New initiative will tackle racism’s core concepts

Author: Kevin Fye

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Prompted by recent killings and the social upheaval arising in their aftermath, our nation has awakened to the brutality of institutional racism and the violence to human dignity it has wrought in communities of color, now and throughout America’s history. Many who had previously failed to recognize and understand the structures of racism are now seeking to educate themselves.

In response, the Klau Center for Civil and Human Rights has announced a year-long initiative entitled “Building an Anti-Racist Vocabulary.” The project seeks to educate students and members of the broader Notre Dame community, helping them explore and deconstruct concepts that undergird racism. The initiative confronts these core issues through three interconnected projects.

Educating students and the wider community

The initiative features a one-credit course for Notre Dame students that will engage concepts and events necessary to understand the ways in which racism has infected our nation. The course is designed to help students gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the social, historical, and moral structures that support racial injustice.

A weekly lecture-and-dialogue series will be central to the curricular program, but also open to the public. This part of the initiative will feature guest speakers – academics, authors, government officials, policymakers, and Church officials – who will engage with a specific term or concept in order to open it up to deeper understanding. Included will be broad, relatively familiar terms such as “institutional racism” and “intersectionality,” as well as specific topics and events like “voter suppression,” “health disparities,” “Tulsa,” “mass incarceration,” and so on. Following a TED-style presentation, each speaker will then take questions submitted by audience members and offer resources for further exploration.

A third element of the initiative is a program of events and study groups on policing and racial justice to support students seeking intensive study on this topic. The program will include guest lecturers, book clubs, support for field experiences, and graduate student-led discussion groups that delve deeply into the subject.

Addressing a singular moment in history

Acknowledging a radically changed social climate, Klau Center director Jennifer Mason McAward sees the initiative as particularly vital now.  “We know that when we return to campus in the fall, students will be highly engaged with questions of racial justice, and will seek an educational entry point to engage with this national crisis,” she explains. “We believe it is our obligation to meet these students where they are, and to invite them into deeper dialogue and reflection on issues of race.”

“Building an Anti-Racist Vocabulary” will be made possible through a generous gift from the Klau family, who offered support for expanded outreach in this critical moment. “The incredibly painful times in which we find ourselves demand a response,” says Rick Klau, “and the mission of the Klau Center is to respond through education.”

“We are so grateful to have this opportunity to help shape a more enlightened and compassionate community,” adds Molly Klau.

Still in early planning, a schedule of weekly speakers, and course registration details, will be available at as soon as details are confirmed.

Originally published by Kevin Fye at on July 10, 2020.