2019 Letter to Students: Fostering a More Inclusive Campus

Author: Erin Hoffmann Harding

August 26, 2019

Dear Notre Dame Undergraduate Students:

We are delighted to begin a new academic year; one that we hope is filled with thought-provoking coursework and meaningful involvement in campus life – in other words, a time of growth in both mind and heart consistent with our Catholic, Holy Cross tradition. This year, as we approach the 2020 presidential election, our country is engaged in vigorous debate about our future. We write today to share our hopes for how this discussion will unfold at Notre Dame, and how we intend to continue to build a community that is inclusive of all students.

Open and constructive dialogue about complex issues is part of the core work of a university. At Notre Dame, we are proud to bring diverse perspectives and backgrounds to challenges faced by our world. Yet, while we differ in many ways, a common set of values binds us together. We believe that each of us – regardless of race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability, veteran status, age, or genetic information – was created in the image and likeness of God, and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Discussions on our campus should seek common ground and deepen understanding through civil discourse.

Last fall, the inaugural results of our Inclusive Campus Student Survey were released. These results confirmed our community has many strengths, but we also have challenges that demand our collective attention. While an encouraging 85% of students who responded to the survey reported they feel a sense of belonging on campus, anything less than 100% means we must do better. Over 2,500 student respondents (47%) shared they have experienced some sort of adverse treatment on our campus. While the most common adverse treatment was verbal interactions with fellow students, instances ranged from offensive jokes to exclusion or isolation, and included interactions with faculty and staff.

Last year, in collaboration with Dean of the Graduate School, Laura Carlson, we spent substantial time discussing the survey’s results to explore how our community could respond. As administrators, we held open office hours and engaged in conversations with over 30 distinct student groups, residence halls, and faculty gatherings. An inspiring set of student leaders led peer-to-peer focus groups in the spring. Here, in their own words, is what they heard in these focus groups.

Our next steps require all of us. We are committed to fostering a more inclusive campus, and we will work diligently to implement the suggestions students articulated in the video. Please visit diversity.nd.edu/inclusion to view additional steps the University plans to take in the year ahead to improve our campus climate. We also ask students, faculty, and staff to act in the areas they influence.

Best wishes for a productive, safe, and invigorating year. Together, let us ensure that regardless of the national discourse, everyone on our campus feels they belong. May Notre Dame serve as a model for how a community can be welcoming to all people and confront some of the country and world’s most challenging problems.


Erin Hoffmann Harding                                                              
Vice President for Student Affairs

Rev. Hugh Page
Vice President and Associate Provost for Undergraduate Affairs

Elizabeth Boyle
Student Body President