moreau FYE will be able to fully accomplish this goal. 

 

Call to Action 

  • Students, you must speak up during these conversations and not rely upon your fellow peers of color to carry the weight of the discussion.

  •  Moreau curriculum writers need to include a Cultural Competency component to the end of semester capstone project for the fall semester and a Privilege component to the spring semester capstone project.

  • The curriculum for Moreau must be restructured to include more class sessions that focus on understanding and promoting diversity, inclusion, and cultural competency. There should be at least 5 classes dedicated to these topics. 

  • Instructors should recognize their discomfort with these topics and seek out assistance from other faculty and staff members or even willing minority students, as opposed to neglecting these important topics. Do not be afraid to ask, but never have an expectation for these minority students and instructors to provide help as they reserve the right to do so. 

 

Catholic Social Tradition 

 

        Notre Dame prides itself on being a Catholic institution that serves and educates in accordance with the principles of Catholic Social Tradition (CST). However, we feel it often fails to uphold these principles with respect to all aspects of human life and dignity. Solidarity, one of the tenets of CST, is impossible when the largest stakeholder group of students in our community are not equipped with the ability and desire to fight against injustice. The Notre Dame student body has one of the highest median household incomes in the country and 70% of all students are white, making Notre Dame a predominately white institution (PWI). Students with these privileges struggle to truly understand the effects of socioeconomic inequality and racial injustice, reducing their ability for empathy. Therefore, under CST, responsibility falls upon the University to educate all students on how to utilize their privilege and better relate to marginalized communities for the common good. As Notre Dame students, we will be leaders in our world, and we should all play a role in dismantling systemic oppression and racial injustice in our fields of work. Part of the Notre Dame mission is a commitment to the “constructive and critical engagement with the whole of human culture.” This commitment and a recommitment to racial justice are intimately intertwined. 

        Additionally, every year Notre Dame takes all interested students to Washington D.C. for the “Right To Life” march. Yet, the same opportunity is not given for students looking to attend “Black Lives Matter” or other marches dedicated to racial equality. This behavior makes it seem as if Notre Dame cares more for certain lives over others. Is this the truth? By taking the suggested actions, Notre Dame can begin to truly fulfill their stated mission of creating “a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.” Racial injustice is, above all, a human issue and CST calls us all to answer the call of the oppressed.

 

Call to Action 

  •  Professors in ALL schools, Mendoza Business School, the College of Science, the College of Engineering, and others, must incorporate teachings of racial justice into their curriculum so students are equipped to address these issues once they enter the workforce in areas of civil engineering, business, and healthcare for example. 

  • It must be mandatory for students to take at least 2 classes on race, social justice, and/or multiculturalism for us to truly embody CST standards. These courses can be designated as liberal arts requirements (WKIN or Way of Knowing).

  • Administration must also support social justice pro-life movements by providing transportation and lodging, if necessary, for events and rallies concerning racial liberation like Black Lives Matter marches. For example, a march on Washington is being planned to call for a federal policing equality act on the anniversary of the original March on Washington in late August.

  • Students must not only be vocal about their allyship, but also broaden their understanding by action; examples of this include, participating in seminars through the Center for Social Concerns, volunteering within the South Bend community, and taking elective courses focused on race and multiculturalism. 

  • We call on professors to sign the petition for a Socially Responsible Investment Fund, since the retirement investment fund currently being used for professors invests in private prisons. Private prisons go against the Catholic Social Tradition and the moral values we live by due to its history of contributing to mass incarceration of the Black community and other communities of color [more information and sign the petition at  https://linktr.ee/ndsri]

 

Conclusion

           

        We write this statement to you, Notre Dame, because we recognize you have the potential to become a truly great university. We appreciate the vast amount of opportunities you have given us, the amazing relationships we have been able to cultivate on campus, and the above quality education you have provided for us. But, the fact of the matter is there are serious issues we need to address on our campus in order for us to truly prosper and move forward as an equitable academic institution. We recognize and appreciate the prayer service held in George Floyd’s honor but where was the prayer service for Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, and the hundreds of other unarmed Black people killed by police? If an instance like this, God forbid, were to occur again, our University must continue acknowledging these heinous crimes against humanity and actively work against racism in our society. While we recognize and appreciate Father Hesburgh’s great contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, his legacy is so much more than a single picture. It should inspire us to create new images of resistance and resilience instead of holding onto the past as proof of commitment.  We have outlined an extensive list of realistic, actionable steps that can be undertaken by administrators, professors, staff, and students on campus which will propel Notre Dame into a future where equality and justice can flourish.  

 

Please see these resources for a comprehensive, though not exhaustive, list of funds, petitions, books, and movies/documentaries that either support or tell the story of Black life. 

 

Sincerely,

Africana Studies Club                               Black Business Association                    Black Cultural Arts Council                 

Black Student Association                       Frontline                                                    Multicultural Pre-Medicine Society          

National Society of Black Engineers      Shades of Ebony                                       Wabruda              

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