Diversity and Inclusion

Our commitment to diversity and inclusion also arises from our aspirations about the community we want to be, the educational environment we hope to provide our students and the moral character they will develop during their time with us. It goes to the heart of our mission, to who we are and to what we want to be.

We must acknowledge the sometimes disheartening context for our efforts in our nation and our world. We have seen massively lethal terrorist attacks by ISIS and its sympathizers on ordinary, innocent people simply going about the business of their daily lives – from the mass shootings of club patrons in Orlando to the brutal, ritualistic murder – on the altar – of an 84-year old priest saying Mass in Normandy. And, in response, we have seen the wholesale condemnation of Muslims, singled out to be barred from entering our country. An understandable anxiety among those who suffer the disruption of globalization and do not enjoy its benefits has found expression in nativist remarks about immigrants and members of some national groups. We have seen a chilling series of videos of violence by police toward African American citizens, followed by the cold-blooded shooting of police officers simply doing their job in Dallas and Baton Rouge, and earlier, in New York. We have been numbed by the dreary series of mass killings, often carried out by unstable people who have some grievance against one or another group. 

Against this background, we may be tempted to discouragement, or at least to a complacent acceptance of dark tendencies, perennial in human history, toward fear, hatred and violence—and of the tendency of leaders to exploit such forces. Yet we must not succumb to such temptations. We must strive to make this community something better, and to call our students to something better—both while they are with us and after we send them forth.

Such aspirations were behind the creation of the President’s Oversight Committee on Diversity and Inclusion three years ago. Building on decades of efforts by my predecessors, the committee brings together those who work in student life, the academy and with our staff. Its role is not to initiate or manage efforts in particular areas, but to see that initiatives are underway and progress is being made. The focus is on the practical tasks of identifying areas for improvement, setting achievable and measurable goals and monitoring progress.

I am pleased with the progress that has been made by dedicated individuals and teams at Notre Dame. For the purposes of this talk and in the interest of time, I will focus on initiatives for faculty and students; there are, of course, also many initiatives underway with respect to staff. I encourage you to visit our website, diversity.nd.edu, to learn more about staff initiatives. There you will also find more information for faculty and students as well.

With regard to students, the Division of Student Affairs, under the leadership of Vice President Erin Harding, has done extensive work in tracking student perceptions through climate surveys and focus groups. Based on what they learned, they have formulated twenty-one specific action steps. Last year, they undertook a major redesign of first year orientation to ensure that students’ initial experience of campus reflects a genuine spirit of welcome and inclusion for all. In addition, through a major gift from a generous benefactor, we created the Fighting Irish Initiative, which puts in place infrastructure and programs to enhance support for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

With regard to faculty, the results of the Faculty Experience survey, further explored through a series of focus groups and listening sessions, have been very helpful. A number of academic leaders, including deans and department chairs, have participated in diversity training. Pamela Nolan Young, recently recruited for a new position as director of academic diversity and inclusion, will assist in the implementation and coordination of various initiatives. Among the possible new initiatives, we are thinking very concretely about how we can create structures that will support faculty during key pivot points in their lives.

Last fall, each dean prepared a diversity strategic plan for their college or school. Like many institutions, we are committed to hiring faculty from underrepresented groups and to the hiring and support of female faculty. The plan of each dean reflects that commitment at Notre Dame. We recognize, however, that in some fields minority groups are not well represented and in all fields, with similar commitments from many other institutions, competition will be intense for qualified candidates. Yet Tom Burish, along with the deans, have made such hiring a priority and I am confident we will be successful, even if progress will be gradual.

After successful events last year, we have begun work on this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration and our Walk the Walk Week. I thank you for your flexibility and support last year as we cancelled classes at mid-day to allow time for people to pause from regular activities to be part of the commemoration. More information about this year’s commemoration will be forthcoming. We hope to build on the positive momentum of last year.

On college campuses across the country and in society in general, discussions of diversity and inclusion are prominent and often contentious. In such exchanges, the rationale for fostering diversity often seems vague, with a shifting focus as the public’s attention turns to one or another set of concerns. At times, it seems that diversity and tolerance for various forms of identity and self-expression are the only absolute, while we are encouraged to maintain moral neutrality on nearly everything else. Our rationale at Notre Dame must be different and can be, I believe, more deeply embedded in our mission. As a Catholic institution, our commitment finds a firmer foundation in several pivotal principles of a rich social teaching.

We affirm, first of all, the transcendent dignity and worth of every human person, from conception to natural death, regardless of race, nationality or ethnic group, religious tradition, gender, socio-economic class, immigration status, sexual orientation or anything else. There is not a more fundamental or consequential principle than this one.

Secondly, we believe that human beings are inescapably social, and the flourishing of each individual is possible only in a social context in which we each have responsibilities to others and others have reciprocal responsibilities to us. Together we strive to realize the common good—a term that refers to the complex and varied set of conditions that enable any sort of community and its members to flourish individually and collectively. Joined together in our various communities, we each contribute to and benefit from the realization of this common good.

Third, we are called to live in solidarity with all people, which arises from recognizing that the well-being of each person is a concern for us all, whether or not they have a particular claim of justice on us. We are all, in one way or another, our sister’s and brother’s keeper. Solidarity demands that we strive to overcome fragmentation and separation to see the deeper unity we share with all people.

“Indeed, the call is not simply to tolerate diversity, but to embrace sisters and brothers and to strive to build, however imperfectly, a community of love.”

It is in the context of these guiding principles that we see the diverse gifts and backgrounds of people as enriching, not dividing. They call us to join together to build a community in which all are included and respected, and each of us contributes to the common good. Indeed, the call is not simply to tolerate diversity, but to embrace sisters and brothers and to strive to build, however imperfectly, a community of love. Such a vision is, in the end, the most powerful justification of and motivation for diversity and inclusion that I can imagine. It animates our efforts at Notre Dame.