One of my main hesitations about Notre Dame during the college selection process was its lack of ethnic and economic diversity, something I had been blessed to have in various areas of my life. I feared such uniformity in background could lead to a uniformity in thought, an environment in which differing perspectives could be lost to the pressure of the majority.
But I chose Notre Dame anyway. I wanted to be surrounded by intelligent and passionate people, and I knew that’s who this university was looking for. I had to trust my classmates would use their abilities to pay attention to the issues that affected the rest of the world. At the very least, I thought, I could make up for what I lacked in organic chemistry prowess to stimulate such conversations.
This fear was given its greatest test during this election. Various marginalized groups were at an increased level of risk nationwide, and these groups have historically not had a strong voice at Notre Dame, a school still largely represented by a white, male, middle-to-upper class point of view.
I was afraid that dominant point of view would swallow the support of social justice issues that a Catholic institution should represent.
Surprisingly, as Election Day approached, the student body seemed oddly … sensitive. Respectful. Diplomatic. A student organization projected the debates onto a large screen, brought in food trucks to lure people to watch, and turned up the volume loud enough to hear from across campus.
There wasn’t jeering or cheering or even much conversation from the crowd that attended – just quiet listening. People understood the importance of the debates, and they were there to learn and process, not for a show.
After Donald Trump was elected, though I was deeply troubled, I was also thankful to be on a college campus.
A group of primarily Latino students started a peaceful protest outside the main classroom building as a gesture of support for our minority and undocumented classmates. “Together united, we’ll never be divided,” they chanted.
In one of my Spanish classes the day after the election, we spent the entire 75-minute period talking about the election, in English. Gabriel García Márquez’s novel would be hard to get through alone; so, too, would have been this election. I was grateful to hear my classmates and professor express thoughts in a much more articulate way than I ever could, and I was happy to see that underrepresented groups were receiving support.
Not everyone agreed, and conversations reflected that, but the majority of these conversations were respectful and sensitive. A friend who is going to work at a major bank next year explained how she believed Trump’s plans will be beneficial to banks across the country.
Another described her father’s frustrated tears as he talked about how the Affordable Care Act hurt his small business. They both offered their perspectives without aggression.
Despite the differences, I was struck by how many of my peers promoted hope and unity. My social media feeds had some anger and resentment on them, but overall they were filled with compassionate and thoughtful posts advocating positivity.
As in many parts of the country, there were still issues at Notre Dame. One of my friends said he felt like he couldn’t express a Republican perspective without being accused of racism by one of his groups of friends. Some threatened to “unfriend” Trump supporters on Facebook. On the other side, one person yelled, “Build a wall!” in the tearful faces of his protesting classmates. As a response, my friend Dani stepped out of the protesting group and offered him a hug.
Overall, the common theme of love and unity is what has made me most proud to be a student here. Notre Dame’s lack of diversity is an issue the administration is aware of and is trying to improve. But I was impressed at my classmates’ ability to step forward and advocate the underrepresented.
They remained positive and forward-thinking, even in the face of severe political turmoil. No matter who is sitting in the Oval Office, that attitude gives me hope for this generation and for the future of our country.
(Jacob, a senior at the University of Notre Dame, is the eldest of the four Scobey-Polacheck children.)