Panel: Diversity at ND presents challenges
By KATE STEER
Assistant News Editor
The Notre Dame community has its work cut out for it when it comes to diversity.
According to the eight panelists in the "Colors of the World" presentation Wednesday, Notre Dame presents a myriad of challenges for minority and majority students alike.
As part of the weeklong Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, the panel brought together students of various ethnic and racial backgrounds to offer their personal insights of Notre Dame and diversity.
Mike Brown, a junior, chose Notre Dame without visiting the campus. His expectations for life on campus were based on the statistics he read in college guidebooks.
"I went based on the magazine," he said, "and I didn't expect too many minorities to be on campus."
Other students visited campus as part of recruitment programs and had opposite impressions of the University.
"I came on recruit weekend, and I saw more minorities than I have ever seen. Then when I came back that first week of school, I was like `Where'd they all go?'" said Sharon Watson, a sophomore from Tulsa, Okla.
Watson's parents, whom she called "mixed," came to the United States in the 1970s and settled in a predominantly white area of Tulsa. Watson's experiences as a minority began early, and the recruitment weekend gave her the impression that Notre Dame offered a more diverse environment.
Meghan Healy, a junior biology major, grew up with experiences in the white minority of Brazil and West Africa. "When I was applying to colleges, I didn't think race was going to be a big deal, and I expected normal interaction among different groups," she said.
Senior Joline Cruz, whose family is of the San Juan Pueblo tribe of New Mexico said students need to proactively seek experiences with various cultures and races.
"If you want to consider this a diverse university, you have to go out and find it, but it's there," she said.
The panelists spoke about the progress that they have seen in their college experiences.
"I think I've seen a lot of people learning from each other. People have different opinions about how things are on campus, but I'm starting to recognize the issue as an important one to people," said Jesse Dang, a junior MIS major, who is first-generation American born to Vietnamese parents.
Other members of the group have not had an opportunity to witness change within the University, such as freshman Scott Kelley.
Kelley was born in Korea and came to the United States at age 8 to live with adoptive parents after his father died. Despite the limited time that he has spent here, Kelley is aware of the problems that the community faces.
Citing his personal relationships, Kelley said communication between minorities and with the majority is the key to overcoming the barriers.
Communication was the main element that the panelists pointed to as necessary and lacking in racial and ethnic relations.
Diversity is a valued quality of any setting and can be successful if there is an effort.
Brown, the University's first black leprechaun, said he faced potential problems in this role.
He was encouraged to prepare for stereotypes that he might encounter, but he feels confident that he is prepared for other people's images of the way things should be.
"What I'm doing now to deal with stereotypes is what I've done in the past: to be myself," said Brown.
Student body president Micah Murphy responded to challenges from the audience to take note of the minority stereotypes of the majority by offering a method for overcoming stereotypes in a diverse environment. "Comfort zones keep people from reaching out and learning about other cultures. We have to challenge ourselves to step out of these comfort zones and expand our horizons."
Anna Lisa Vargas, former La Alianza executive, agreed.
"The most important thing is to meet each other in the middle. If we don't do that, we'll never get anywhere."
The panel was coordinated with student government. The Martin Luther King Jr. celebration will conclude today with a prayer service at 7 p.m. in Keenan-Stanford Chapel.
All News Stories for Thursday, January 27, 2000