Making space for dialogue

May 6, 2021

It was the night of the election in 2016, and there were a group of our residents with some of their friends who lived in different dorms who were at Lafortune. And, you know, they were leaving Lafortune to walk back, and it was in the evening, so it was dark. And there was another group of students who were playing loud music on the radio or stereo kind of thing. The students behind them were celebrating that President Trump had won that election. A group of students who were in front of them were really disappointed. None of them were White American students. Some had family members, perhaps whose immigration status was uncertain and a lot of reasons that they were concerned about the outcome of that election. And so there, as I understood it, there was some back and forth jeering at each other. And then this second group continued to follow the first group all the way to the building, to the point where they realized they both realized in an instant, like, I actually know you. And outside of this experience, they at least get along or begrudgingly maybe just walk past each other, and now had a real encounter that was not good. 

I wanted them to have a chance to feel at peace where they lived. And so we talked about other means they might pursue a lot of things like would you like to talk to the guys who were involved in this as well directly? Or I could be in the area or you could do it yourself. And they wanted to talk to the guys in the dorm, their fellow dormmates, they wanted to do it directly. And they went upstairs and it sounds like they had a really good conversation and then were able to kind of hear each other out and move forward in a very positive way. But I mean, what was manifested as political fallout from an election was very much charged with racism and racist ideals. If it wasn't said explicitly, it was certainly there. And I think everybody at least implicitly acknowledged that it was there. So really a sad experience in the moment, but one that was able to be reconciled. I don't know if it was healed completely in one moment, but it certainly was confronted and yielded good conversation, I think ultimately long-term respect.

And it's interesting for me as an Asian-American in the US to identify, that's normally how I identify, it's interesting to hear that especially in our country's history, this has mostly been an issue between White and Black Americans. At least that's the way it's often portrayed. I forget the exact anniversary, but I believe last summer was like the 150th anniversary of the laying of the transcontinental railroad. And a huge part of that story is the Chinese American, Asian- American experience. At least two of my grandparents worked on the railroads, one physically laying track and another working more like laundry. And that was their experience in the way migrant workers, mostly Chinese workers, were treated there with dangerous jobs and subpar conditions and being swindled out of their wages or otherwise mistreated. That's a huge part of our American experience, too. But they were not given franchise to help change that. In other ways, people were able to organize to have their voice heard, those stories are also really important and they are interesting to me whether that's overcoming the Black codes or Jim Crow laws in the South for a lot of African- Americans in the country or organizing a Chinese or Asian-American vote.

Fr. Matthew Kuczora

Fr. Matthew Kuczora is currently a first year student at Notre Dame Law School. He became the first rector of Dunne Hall upon its opening in 2016.