A Message from Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. -- We must re-examine broader questions about diversity, equity, and inclusion at Notre Dame

August 24, 2020

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

As we begin the third week of the semester, we are in a critical moment in our struggle to contain the spread of the coronavirus. I urge you to remain diligent in all aspects of our efforts to keep the campus safe so that we can resume in-person instruction.

While remaining attentive to COVID-19 precautions, we must not ignore the longstanding race-based violence and injustices that have shaken the conscience of our nation. The reprehensible killing of George Floyd brought to the fore not only the unjustified killing of other Black men and women, but also the legacy of racism that persists in our nation. As we face one of the most difficult challenges before our nation, we must re-examine broader questions about diversity, equity, and inclusion at Notre Dame.

I write today to tell you of some of our efforts, and to tell you of a Task Force formed at my request by the Chairman of our Board of Trustees, Jack Brennan. Its charge will be to hear from constituencies, review the University’s efforts and issue a report offering observations, suggestions and recommendations about how we can enhance Notre Dame as a more fully diverse and inclusive community.

A Hopeful Moment and an Opportunity
I recently spoke with Diane Nash, a courageous leader among the Freedom Riders and in the civil rights movement generally, the holder of an honorary degree from Notre Dame and our featured speaker at the Martin Luther King Day campus-wide luncheon last year. At 82, she remains a woman with an indomitable spirit and fierce conviction about racial justice. In our conversation, she spoke of the hope of the current moment in the midst of turmoil. She sees a dawning awareness of the need for change and a commitment by people of different political views, among leaders in business and politics, among members of majority as well as minority groups to seek change. The danger, she said, is that we will miss the opportunity for real change.

Here at Notre Dame, we must not miss the opportunity for positive change. We have heard from students, alumni, faculty and staff, and it is clear that there is much to be done. We must improve the experience of our students from underrepresented groups, enhance the diversity of our faculty and staff, and deepen conversations and understanding about race and justice. We must foster greater cultural, racial and ethnic awareness among all of us, and particularly among the majority—whether defined by race, religion, socio-economic group or another characteristic—of the experience and voice of those in the minority. We must do this because only in this way can we live up to our Catholic mission, a mission that demands that we respect the dignity of every person, strive to build a community in which everyone can flourish and show regard for the most vulnerable.

Efforts Currently Underway
Important conversations and concrete initiatives are underway in various areas of the University. Erin Hoffmann Harding, the Vice President for Student Affairs, has brought student leaders together with senior administrative leaders to discuss equitable campus policing, mental health resources, improvements in the cultural competency modules of the first year Moreau class, the creation of a student diversity center, funding for student club and organization programs, diversity training for upperclassmen, graduate students and faculty, and the possibility of additional curricular offerings related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Our Provost, Marie Lynn Miranda, has met with faculty from underrepresented minority groups and is formulating plans for recruitment and retention of diverse faculty and deepening conversations about race and diversity. Our deans are committed to taking action to improve diversity and the experience of diverse members of our community within their schools and colleges. We are beginning discussions regarding making antiracism education part of the core curriculum, and we are developing tools for rigorously measuring the experience of minorities on our campus. Marie Lynn and I are also discussing with our Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Enrollment, Don Bishop, and with our Dean of Graduate Studies, Laura Carlson, enhancing the diversity of our student body.

Our Executive Vice President, Shannon Cullinan, is partnering with the University’s human resources team and leaders University-wide to ensure diverse applicant pools, especially for exempt and management positions. We are redoubling our efforts to create opportunities for advancement for high potential employees of color and, each University division is required to formulate a diversity, equity, and inclusion plan, including annual goals, strategies and key metrics.

My leadership team understands that these are among my highest expectations, and we will report on progress in the various areas.

Trustee Task Force on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
In addition to the on-going efforts mentioned above, Jack Brennan is establishing, with my complete support, a Trustee Task Force on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which will examine the campus climate, hear from various constituencies, review University initiatives and offer recommendations.

The Membership of the Task Force is as follows:

  • Byron O. Spruell (Chair of Task Force), President of League Operations, National Basketball Association
  • Stephanie A. Gallo, Chief of Marketing, E & J Gallo Winery
  • Rev. Robert A. Dowd, C.S.C., Associate Professor of Political Science, Assistant Provost for Internationalization, Religious Superior of the Holy Cross Community, University of Notre Dame
  • Justin R. Liu, President & CEO, Tireco, Inc.
  • Martin W. Rodgers, Market Unit Lead, US South, Accenture
  • Phyllis W. Stone, Stepping Stones Consulting
  • Sara Martinez Tucker, former Undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Education and former CEO and President of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.
  • John B. Veihmeyer, KPMG International, Retired Chairman
  • Judge Ann Claire Williams, (Ret.) U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Of Counsel Jones Day
  • Ann M. Firth (Staff to the Task Force), Vice President and Chief of Staff to the President, University of Notre Dame

I hope the Task Force will help us identify initiatives that have been successful and those that have not achieved their goals, point out blind spots or gaps in our efforts and indicate how we might improve. Their report will, I believe, inform our plans for the next decade for making Notre Dame more fully the diverse, equitable, and inclusive community our Catholic mission calls us to be.

Columbus Murals
Monuments and images commemorating individuals and events of the past have been a flashpoint in recent protests and discussions. In my Faculty address of last year, I announced our plans for the Columbus murals in the Main Building. These plans were informed by an excellent report by a committee of students, faculty and staff, whose recommendations we are implementing. Removable coverings will be installed in early September 2020, and a temporary display about the murals located on the second floor of the Main Building will be installed soon after. We are planning a larger exhibition about the early history of the University to include the story of the murals, which will be assembled once Undergraduate Admissions moves to McKenna Hall from the Main Building next year.

We will display the murals themselves on various occasions, and faculty who are utilizing them in their courses can request access to them. When the permanent exhibition opens, all visitors to the Main Building will be able to view high-quality reproductions of the images within the context of an exhibit providing viewers with a broader historical setting.

The Election Season
We enter an election season when divisions in our nation are pronounced and political rhetoric is frequently acrimonious. At Notre Dame, we welcome the expression of all viewpoints and vigorous debate in the pursuit of truth. Yet, we must do so in a way that shows respect for those with whom we disagree and avoids personal attacks or derogatory remarks against any group or individual.

Here is a rule of thumb: if a statement is designed not to persuade an opponent but to demean or intimidate him or her, don’t say it. Its effect will not advance the debate, but create toxic divisions that in the end will be most toxic to us. St. Augustine said, “No enemy could be more dangerous than the hatred with which we hate him.” Let us rather be motivated by a love of nation, a love of truth and a love of each other.

Whether this is a time of deepening divisions or of positive change is up to us. Let us seize this moment to make Notre Dame even more a force for good. Let us be a community that, as reflected so beautifully in the image of Christ at the center of our campus, radiates love and the welcome of His open arms.

In Notre Dame,

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.