Making Notre Dame “a little less white…a little less oppressive.”
Last Friday, Notre Dame invited Robin DiAngelo, a self-described “anti-racist educator” and author of the book “White Fraglity: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Race,” to deliver the keynote address of University’s “Diversity and Inclusion Conference.” Her keynote centered on how “the status quo of our society, and of every institution in it, is racism.” The entire conference was promoted as “inspired by Catholic Social Teaching” and as flowing directly out of Notre Dame’s Catholic character.
DiAngelo began her address by emphasizing that her years of research and study has made her realize that, beyond the merely human experience, her life is primarily defined by her race: “I am white. I have a white frame of reference, a white worldview, and I move through the world with a white experience—and it is not just a universal human experience—it is a most particularly white experience.”
Here she took an unorthodox and—by her own admission—“controversial” approach to establishing her authority to speak on the issue of race despite her whiteness. Namely, she not only cited her dedication to the issue, but also devalued every white audience member’s opinion, regardless of their personal life story: “This room is full of people I don’t know … but if you are white, and you haven’t devoted years of sustained study and struggle to this, your opinions [on race] are limited, superficial, and uninformed.”
Despite citing the awareness that her years of study have given her, DiAngelo noted that she continues to “try to be a little less white, which is to say, a little less oppressive, a little less ignorant.” In her book, which has been on the New York Times Best Seller list for 60 weeks, she notes that “white identity is inherently racist.”
Her keynote’s central aim was to make people realize that “the status quo of this society, and of every institution in it, is racism. It is not an aberration, but the default.” In her website, she writes that the first tenet of her “anti-racist approach” is that “racism is the foundation of Western society; we are socialized into a racial hierarchy.”
DiAngelo closed by presenting a modern reimagining of Michaelangelo’s masterpiece, “The Creation of Adam,” on the projector screen of the packed DPAC auditorium. The revisionist painting, called “The Creation of God,” substitutes the original’s protagonists with two black women, apparently representing Eve and a female god. It was a shocking way to finish her address, which DiAngelo undoubtedly thought contributed to her aim of “unsettling white comfort.”
Earlier in the day, Rev. Joseph Brown, SJ, of Southern Illinois University, delivered the opening address to an audience of mostly faculty and staff, lamenting that Notre Dame is currently “trying really hard to get [diversity] wrong,” and that it needs to “move diversity from the periphery to the center” of its priorities.
For instance, in reference to the number of staff members in Notre Dame’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Rev. Brown critiqued that “it is a scandal for Notre Dame to only have two people trying to train 5,000—it’s a sin.” He received an emphatic round of applause for this comment.
With regards to how the US Church as a whole has dealt with racism, Rev. Brown scorned the USCCB’s pastoral letter, “Open Wide Our Hearts,” and noted that he “would not even step on the bishops’ pastoral letter with muddy shoes,” claiming that it is written for whites and is fundamentally self-righteous. Further, he argued that the “theme song of the Roman Catholic Church is ‘Some Room in Some People’s Kingdom,’” which he contrasted with the African-American spiritual “Plenty of Good Room in My Father’s Kingdom.”
It was unclear whether that critique was aimed at Church practice or Church doctrine, but Rev. Brown was not shy about his preference for liberation theology, which “unlike the theology taught here [at Notre Dame] does not come from Germans!”
Apart from merely critiquing how the US Church has dealt with racism, Rev. Brown offered that “an entire revolution in the education system” is necessary, including specific proposals like requiring every student at Notre Dame to take at least “two courses in Black history, two courses in Hispanic history, and two courses in Native American history.” Rev. Brown received a standing ovation upon concluding his address.
The “Diversity and Inclusion Conference”, which DiAngelo and Rev. Brown headlined, was officially sponsored by the University of Notre Dame, and was the specific initiative of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The all-day conference had its own official university website, and was sponsored by twelve official university centers, including Campus Ministry, Human Resources, the Center for Social Concerns, and the Gender Studies Department.
Notre Dame has not disclosed how much it paid DiAngelo to deliver her anti-racist keynote address, but she has previously charged universities $12,000 for a keynote and “breakout session,” which are exactly the services she provided at the conference. Given that the day-long conference included ten different sessions, and that it was hosted in the premier event rooms of the Morris Inn and the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, it is safe to assume that the amount of money that Notre Dame spent on this conference is not small, indicating the University’s commitment to the area of diversity and inclusion.
Nicolas Abouchedid is a junior at Notre Dame studying in the Program of Liberal Studies, with minors in philosophy and Chinese. He is originally from, and hopes to one day return to, Caracas, Venezuela. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.