Attending one of Eric Love’s Unity Summits is an active exercise — not a passive one. Yes, there are thoughtful speakers and rousing entertainment; however, the audience is expected to lead the conversation and, hopefully, the change.
“The theme is the Beloved Community,” Love, the director of staff diversity and inclusion for Notre Dame Human Resources (NDHR), told those in attendance Jan. 19 at the Unity Summit held in conjunction with Walk the Walk Week (WTWW). In referring to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of dismantling systems of injustice and creating space for those who have traditionally been excluded, those at each table were to discuss the following questions:
If you knew you could not fail, what would you attempt in your personal life?
If you knew you could not fail, what would you attempt to help create, or improve, in the Beloved Community at Notre Dame?
What specific goal or project could you realistically aim to achieve in the next 12 months that would contribute to this Beloved Community?
“It’s a gift to bring people together and have these authentic conversations,” Notre Dame Executive Vice President Shannon Cullinan told the group of more than 200 before the tables of six to 10 people began their discussions. “To have real meaningful conversations is going to take some vulnerability from all of us.”
Singer Troy T. Thomas helped set the stage for the group’s discussions with an effortless rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”, which implores the listener to “find a way to bring some loving,” and later, “some understanding” to the situation at hand.
After more than 30 minutes of table discussions, volunteers were asked to share some of the ideas discussed. One person spoke of the difficulties facing single parents at work and ways to be flexible when possible. Another attendee would like to host a forum featuring representatives from the hospital, Fire Department, and Police Department who would provide information about what to do and what’s needed in an emergency situation. The forum was suggested as a way to help make the process less intimidating for people who are unfamiliar with the process, particularly people with language or culture barriers.
Love randomly assigns the seats at the discussion tables, which he said results in people who have never worked together—or who have never met—using their unique perspectives to identify an opportunity or solve an issue. Sometimes, it’s enough to just open the lines of communication. “In the past, a table [of attendees] decided to meet on a regular basis for lunch, so we’re building community from these events,” said Love.
The goal of the table reflection and brainstorming is to walk away with something each person could do to help other members of the Notre Dame family feel loved, respected, and treated with dignity. It’s something Love and co-facilitator Robert Fitzpatrick, a senior sociology major, hope sticks with participants beyond the one-and-a-half hour event.
That’s certainly been the case for Love. “Someone last year asked for more Unity Summits, so I’m going to keep trying to provide activities and opportunities for people to get to know each other,” he said. Already this academic year, he’s hosted a fall summit along with the WTWW event. Other sessions are being planned for the spring, summer, and fall, and Love hopes to find ways to involve more hourly workers in the discussions.
Fitzpatrick, a Multicultural Student Programs and Services senior fellow and member of the Wabruda student organization, is also building on the Unity Summit model. He’s hosting a symposium featuring students, faculty and staff this spring focused on diversity within the Black Diaspora and how it relates to research, academic work and personal life.
Each person’s action can make a difference, said Heather Christophersen, vice president for NDHR. “[At our table,] we talked about how all of us can do little things—even showing up today—and we need to take this feeling out into our roles every day,” she said, ending with a quote from the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu. “Do your little bit of good where you are. It’s the little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
This is the ninth year that Eric Love and NDHR have hosted a Unity Summit at Notre Dame. Love’s Notre Dame iteration of the event began with the launch of Walk the Week in 2016; however, he has led events based on this model since 2005 in previous roles at Indiana University.
Love also facilitates workshops for Notre Dame staff that explore the basics of diversity and inclusion, developing multicultural competencies, becoming aware of microaggressions. In addition, he brings speakers to campus and designs workshops to help promote a more inclusive environment.
Contact him to learn more about how he and NDHR can be assistance to your division.