Women, minorities need representation
It has not been a good couple of weeks for Notre Dame as far as diversity and inclusion are concerned.
Just after a moving celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy, a series of publicly embarrassing events have detracted from the celebration's message. These include another student body presidential election from an all-white and almost all-male pool of candidates, a racially offensive cartoon about Kofi Annan, the attempt of the student body to express its moral judgment on a University of Connecticut basketball player, an alumni letter expressing a common dismissive attitude toward women's sports and early indications that Missy Conboy will be overlooked for the vacant athletic director position.
Friday was the anniversary of political pioneer Barbara Jordan's death. Jordan was, and remains, an example of success despite the odds. Her unique leadership style established her legacy as a great leader. That she was also both black and a woman made her success that much more significant. Unfortunately, it is clear that her achievements and example have gone unnoticed here at Notre Dame.
Although the lack of any ethnically diverse candidates can be traced to the absence of diversity among the student body, the lack of female candidates is a phenomenon that is more difficult to pin down. According to enrollment numbers, roughly half of the candidates should have been women, but there were none for the presidential slot and only one for vice president. Women seem to have no problem running for offices like hall senator and hall president, where they are only competing against other women, but they shy away from campus-wide campaigns. Instead of one specific cause, this is probably due to a combination of factors.
First, gender relations being what they are at the University, perhaps women do not want to be perceived as pushy, assertive or, heaven forbid, ambitious.
The climate of political indifference among students also makes outward support or encouragement for unconventional candidates unlikely. Perhaps potential female candidates have heard accounts of the kind of reactions women have received in the past when they have taken the risk to run. Even if comments like, "But you're a girl — you can't be president" are made in jest, when they are made in a non-inclusive environment such as this campus, they must be understood to hold some element of truth.
But ultimately, why would any female at this school believe that a) anyone would want a woman in a leadership position, or b) that a woman in such a position would have any influence? From the highest levels of the administration women are not included, so it should be no surprise that the student leadership is no exception. Of the 12 University officers, only two are women. The setup of the professional realm mirrors that of the student realm: Participation by women at the lower levels is fine, but the top spots are for the men.
The athletic director vacancy, for example, is an opportunity for the administration to change this pattern. University president Father Edward Malloy announced last week that the search for the new athletic director would be extended to a national search. What was not said in his announcement was whether that meant they had already overlooked the most logical option or whether Missy Conboy was still a candidate.
Highly successful first as a collegiate athlete and then as an associate athletic director, a Notre Dame grad and one of a select few who are already intricately familiar with the workings and needs of the athletic department, Conboy is a natural fit for the job. Like Jordan, that beyond her exceptional qualifications she is a woman in an environment desperately in need of female leadership only enhances her credentials. Further, her appointment would send a strong message to contradict sentiments like those expressed by a 1964 alum's letter to the editor in which he referred to women's sports as "title IX sports" and stated that "the only sports that really matter" are men's basketball and football. Maybe he has not been back to the school since 1964, but what he refers to as "title IX sports" have been the only thing worth notice for some time now. Judging by attendance at events, however, many others share his view.
Barbara Jordan would not have expected us to sit back and expect the administration alone to make all the tough choices and changes. She called upon the public as a whole to "Pay rent on the space that you occupy," meaning that everyone involved — and especially the student body — must take ownership of the situation, step out of the comfort zone and make real efforts to make Notre Dame a welcoming place for everyone. In a place where so many talk and act on issues of social justice, it is irresponsible for us to ignore the environment that minorities experience here and that dissuades more minorities from attending. What we as students can do is demand more intensive efforts at diversifying the student body, opening our own eyes and minds to new ideas and cultures, being mindful of our own words and actions and taking a stand when something occurs that detracts from successful diversity.
At some point, along with administrative and campus-wide initiatives to facilitate successful diversity, underrepresented students must also follow Barbara Jordan's lead by breaking into the ranks of the "old boys club." By being qualified, confident, strong and bold, a handful of women and minorities can establish a new tradition of representation.
Bridget is a senior.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer
All Viewpoint Stories for Monday, February 21, 2000