Professors discuss race, MLK legacy, and the election of Donald Trump

Exactly 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Where do we go from here?” speech on the future of American civil rights, dozens assembled for a similarly named panel in the Oak Room of South Dining Hall. Notre Dame’s Departments of Political Science, Africana Studies, Latino Studies, and Theology collaborated in a discussion on the future of race relations in America.

In the wake of an election which differed vastly from any other modern day election in regard to statistics, Dianne Pinderhughes, Notre Dame Presidential Faculty Fellow and Professor in both the Departments of Africana Studies and Political Science as well as organizer of the event, argued the discussion that followed was not only appropriate but “vital to the survival of our political discourse.” Four distinguished faculty members met to present their respective interpretations of MLK’s speech, race relations in America, and the election of President Donald Trump.

Pinderhughes kicked off the discussion by reading a statistical report on the demographics of voters in the 2016 presidential election.

Statistics show that Trump had a significant advantage at the polls within the white electorate. Seventy-one percent of the electorate was comprised of white Americans, and approximately 58 percent of those votes went to Trump. In the black American population, only eight percent of the vote went to Trump; however, this proved to be “statistically insignificant” due to black Americans making up on 12 percent of the electorate. Hispanic Americans made up 11 percent of the electorate, with 29 percent breaking for Trump. Asian Americans also voted for Trump at a rate of 29 percent, but they only composed four percent of the electorate.

According to Pinderhughes, these statistics represent the variation which political scientists would expect. In politics, political scientists expect Republican candidates to win the vote of white Americans over minority groups overwhelmingly. This is normal. “What’s striking, however,” said Pinderhughes, “is the vast differences in the popular vote and the electoral college results.”

In fact, Pinderhughes said, a colleague of hers who runs a non-profit organization which identifies and suggests black Americans with the potential to be successful presidential appointees, contacted both the Clinton and Trump campaigns. The Trump campaign refused to accept their suggestions due to a lack of hope in a Trump victory. Not even the Trump campaign expected to win.  

Christina Wolbrecht, Associate Professor of Notre Dame’s Department of Political Science, stepped in and began to discuss the regularities and irregularities of the election. According to Wolbrecht, nearly everything that happened in the election has precedence. However, she claimed that what differs with the Trump campaign and subsequent administration is the tendency to disregard facts, use excessive executive action, and achieve victory despite bigoted rhetoric. “All of these irregularities,” said Wolbrecht, “are equally disturbing.” Answering the question, “Where do we go from here?” Wolbrecht stated, “The constitution is not self-executing. It will take a new movement of all Americans to save America from this administration.”

Timothy Matovina, Professor of Theology and Co-Director of the Department of Latino Studies, agreed wholeheartedly with Wolbrecht’s statement. Invoking aspects of MLK’s speech, Matovina encouraged audience members to realize the spiritual sanctity of each and every person regardless of skin color. He also said that as a Catholic university, Notre Dame has a unique opportunity to play a role in the potential injustices of a Donald Trump presidency. “Knowledge is power,” Matovina said, “If you really want to make a difference, learn from the past and invoke a movement much like MLK did.”

Finally, Professor and Co-Director of the Department of Latino Studies, Luis Fraga, had a less hopeful message to audience members. “Where do we go from here?” he asked, “We sit back and reflect on the paradox of inclusion that has always been a part of the United States.”

Arguing that America has always been a place where black and brown immigrants are treated maliciously, he said “this election has proven that there are still many Americans who, while not consciously racist themselves, support a systemic oppression of minority groups.”

So, where do we go from here? After a question-and-answer session, all four panelists seemed to agree that the only way to go from here is through grassroots political movements. “We, in recent years, have taken a massive step backwards in our race relations,” said Pinderhughes, “but with a grassroots movement, anything is possible.”

Drew Lischke is a freshman who is currently in the middle of a major major switch-up from PreMed to the humanities (undetermined). He’s a big fan of excessive finger drumming and apple pie. He can be contacted at