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In the News: Notre Dame students say more dialogue needed

In a January 21, 2004 article in the South Bend Tribune, Gene Stowe reports on campus dialogue efforts to bridge racial divisions on campus through sustained dialogue. Click below for the article.

Found at www.southbendtribune.com/stories/2004/01/21/local.20040121-sbt-MARS-D6-Notre_Dame_students.sto

Notre Dame students say more dialogue needed
Forum looks at ways to overcome divisions between minorities and whites on campus

By GENE STOWE
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Some University of Notre Dame students who gathered together for a town hall meeting last week said they believe more needs to be done to overcome divisions between minorities and whites on campus.

Breaking down those barriers needs to be done to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream a reality, the students said.

“He knew it requires sacrifice,” said one student at the meeting called “Wake Up the Echo: A Voice for Change Then and Now.” “That’s something we’re not very good at on this campus,” the student said.

About 75 people at the meeting agreed that focus on a homogeneous “university community” at the predominantly white campus marginalizes minorities.

“If I’m going to survive, I’ve got to step out,” said Tiffane Mahomes, a black female student. “I’m not allowed to be comfortable. My world is infinitely limited if I only hang out with black people.”

She contrasted her campus life with her experience in Brazil.

“The divides there are very different,” Mahomes said. “I can’t remember a time when I ever felt uncomfortable. When I came back to school, it was all back on me again.

“It seems people don’t know how to approach you because of the way you look. I can walk through a group of majority students, and they will all move out of the way. That’s a feeling of awkwardness.”

Many who spoke in the free-flowing conversation at the student lounge in the campus ministry building said they find fellow students too protective of their comfort zones.

A white female student who said her high school was more diverse: “It was hard for me to come to Notre Dame. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be. I’ve never experienced such division between groups of people.”

A female international student: “I feel on campus it’s really divided. There’s some sort of unspoken rules. I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s because there’s an overwhelming majority. Their intentions might be misconstrued.”

A black male graduate student: “I’ve noticed what I think is a campus that’s divided. We’ve got to find a way for the majority students to come together with the minority students.”

A white male student who said an egalitarian atmosphere stifles discussion: “There’s sort of a feeling where you don’t want to recognize diversity. You don’t want to make this different person feel like they’re different.”

Student Tessa Garcia proposed starting a “Sustained Dialogue,” a movement originated at Princeton University that has spread to more than a dozen East Coast schools.

In Sustained Dialogue, eight to 15 diverse students agree to meet twice a month for two hours for confidential conversations and relationship-building.

“In order to understand one another, we have to meet on a regular basis,” Garcia said. “We have to develop a friendship first.”

“This will help you when you graduate and go into the work force. You will have to know how to interact with different kinds of people.”

Sophomore Trinidad Arredondo, who helped organize the meeting, said after the meeting that he hopes Sustained Dialogue could help.

“I believe students at first will be a little afraid of the idea and of change,” he said. “Again, those are the barriers we have to break, but I hope in time it will be successful.”

Students at the meeting said Notre Dame’s emphasis on service is a start but should lead to more — “turning the service into action,” organizer Melissa Hentges said.

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher is the Founding Director of the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD). Sandy has an M.A. in International Management from SIT Graduate Institute, and also serves as a Research Deputy for the Kettering Foundation. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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