Spring Reflection and Engagement

Author: Rev. Gerry Olinger, C.S.C.

Dear Students,

Happy New Year!

I hope this message finds you well and excited to reunite with your friends and classmates after enjoying a restful and relaxing Christmas Break. I am thrilled to welcome you home as we begin the spring semester at the University of Notre Dame.

As you know, your first week of classes also marks the start of our campus commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Walk the Walk Week. The celebration, which begins tomorrow, Thursday, January 19, and runs through Friday, January 27, includes a series of University, department, and student-sponsored events designed to help each of us consider how we—both individually and collectively—can take an active role in making Notre Dame a place where all students can find a true sense of community and support.

In celebrating this year’s Walk the Walk Week, I invite you to return to a challenge I made at the beginning of the academic year to lend particular attention to reflection in community. As you engage in Walk the Walk Week and personally explore the broader themes of inequality and injustice, I encourage you to continue in your pursuit of understanding through more authentic and meaningful conversations, and especially with those of diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Discuss what you know, see, and experience at Notre Dame; examine your sense of belonging and how it may differ from that of your peers; consider how your thoughts and actions may impact others; and explore how you are called to service and leadership at Notre Dame and beyond. It is through this important and sometimes difficult work when we cultivate our most authentic relationships—with one another, with others at the University, and with God—and become the most present in the community we call our own.

From experience, this kind of reflection and continued engagement with both students and colleagues alike has not only shaped me personally but has also informed the work we do in Student Affairs and especially the Division’s next strategic plan. These conversations have taken place in a variety of settings, and include conversations with students inside residence halls; meetings with elected student leaders, clubs, and organizations; ongoing conversations with Campus Climate Advisory Committees; and more casual discussions in open Office Hours and Fireside Chats. I have also appreciated student input related to important topics like diversity, equity, and inclusion; spiritual enrichment; healthy habits; the cultivation of physical and mental well-being; relationship-building; the discernment process; and so many other issues and topics that weigh heavily on students’ minds and hearts.  

I am grateful for these and other opportunities to speak with students, receive your insights and ideas, and learn from your experiences. This engagement has helped to shape our current plan, and ongoing discussions will help to inspire our outcomes. The 2023 strategic plan, which is guided by the broad goals of faith and formation; diversity, equity, and inclusion; health and well-being; connection and community; reflection and discernment; and staff recruitment, development, and retention is now available on the Student Affairs website.

Conversations with the student body will continue during the spring semester through regular formal and informal opportunities. Additional information regarding these opportunities can be found here.

Please know of my prayers for each of you as you begin this next semester, and trust in the support of all of us here in the Division of Student Affairs and at the University. Even as your schedules begin to fill with academic work, activities, and social engagements over the coming weeks, I hope you will continue to find time now and then to pause, reflect, and cultivate meaningful relationships with God and one another. Best wishes on the new semester! 

In Notre Dame,

Fr. Gerry Olinger, C.S.C.
Vice President for Student Affairs