A Message from Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. – MLK Day and Living Our Values

January 13, 2022

Dear Members of the Notre Dame Community,

I hope the semester is off to a good start. Thank you for all you are doing to help our community navigate this latest chapter in the global pandemic. While I know it’s not easy, if we do the things we need to do—getting a booster, wearing our masks indoors, and showing up for testing if we have symptoms or are asked to do so as part of surveillance testing—public health experts are hopeful that we will see cases of the omicron variant peak and then decrease over the next few weeks. In the meantime, let’s continue to be vigilant and treat each other with the compassion, patience, and kindness that have always characterized this community.

As you know, our nation will mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, January 17, and for the first time, MLK Day will be a University holiday for students, faculty, and staff. We hope you will spend the day honoring Dr. King’s legacy in the ways that are most meaningful to you, while also recognizing that some activities we might normally participate in on this day—being part of a service project, attending events in the local community, or worshiping in our faith communities—may not be possible given the pandemic. The city of South Bend announced last week that it has postponed most of its annual MLK Day celebrations to Presidents Day, February 21, given rising COVID case rates. 

Here on campus, we do plan to proceed with our annual MLK Day candlelight prayer service in the Main Building Rotunda on Tuesday, January 18, at 10:00 p.m. Masking and physical distancing will be required for those who attend in person, and the prayer service will be livestreamed. Before we gather for prayer, please join us for a student panel discussion that evening in Washington Hall beginning at 8:15 p.m., titled “Walk the Walk: Building the 'Beloved Community' at Notre Dame.” Again, health and safety protocols will be in place for those attending in person, and this too will be livestreamed.  

You’ll find a complete listing of Walk the Walk Week events on our website. Our campus observance of Walk the Walk Week has, of course, also been impacted by the pandemic, and a number of events have been moved to a virtual format or postponed. Despite the fact that fewer large-scale, in-person events are possible, we encourage every member of this community to seek out opportunities for meaningful reflection and dialogue during Walk the Walk Week, whether through participation in the events that are offered, in a classroom setting, or more informally among friends, classmates, and colleagues. 

The University’s efforts regarding diversity and inclusion continue, guided by the strategic priorities articulated in the recent University Trustee Task Force Report on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In my August 16, 2021, letter to campus, I listed some important initial steps. These efforts continue in many areas. 

The University’s Office of Strategic Planning and Institutional Research is conducting a University-wide inventory of DEI initiatives, as was recommended by the Task Force. It will allow us to better understand and evaluate the wide range of programs and structures that are in place, identify opportunities for greater collaboration, share best practices and resources, and scale up those programs and practices that could have a transformative impact.  

Our Office of Undergraduate Admissions, after enrolling in the fall the most racially and ethnically diverse class in the University’s history, believes that this year’s pool is such that we can continue the momentum, having received an all-time high number of applications with significant increases in the numbers of U.S. applicants who are students of color and/or first-generation, as well as the number of international applicants. 

In partnership with the graduate programs and colleges, Associate Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Laura Carlson has started the implementation of an ambitious diversity recruitment plan that includes initiatives aimed at expanding the pipeline into graduate school, increasing our network of agreements with institutions serving underrepresented students, using new tools for inclusive recruitment, and increasing the number of Deans’ Fellowships. These are awarded to first-generation, low-income or underrepresented students in recognition of outstanding performance in undergraduate studies and notable promise in graduate studies and professional life.  

Our professional schools are equally committed to attracting top students who are diverse. For example, the class entering Notre Dame Law School in fall 2021 had the highest number of African American students of any top 25 law school.  

As part of a portfolio of leadership initiatives reporting to Vice President and Associate Provost Hugh Page, the University launched the Transformational Leaders Program (TLP) in fall 2021 to serve undergraduate students from low-resourced backgrounds. Its goal is to provide complementary advising, paid research placements, internships, pre-matriculation programming, mentoring, and resources for summer academic enrichment and emergent situations. Housed on the second floor of the Main Building, the TLP lounge has fast become a vibrant hub for networking and academic programming, as well as a warm and welcoming space for the more than 250 students who are part of its initial cohort. 

In terms of student life, funding has been secured and plans are being formulated for a visible and inviting Center for Diversity and Inclusion to be located in the LaFortune Student Center. Beginning during Walk the Walk Week and continuing throughout the semester, the architects for this project will invite the University community to participate in the design of this space, in partnership with Student Affairs and the University’s architect. Student Affairs will soon administer the third iteration of the Inclusive Campus Student Survey to better understand the current climate on campus related to inclusion and all aspects of diversity. As a result of discussions between students, Student Affairs, and the Office of Institutional Equity about the current process for reporting incidents of discriminatory harassment, questions about the University’s online reporting tool, SpeakUp.nd.edu, are being added to the upcoming Inclusive Campus Student Survey. 

Efforts continue across the academy on faculty hiring, thanks to the Provost’s Office, deans, department chairs, and a great many others. To cite just a few examples of initiatives across the academy launched recently that are now bearing fruit, the Notre Dame Initiative on Race and Resilience in the College of Arts and Letters is actively recruiting for three faculty positions, and the College of Engineering has created faculty directors of DEI within each department. I am also very encouraged by the widespread faculty commitment to promoting DEI through research and teaching, as exemplified by the many exciting proposals submitted through Moment to See, Courage to Act

With regard to our staff, Human Resources continues to focus on hiring initiatives such as the Diversity Catalyst Program and ensuring interview pools meet or exceed market availability with regard to diverse candidates. These efforts have resulted in an increase in the number of women and minority candidates interviewed and hired. Beyond hiring, we are working to ensure Notre Dame is a welcoming workplace where all can build productive and satisfying careers and experience a true sense of belonging.

Finally, I am grateful to our Executive Diversity Council, which meets with me regularly to ensure that we are making progress toward the goals articulated in the Trustee Task Force report and provides advice and insight to the University’s Executive Officers. 

There are, of course, many other efforts in the colleges and in divisions that I have not mentioned here. I know that many across the University have made issues of diversity and inclusion a top priority, and I thank everyone for their commitment. As I have said before, the change we seek is not the work of a month or a year, but a longer period in the life of the University, and it cannot be the work of just a few of us. Each of us has a critical part to play in helping this community live up to its highest ideals, and to making Notre Dame, rich in diversity, a place that is ever more characterized by respectful dialogue, care for one another, and solidarity. 

In Notre Dame,
Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.