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Notre Dame College continued attention to diversity and inclusion initiatives that have always been part of its Abrahamic Center and broader College initiatives by conducting professional development seminars for employees to discuss systemic inequities that have been part of the country’s history and often continue today in economic, health and justice disparities.

The sessions flipped the typical “talking head” model of professional development by holding circles of conversation among faculty and staff that began with student voices via video, according to Sr. Carol Ziegler, SND, Ph.D., executive assistant to the president and executive director of the Abrahamic Center at the College. The discussions also were inspired by an invitation to the College community from J. Michael Pressimone, Ed.D., president of the College to become “a model community engaged in thoughtful, civil discourse about racism in America.”

The virtual in-service sessions entitled “Supporting Black Students in White Spaces” featured snippets of personal stories from several Notre Dame students who agreed to be videotaped and explained experiences of racism in their lives. The students all self-identify as Black Indigenous People of Color students.

Student Experiences

Two male students explained how they each had been searched by police, in separate instances in separate cities in separate times, without probable cause. One said he was even put in handcuffs, when he was only 13 years old.

“You get told your experiences don’t matter,” another student said. “People don’t believe you or rationalize it away.”

“Physically and mentally it takes a toll on you,” a student said.

“You don’t go out as much in public,” another student added.

Despite the experience of being followed in stores and eyed suspiciously, a female student proudly claimed she “loves being Black.”

Circle Conversations

After viewing the recording of these students’ comments, concerns and experiences, the employees joined in small circle conversations to consider what surprised them and how they could improve their own skill sets to better meet the needs of these and other students at the College who may have different life experiences then they did as young people.

“I really admire the students who can speak truth. Those are the most powerful voices we have,” Pressimone said. “They are going to lead us to a different place.”

Employees were offered the opportunity to lead the circle conversations and participated in a brief training prior to the professional development sessions. Participants were encouraged to speak from the heart with mutual respect, as well as to listen actively to their colleagues. Confidentiality was an expectation in regard to the students’ sharing as well as for all faculty and staff participants.

“What a great opportunity we have to learn from each other in a meaningful way. We can say things to each other we couldn’t say to others,” Pressimone said. “We have to encourage that to happen. We have to be active voices to encourage that dialogue.”

Caring Community

The professional development opportunity continued the College’s ongoing conversations about creating a more just and caring world and built on a student-led prayer vigil held in late September on the campus quad. The thoughtful and meaningful vigil focused on black victims of police brutality and violence and ended with an invitation to each participant to make a difference by voting.

While the College’s spring 2020 Federation of Independent Colleges (OFIC) grant for inclusion and diversity programming was truncated by the COVID pandemic, attention to the work of supporting the diverse student body at Notre Dame carried over into the fall and became more significant in light of Black Lives Matter incidents and protests over the summer.

“This work continues to be important for our country, our communities, as well as for our Notre Dame College family,” Pressimone said.

November 2020

About Notre Dame College

For almost a century, Notre Dame College has educated a diverse population in the liberal arts for personal, professional and global responsibility. Founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1922, the College has grown strategically to keep pace with the rapidly changing needs of students and the dramatic changes in higher education. But it has never lost sight of its emphasis on teaching students not only how to make a good living but also how to live a good life.

Today, the College offers bachelor’s degrees in 30 disciplines plus a variety of master’s degrees, certification programs and continuing and professional development programs for adult learners on campus and online. Notre Dame College offers NCAA Division II intercollegiate athletic programs for men and women and is located in a picturesque residential neighborhood just 25 minutes from the heart of Cleveland. Hallmarks of the Notre Dame experience include stimulating academics, personalized attention of dedicated faculty and staff, and small class sizes.

Notre Dame College is located at 4545 College Road in South Euclid. For further information contact pr@ndc.edu.