Sharing Our Students' Voices and Moving Forward Together

Author: Erin Hoffmann Harding

Dear Students,

In the midst of the challenges all of our students have faced since March, many in our community but especially our Black students are now in anguish because of the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery - the latest tragedies in a long list of precious lives needlessly and brutally taken. These deaths occurred at a time when many students of color faced significant disparity in resources during remote learning and have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Several of our students, recent alumni, and their allies have written this past week with pleas, anger, hope, and ideas. Our students have told us they are angry and in pain. They have reminded us Notre Dame is neither immune to nor distant from the sin of racism. They are right. As Father John said, we must be honest about our failings and commit ourselves to do better.

I want our Black students to know I am listening, even though I can never fully understand how persistent, exhausting, and infuriating it is to be judged, discriminated against, or abused based on the color of your skin. You matter to me and you matter to our entire Division

I am angry that racist incidents occur and systemic racism persists. I am deeply sorry for their impact on our nation, but especially on our Black students, faculty, and staff. 

I am also reading, both what has been sent to me and everything I can find. The statements below were released by our students over the past week. They are thoughtful, challenging, aspirational, practical, and imperative for all of us to read. After a week where I have been desperately reflecting on how I can help, I am using the platform I possess to amplify their voices and their suggestions. Please read what our students are saying. 

Some of these suggestions from students are within my authority to enact immediately. While I have more to hear and more to learn, I will also act. With the acknowledgement that much more work needs to be done, below are a few things students requested that can happen before and after you return for the fall semester:

  • You asked us to refresh and expand the images demonstrating Notre Dame’s ongoing commitment to racial justice and inclusion. Four and a half years ago, students, faculty, and staff created this mosaic. Let us create a new image together in the LaFortune Student Center at the heart of our campus. A blank wall will await your creativity and suggestions upon your return.
  • You asked for group discussions around racial injustice to facilitate more understanding between different racial groups. Student Affairs departments will begin by sponsoring virtual programs this summer. Please join us and co-sponsor them. I will be there too. Watch for details in a forthcoming Division e-newsletter.
  • As suggested, we will modify the resource list offered to support the mental health of our Black students. We will also continue every effort to augment the diversity of staff available to students not only through the University Counseling Center, but throughout the Division of Student Affairs.
  • We will add mental health questions to the next Inclusive Campus Survey to gauge the wellness of the student body. Because that survey was administered recently, I also will add these questions to a summer survey planned to assess student needs. 
  • We will engage the student leaders who authored these statements to review and offer advice on Moreau First Year Experience course content as well as instructor preparation.
  • I have shared these student statements with the Vice Presidents and Deans responsible for the other areas mentioned by students. I know my colleagues care and are also eager to engage students to make Notre Dame the place we aspire to be.

These steps will certainly not solve our ongoing challenges, nor are they all that our Division wants to do to help. Instead, because students asked for them, these initial steps are offered to demonstrate our commitment to change and extend an offer of ongoing collaboration. Help us improve these actions. Offer new ones.

To all of us who identify as white, please join this effort as an ally so every student feels they belong on our campus. Here’s what your Black peers are asking: “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.” Listen to grow in understanding. Do not stay silent - talk about the issue of racism. Take action on behalf of others, especially when you are in a privileged position. Help us make Notre Dame better for everyone. This is difficult, sustained, and hard work we must do together.

I will write to you again over the next week or two about our reopening plans for student life related to the pandemic. The challenges we face are daunting in that area as well, though many elements differ substantially. Both efforts will require us to be attentive to the needs of the vulnerable among us and act accordingly. Based on the thoughtful statements I have read from students this past week, I have great hope that we can create a better campus that is safe and just for all. I look forward to walking together for justice and equality in our community.

In Notre Dame,

Erin Hoffmann Harding
Vice President for Student Affairs