We must bridge the racial gap from within
Office of Multinational Student Affairs
We are writing this column together because we feel that it's important to include both of our perspectives on a issue that is a sensitive topic to students at Notre Dame. One of us is a Caucasian female majoring in PLS and one of us is an African American male majoring in computer engineering. Last year we met at a Notre Dame retreat known as an LTR: a Learning To Talk About Race Retreat. We were among 40 students who watched a film, and participated in discussions and group activities, where we made friends and socialized together. After the scheduled part of the day had passed, every one of us stayed up until 4 a.m. crammed into one of the bedrooms ... talking about race ... on our own time. For what reason? Because we knew it was important and needed to be discussed.
For too long, race relations between students at Notre Dame have been written off, swept under the carpet, and even ignored. Every now and then we, the Notre Dame "family," feel the need to remind ourselves that there is a problem. The Observer's Sept. 15 column, "Controversies arise about sources of stereotypes," made an effort to address this issue. Although we applaud the effort, we are in disagreement with some of the article's conclusions.
The column suggests that stereotypes towards African-American, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Native American and International students exist because they make up a comparatively small portion of the student population here at Notre Dame. The column proposed the simple "answer" of increasing the diversity of the student body. We would argue that the solution does not merely depend upon increasing the diversity of the population. Would a more diverse population be positive for both minority and majority students? Yes indeed. However, the "numbers solution" is based on the assumption that numbers are the only problem! If this were true, then by the chart, it would follow that Latino students feel less stereotyped than African American or Asian students because they make up approximately 9 percent of the population in comparison to 3 and 4 percent. In order to truly reverse stereotypes and change the color boundaries in our dining halls, across campus, even in this nation, we need to start right now with our own perceptions and behavior.
First of all, it is important to point out that the University and a proportion of currently enrolled students make a huge effort to attract and welcome minority students to Notre Dame. Each year, two entire weekends are devoted to the recruitment of minority students. These visitation weekends go beyond the usual Notre Dame regimen in order to present an environment that would appeal to prospective minority students. Furthermore, minority students take time out during the school year to host these prospects, make phone calls, and even visit high schools in efforts to recruit the underrepresented. But once these students come to Notre Dame, they may very well find that they are stereotyped, looked past and often left feeling unwelcome.
The burning question that now arises is how to remedy this situation? How do we transform from a place where potentially 16 percent of the students feel excluded into a place where people understand each other, value each other's differences and do not segregate along such strict color lines? We believe the answer is even simpler than increasing the numbers and can be done without the aid of the University. The solution starts with the person in the mirror. We must start with ourselves! If we are concerned about the predominance of stereotypes, then we must admit that it is due to our failure to overcome boundaries and our failure to interact.
The natural response of students in the majority is to point out that interaction does not occur because minorities tend to exclude themselves. It is often said that they are welcomed at dorm parties, SYRs or other social events, but they rarely attend. But are they really welcomed and made to feel comfortable? Caucasian students must remember that as the majority, they have the advantage. This means that the overwhelming social behavior, viewpoints, lifestyles, entertainment interests and topics of conversation will suit the majority and will not necessarily soothe the interests of the minority. Therefore, it makes sense for minorities to tend to interact solely with those who identify and relate to them. To solve this impasse, it is not the responsibility of minority groups to abandon their identities and assimilate into a mainstream way of life. The responsibility lies in the hands of the majority to challenge themselves and leave their comfort zones. After all, this is what minority students are asked and actually forced to do every day, while they exist in an environment where they may never cross paths with another minority student. As crazy as it may sound, this does happen.
Students in the majority must ask themselves if they have made the effort to understand the predicament of ethnically underrepresented students or supported the numerous multicultural events on campus, no less the endeavors of their neighbors, friends and roommates. The opportunities exist every Sunday; students can attend Misa En Espanol or Black Catholic Mass. In addition, every first Friday of the month, students are invited to a sociable lunch with the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. It's unreasonable to expect minorities to attend every Acoustic Cafe if members of the majority do not extend themselves to appreciate the talents displayed at Black Koffee House, Asian Allure or Latin Expressions.
Members of the majority should realize that they could be taking advantage of the ever-present social opportunities, academic courses and outright invitations to appreciate and learn from the rich cultures that surround them every day. As a whole, students in the minority are open to any genuine efforts made through conversation or interaction in order to dismantle the barrier between white students and students of color. Most importantly, we'll find that our interpersonal relationships, which stimulate the sharing of cultures and the growth of individuals, can change us all. It will ultimately be the work of these valuable relationships to eliminate stereotypes and form long-lasting friendships.
What's Your Shade is the bi-weekly column sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. It appears every other Wednesday. Justin Smith, Siegfried, '01 and Rene Mulligan, Pasquerilla West, '01 contributed to this column.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Wednesday, October 6, 1999