Diverse Notre Dame: Race Relations and Inclusion Efforts on Campus

Author: Tessa Bangs & Joe DiSipio


As Scholastic began to prepare to write this cover story, Notre Dame students at every level received a unique email link asking them to complete an inclusive campus student survey. The survey included questions about comfort levels, inclusiveness, climate and more, delineated by a series of categories and scales of extremity. 

This was the second such climate survey that specifically targeted diversity and inclusion issues, but was done with a unique instrument. (The first was distributed in January of 2016, and was intended to be comparative in nature, to correlate with Notre Dame’s peer institutions.) 

Put together by the office of strategic planning and institutional research, the survey was developed through input by a variety of actors, including a climate-related student climate advisory council, focused on race and ethnicity on campus, and another, concentrating on LGBT issues on campus; these are both chaired by Vice President for Student Affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding. Hoffmann Harding hopes to have initial quantitative data returned later this semester; responses by divided groups — based on differing cultural backgrounds, religious traditions and more — will be returned later on. According to Lissa Bill of the office of strategic planning and institutional research, the qualitative comments will also be analyzed: separated by theme and examined for trend.

Hoffmann Harding has a clear goal for this survey, reflective of the university’s general mission regarding diversity and inclusion. “The intent of the survey, we hope, is to better understand the experiences of our students, first and foremost,” she says. “The university’s aspiration is very clear: We want to be as welcoming and as inclusive as possible. So this, a survey instrument, is a nice way for us, I would say, at a high level to be able to assess where we might have challenges or concerns from students.” 

At a minimum, the results from the survey will be shared with the two aforementioned advisory councils for input and reaction. Subsequently, focus groups of students may possible come into fruition, whether randomized or open. Ultimately, the goal is to settle on sets of recommendations to address trends, in order to “make this institution as welcoming and inclusive as possible.” 

In light of this survey mechanism, Scholastic decided to paint a portrait of the various institutional forces on Notre Dame’s campus, and see how each of them is addressing the question of diversity and inclusion.

From a micro- and macro-approach, the officials we interviewed spoke highly of the welcoming atmosphere Notre Dame attempts to profess, while also speaking candidly of the struggles that still remain on this issue. Our interviews did not shy away from the contentious national discourse surrounding race relations and beyond; indeed, the polarization and sometimes violent occasions only seemed to amplify their mission. 

No current undergraduate student at Notre Dame has been on campus when Scholastic produced a cover story on diversity or race relations. Before we graduate, we felt it was time to revisit the issue. 

In Law Enforcement and Engagement: How the Notre Dame Security Police Seeks to Address Race Relations On Campus

In the midst of national turmoil and polarization — a time that has spurned activism in a way unseen for a generation — protests and controversy surrounding race relations has yet again enveloped the national discourse and consciousness. 

The hot topics of police brutality, targeting of minorities and inherent biases have come up time and time again, with debates ranging from the deaths of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner to the facedowns between white supremacist groups and college students in Charlottesville, Virginia. Regardless of individual event, a common theme has been the seemingly constant coverage by media and photojournalists, the community activism surrounding the instances and the wading into the conversation, either reluctantly or without hesitation, by national politicians. 

In a time a contentious as this one, then, it is perhaps even more notable that the chief of the Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) force has an identity which contradicts what many might think of as the traditional law enforcement stereotype: Keri Kei Shabata is a woman.

While she says she has never faced any barriers or obstacles due to her gender — which she partially attributes to her career as a police officer entirely taking place at Notre Dame — Shabata is cognizant of the issues that others might face. And she presides over a police force that does not want to shy away from so many of the issues surrounding law enforcement today. 

“This time is very polarized, and … we don’t want to be polarized,” Shabata says. “We want to be in community and relationship with our community and all the different parts of it.” Reiterating part of a question that Scholastic asked about students who are under the protection of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), she continued. “There are people who are either vulnerable or, you know, have concerns that we might be able to help with. And if we can be an ally for people, we want to be that.” 

There are multiple methods through which NDSP is concurrently striving to be that ally. In an effort shepherded by NDSP and the South Bend Police Department, and also including the neighboring departments of St. Joseph’s County and Mishawaka, the Notre Dame Security Police has implemented the national program, Fair and Impartial Policing. The program seeks to address implicit biases, and approaches the pervasiveness of the issue by offering distinct levels of training: for chiefs, supervisors and officers. They also participate in Notre Dame’s We Are All ND program, and have established protocol to ensure their hiring practices are unbiased. 

Through an engagement approach, Shibata says that they try to foster connection with all members of the Notre Dame community. Regarding an uptick in national activism, particularly surrounding issues of race and ethnicity, she stresses that the force’s job is to protect all opinions: not to promote their own. “We try to help people understand that we want to be their partner and no matter what their perspective is, if they have a view that they are trying to express in a productive way, that we want to make sure that they’re safe while that’s happening and we will be happy to meet to figure out how to make that happen in a way that will be well received at Notre Dame,” Shibata says. 

From the Perspective of the Office of the Provost: Pamela Young Discusses University-Wide and College-Specific Diversity Efforts 

Pamela Young, director for academic diversity and inclusion in the provost’s office, entered her role in April of 2016, becoming a part of an ongoing process of increasing faculty diversity at Notre Dame. 

Prior to her arrival, two institutional requirements already existed to encourage progress in this arena: membership to the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, founded by a Notre Dame alum, and the Moreau Faculty Development Program. 

In the spring and summer of 2016, however, college-centric plans to increase diversity in each of Notre Dame’s colleges and schools began to increase, spurred by a request by the provost for each college to complete a diversity and inclusion plan; these plans were then implemented in the 2016-2017 academic year. Along with these plans, specific to the needs of each college, every dean appointed a diversity and inclusion coordinator, who serves as a liaison between the provost’s office and the colleges. These coordinators report to Young. 

Currently, the colleges are preparing a “best practices faculty-hiring guide,” to be utilized during the upcoming faculty hiring cycle beginning in the fall 2018. Furthermore, Young cites ongoing goals and programs such as a reestablishment of the Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC) membership, posting of open positions on sites to attract a diverse range of applicants and the use of optimized applicant tracking through Interfolio, a faculty management software. 

When asked by Scholastic about a major outstanding problem the university has regarding diversity efforts, Young was unable to point to one specific issue. That said, she could point to the complexities of the hiring process and the many details that that encompasses. “We seek individuals with specialized knowledge. We want to hire individuals with excellent teaching, and research skills. The university is limited in the number of particular openings it has in any given discipline,” she wrote in an email response. “These factors and many more affect our ability to recruit top talent. The research demonstrates that hiring decisions are impacted by many factors including implicit bias, elitism and nepotisms, to name a few.” 

These implicit biases were mentioned by multiple persons Scholastic interviewed; generally, it is the intention of programming and training to account for them and ultimately remove them from institutional processes. 

Preaching Intentionality: How the Division of Student Affairs Approaches Diversity On Campus 

Vice President for Student Affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding has been encouraged by how diverse campus is not only in her six years as vice president but also dating to her time as a Notre Dame student. She sees progress in students’ interest in the topic; devotion to issues of cultural competency and campus climate in the Moreau First Year Experience course; utilizing instruments to track feedback on this climate from persons leaving Notre Dame and more. 

To meet the levels of peer institutions on this subject — or, ideally, to exceed them — the division of student affairs made a welcoming and inclusive climate a primary part of their strategic plan. 

They brought back Matt Storin, a former editor of The Boston Globe, to spend a semester speaking to students — and then took his recommendations and recollections to form the Diversity Goals, a set of tenets on inclusion. Years later, they checked in, and incorporated all incomplete goals in to the new strategic plan. They have a goal to take surveys of Notre Dame students on diversity and inclusion on campus; the second version is currently underway. And as the student body becomes more and more diverse, it remains among the highest priorities. 

Hoffmann Harding is additionally encouraged by just how connected the university has become on formulating and implementing goals on diversity, forming councils, creating mechanisms and making themselves open to concerns. 

“...The other real observation and change I’ve seen is more intentionality from the rest of the university to really prioritize diversity, broadly defined,” she says. Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., university president, has Hoffmann Harding reporting to him on student initiatives on the subject; receives regular reports from the provost’s office; takes in input from human resources. According to Hoffmann Harding, he “has taken a personal and deliberate mechanism and put that in place for all of us to be able to share information with one another across constituencies.” 

She sees the importance of the campus community being asked to confer about this issue at a presidential level as imperative. And she is proud of the university’s policies surrounding protest and activism — which has experienced an uptick as the national conversation surrounding race, ethnicity and more continue to grow. 

Hoffmann Harding says that she is proud of the open speakers’ policy that the university has for recognized organizations as well as the demonstration policy, all to allow for the speaking of diverse viewpoints and a mechanism to allow for expression of belief. Indeed, she says that it is not protest, but rather the lack thereof, that concerns her. 

“Where I, from my vantage point, tend to get more concerned is not when we’re debating an issue, but when we’re worried about harms to others in our community … we’ve been blessed not particularly to have that in terms of physical harm but in terms of hurtful characterizations of classmates to one another, and we have seen some of those instances and we’ve taken them extremely seriously,” she says, “because I think they truly are antithetical to who we are and who we want to be, from an institutional standpoint.” 

Hoffmann Harding is cognizant of the trends affecting much of the country, but believes “there’s such an underlying sense of care, concern and, we hope, belonging here at Notre Dame that I think that gives us a platform from which to talk about these challenges and issues that may give us an advantage as we respond to what’s happening elsewhere in the country or in the world.” 

It is, however, these very challenges in the rest of the country and world that concern her. There are different identities, groups and experiences that students face, and there are challenges for them all — it is clear that Hoffmann Harding is cognizant and conscious of that. She says she is proud of the university’s stance on legislative efforts related to undocumented students and those with DACA status, and remain watchful and attentive on that issue. 

That said, she offers a disclaimer. “But I wouldn’t want you to think because we’re watching the national developments there, that we’re not equally as mindful of students in other groups. It just happens to be that there’s an external force that could really impact their ability to receive an education, much less the climate on our campus. And so we’re trying as an institution to watch Washington really carefully.” 

In closing, Hoffmann Harding emphasizes opportunity for conversation and input, emphasizing the concept of intentionality that has stood behind all of her discussions on diversity and inclusion efforts. She believes in the efforts of the campus climate survey to grasp the “pulse” on campus; she hopes that students know the opportunity for suggestion, whether that be through MSPS, the GRC, the Office for Student Enrichment or others. 

She says: “So I would simply reiterate: We believe this is important, it matters and we want this campus to be everything that we hope it can.” 

Admissions: How the Office of Enrollment Seeks to Attract and Cultivate Diversity 

When Don Bishop began his freshman year in 1973, it was both the first time he stepped foot on campus, having traveled from his native Oregon. He also was the first member of his family to attend college. 

Following his graduation in 1977, Bishop worked in the Admissions Office for seven years, then served for executive positions in admissions at Ohio Wesleyan University, Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, Creighton University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He returned to Notre Dame in 2010. 

In his current role as associate vice president for undergraduate enrollment, Bishop and his team in undergraduate admissions, financial aid, student accounts and pre-college and early outreach programs seek to find ways to attract and select a diverse student population that enriches campus life. 

Diversity for the department of enrollment means a wide array of things, including students from all backgrounds: racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, geographic and first-generation college students. 

This year’s freshman class set new records for academic selectivity. 

“More than 70 percent of the incoming class had a national test score or high school performance that the admissions office rated as being in the top 1 percent of the nation. Only about one-third of students with these level of academic accomplishments gained admission,” the office of undergraduate admissions said in a September release. 

Bishop explained to Scholastic that when approaching a philosophy for admissions decisions, his office looks beyond good grades and high test scores. 

“Do we just take the highest in that group? No. At one point the numbers mat ter but up to a point that shouldn't matter as much,” Bishop says. 

“Some highly accomplished students not in the top 1 percent were valued above students with higher numbers. The students’ motivation for success, creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, leadership talents, record of service to others, self-awareness and kindness, as demonstrated in their applications, were even more of a consideration than any other year,” the September release said. 

Bishop says, “The student who came from a disadvantaged background and scores top 10 percent nationally but in their environment they are the top 1 percent, then that grit and determination might be more impressive to a to a Stanford or Notre Dame.” 

Two keys to Bishop and Notre Dame’s strategy for expanding socioeconomic diversity was the 1999 decision to meet every accepted student’s full financial need and for the growing number of Pell recipients enrolled. 

Pell Grants are awarded by the federal government to eligible, low-income undergraduate students for up to $5,920. The school then covers the remainder of costs. 

Critics have said that Notre Dame does not pull its weight in educating students that come from a lower income background. A major point is that Notre Dame ranks among the lowest of the most selective colleges when it comes to percentage of students that use the Pell Grant. 

Bishop understands the criticism but takes issue with the spirit of the argument. 

“Percentage-wise that’s a concern and we’re going to address that,” he says. 

“If you look at Notre Dame’s pell numbers as a percentage, we are lower than a majority of the top 20 schools. Now we’re the third largest of the top 20 schools. Cornell and Penn are larger in enrollments than Notre Dame, but we’re the third largest.” 

Compared to the nation’s most selective private schools, Notre Dame ranks in the top half for the number of Pell grant recipients. 

“So if you take the top 20 most selective private institutions, we are in the bottom two or three in percentage of Pell, but if you take the number of Pell students being served, we are in the top 10,” he says. 

Bishop said an average freshman class has around 11 percent of Pell students. That number has grown from 8 percent when he got here. 

Three percent of approximately 2050 students per freshman class is around 61 students. The average Pell student receives about $40,000 more in aid than average, according to Bishop. “Over four years and over all 60 or so students, that is a $10 million aid budget compared to six, seven years ago,” Bishop says. 

“We’re happy to do it, we want to do more of it.” 

The other major initiative Bishop’s division of enrollment has taken up is to heighten its recruitment efforts. 

“One of the jobs Notre Dame asked me to do when I came back was to build a more sophisticated recruitment model that would go reach out and find more students, and present the idea of Notre Dame to them. Not just waiting for kids to come to it naturally, because not everybody goes to a Catholic high school, not everybody is Catholic who goes to Notre Dame,” he says. 

In order to do target lower income students and first-generation college students, Bishop’s department has partnered with a variety of community based organizations such as Questbridge, Cristo Rey Network, 100 Black Men in America and many more. 

On the recruitment side, Bishop says Notre Dame has expended more energy in trying to identify and connect with more students from diverse backgrounds. 

“We go out and look for students who have certain level of performance and there are national services that provide a list of students. We're able to look at that first based on first generation in diversity so we can identify additional contact with the students,” he says. 

These sorts of searches are never race-specific, which would be unlawful based on federal law, Bishop says. The way Bishop and the enrollment division seek to expand Notre Dame’s diversity is through attracting students from broader socio-economic and first-generation backgrounds. 

Beyond just inviting kids to apply as undergraduates, Bishop tries to get students on campus through the pre-college program. 

Bishop says freshman classes now average 7 to 10 percent first generation students. Since Bishop began in this role, the lowest-income students have been graduating at essentially the same rate as their peers across the entire university. 

On campus, the Fighting Irish Initiative and AnBryce Scholars are two programs that serve first generation students who have faced significant socio economic challenges in the pursuit of their education. Both programs offer assistance and guidance to these students. The Fighting Irish Initiative provides support to allow students to take advantage of all facets of the Notre Dame experience. This begins before students enroll. 

Bishop says, “We make sure that any low-income student or any first generation student has the access to come visit Notre Dame if they've been admitted,” which allows students to get a feel for the school before committing. 

The same goes for JPW and Welcome Weekend. Bishop says the hope is to anticipate when those resources might be needed and offer them as opposed to making student ask. This may mean more resources and more staffing, but Bishop says the university is willing to do find those resources. 

Though each new freshman class has been more diverse than the last since Bishop arrived, African- American students are still underrepresented compared to their share of the collegebound population (6.5 percent here, 8 percent nationwide). 

Asian-American students are also underrepresented compared to their representation at top 20 private institutions, Bishop says. 

In seven years, 100 more diverse students have been added to the incoming freshman class than in Bishop’s first year in this role. And while the tuition price rose by 25 percent in six years, aid awards also grew by 50 percent. 

“So I think Notre Dame has added more diversity, but we need to add more than what we’ve done so far,” he says. Plans to do so include expanding on the initiatives discussed with Scholastic, working more closely with the veterans’ association, and continuing to attract international students. All the while, Bishop and his team seek to meet Notre Dame’s standard of academic excellence and of maintaining its Catholic character. 

Above all, Bishop says he believes it incredibly important to create a culture of inclusion on campus for all students once they arrive here. “I think that we should at least look at the diverse groups and just ask ourselves, is there a comfort level of belonging at Notre Dame, is there anything getting in the way of these students having a reasonably full, belonging Notre Dame experience where they feel they got out of Notre Dame what most students get out of Notre Dame,” he says. 

The efforts to create that sense of belonging often start with Multicultural Student Programs and Services. 

Iris Outlaw and Multicultural Student Programs and Services Leading the Way 

Multicultural Student Programs and Services (MSPS) advocates and promotes community building in order to “ensure that historically underrepresented students feel at home, are connected with on-campus opportunities, and have every chance to succeed at Notre Dame,” according to its mission statement. 

Like Bishop, a first-generation attendee of college leads the MSPS. Iris Outlaw stepped into her role as director of MSPS in 1991, following her graduation from the Master’s in Science Administration program at Notre Dame. 

“I see our office as a liaison between the students and administration,” Outlaw says. 

The office has evolved as campus has, moving from the Main Building to LaFortune in 1986. Focuses have shifted from student efforts to faculty, to its current form of building connection throughout campus. 

“When I came on board, I was able to hire an assistant director and we were able to encompass everyone,” Outlaw says. “In doing that we worked hard on not only becoming a liason working with the students but also working with the administration and also starting to reach out to some of the faculty.” 

The biggest difference Outlaw says she sees since she first arrived in 1991 is the willingness of students to assume an activist role. 

“The mindsets of students coming to campus changed. The students are still vocal — but I don’t want to call the early ‘90s students ‘radicals’ — but that might be, for your perspective, a good way to describe how they would come back and grapple on to it and just move forward,” Outlaw says. 

For example, MSPS created a the Prejudice Reduction Workshop in the ‘90s which led to the Learn to Talk About Race Retreat. On the retreat, one student from each ethnic group shared their experiences and listened to each others. 

Following their return, these students took it upon themselves to create a community education effort beyond the retreat. The message was to engage in difficult dialogues. Outlaw says this is the goal of many of the programs MSPS supports. 

“After graduation students would establish a similar program and dialogue at their places of employment,” Outlaw says. Other programs MSPS has offered and continues to offer currently include academic initiatives like Breaking Through Barriers and Building Bridges, cultural enrichment programming like the MLK Series on the Study of Race and international and domestic research grants. 

While discussion still happens today, Outlaw says students of our time take a different approach, but that students still do care. Among the biggest roadblocks students Outlaw interacts with face are when the administration and students seem to be disconnected. 

“We really work in both worlds,” she says. “Once again I think it’s educating the students on how to approach administration. It’s one thing to go in with all your angst and anger and frustration and wearing it on your sleeve versus keeping that internal, you go in, you sit down and as the conversation progresses, you start unpacking. And depending on who, they can hear it better that way.” 

“Everything is about strategy. That’s what we aim to do,” Outlaw says. 

In Conclusion 

In this cover story, Scholastic has sought to present the intentions behind the many moving parts of the Notre Dame administration on the topics of diversity and inclusion. 

Now we want to hear from you. If you have suggestions on the campus climate, recollections of race relations from your time on campus or simple thoughts on the national discourse and local manifestation, please reach out. 

The ideal of a welcoming, diverse and open campus requires constant vigilance and routine check-ins. There are platforms that have been introduced; plans that have been implemented; focus groups that have been conferred. But it is a daily routine and a devoted mindset which will mark the true answer to the question of: How far does Notre Dame still need to go? And what do we all need to do?