PwC-funded center opens in LaFortune Student Center
The Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) celebrated its grand opening on September 21, 2023. The center, funded by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), now occupies the second floor of LaFortune Student Center.
The purpose of the center is “to provide a safe and welcoming environment where students can foster a culture of belonging, collaborate to address issues that are important to them, and enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at Notre Dame,” according to the center’s website.
Fr. Gerry Olinger, C.S.C., Vice President for Student Affairs, told the Rover that the center “provides yet another critical opportunity for students to find belonging and deepen connections with one another and with God.”
He continued, “It is my hope that the center will help to encourage and develop the various talents, differing perspectives, and diverse backgrounds of the students who enjoy the space and in turn make Notre Dame a richer and better place for us all.”
This recently opened center currently houses the administrative offices of the Multicultural Student Programs and Services (MSPS), the Gender Relations Center (GRC), and the Office of Student Enrichment (OSE). The center also houses the student groups PrismND (Notre Dame’s LGBTQ+ undergraduate student organization) and Diversity Council ND, an assembly of student leaders under MSPS that “explores issues of diversity at the University of Notre Dame in an effort to promote awareness, understanding, and acceptance of all differences that make up the Notre Dame community.”
The grand opening featured a blessing, presided over by Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C. At the event, he remarked that it was “a wonderful day for Notre Dame.” He stated that the opening of the center was “a next step for Notre Dame to be fully the kind of community we aspire to be … the best version of ourselves.” He further thanked God for “the blessed diversity which [He has] bestowed upon us as our gift.”
Rev. Hugh Page, a Professor of Theology at Notre Dame and an episcopal priest, also spoke at the blessing. He emphasized that the opening of the center pushed the university forward on the “pilgrimage toward becoming the very best version of Notre Dame.” Rev. Page continued, “At a moment in our national life that is so fractious and so divided, [DEI centers] serve as signs of community and hope that make clear our commitment to solidarity and to justice … they serve as sanctuaries, as sacred spaces that embody and ground our commitment to an ethic of compassion and all-encompassing love.”
Julia Thomalla, Secretary of PrismND, also spoke at the blessing. “My fellow PrismND officers and I have been so privileged and grateful to find our new home in our brand new beautifully renovated office, especially as PrismND is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.” She continued, “Each one of these offices is essential to nurturing Notre Dame as a place where everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from, is accepted and valued.”
The speakers emphasized that the center embodies a “safe space” for underrepresented student groups. Jo’Vette Hawkins, President of Diversity Council ND, reiterated this idea. In her speech, she said, “With the opening of the center, we now have a dedicated space where every member of the Notre Dame community can experience the value of diversity.”
Vice President of Student Affairs Fr. Olinger offered the concluding blessing.
As the Rover reported in 2021, the funding for the center by PwC came in the form of an initial $1 million gift, which will be supplemented by an additional $9 million over the next five years. In recent history, representatives from PwC have also taught the portion of the Moreau first year experience course on “micro-aggressions” and “inclusive leadership.”
The motivation for the center was expressed through the 2021 Boards of Trustees Task Force Report, which was created “to assist the university in its efforts to become a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community,” according to the Task Force Report website.
The report cites a disparity in the “sense of belonging” between the minority and majority student populations. It states, “Building a more inclusive culture is the single most important task before us, as it is foundational to everything else.”
The new center also fits into “Notre Dame 2033: A Strategic Framework,” the recently released 10-year plan that describes the need for “diversity and inclusion.”
The Rover also reached out to the directors of the offices housed in the center, all of whom directed the Rover to Ana Reyes Lam, Assistant Director for Communications and Operations for the center.
Reyes stated that the center is “committed to helping all students, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, find a place on campus where they feel welcomed, safe, and excited to be their authentic selves.”
Moreover, Reyes claimed that the center will be useful for “hosting more programming, facilitating and increasing support and involvement with students to address topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and creating a social gathering space for our campus community.”
The center also “offers spaces that can be reserved through NDCentral and SAORes by all recognized student clubs and organizations and members of the campus community,” Reyes noted. “These spaces include executive meeting rooms (the History Makers Room, the Champions of Diversity Room, and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi room) and a community kitchen.”
Notre Dame has also hosted talks that referenced DEI, and some have expressed possible dangers when overemphasizing DEI over other ideals.
In a lecture titled “What Makes a University Catholic?” given at Notre Dame last spring, Bishop Robert Barron responded to a question on how diversity and inclusion fit into the ideals of a Catholic University. In his response, Bp. Barron stated, “My complaint with the diversity, equity, and inclusion stuff is not that those are bad things; but they’re not absolute values; they’re relative values. When you absolutize them, then trouble emerges.” Instead, Bp. Barron advocated for the “absolute values” of “justice and love.”
Fr. Jenkins echoed a similar sentiment in his homily at the Opening of the Academic Year Mass on August 22. In reference to St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, he remarked, “Paul’s words remind us that our gifts and the differences among us are valuable only in so far as they contribute to the good of the whole, and in making that contribution, they find their purpose. Now Paul’s words are particularly apt for our university community as well.”
Daniel Philpott, Professor of Political Science, also remarked upon the relationship between Notre Dame’s commitment to DEI and her Catholic identity. He told the Rover, “Seeking to heal the wounds of racial injustice and to promote the inclusion of minorities are indispensable parts of a Catholic university’s mission. Equally vital is that a Catholic university does this according to the gifts and principles of the Church.”
Philpott repeated that the university’s efforts must be aligned with Catholic Church teaching, “particularly in the matter of marriage and sexuality, lest its Catholic approach lose credibility and moral authority.”
Philpott also expressed concern because of the secular nature of the terms diversity, equity, and inclusion. He stated, “I worry that the DEI language links us to approaches that are predominant today in public law and the policies of corporations, universities, and other institutions, but which are secular and not rooted in the Church’s theology, divine reality, moral doctrine, and teaching about the human person. Aspects of the predominant DEI approach are in sharp tension with the Church.”
The center is open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekends.
Michael Canady is a sophomore from northern Virginia studying classics and constitutional studies. He is also an avid soccer player and sports fan, but all of his favorite teams have been losing recently. To suggest other teams to root for, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: The Irish Rover
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