The Work and the Walk
Q&A with Eric Love, director of staff diversity and inclusion
This story was originally published in January 2020. It has been edited for clarity and amended for accuracy.
As a part of this year’s Walk the Walk Week tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Eric Love, Notre Dame’s director of staff diversity and inclusion, sat down with Dennis Brown, assistant vice president for news and media relations, to discuss his life’s journey and the initiatives he’s led on campus.
Let’s start with a little of your background — where you grew up and your educational and career paths.
I do diversity work because I think I’m inherently made to do this type of work. I come from a very diverse background. My father was African American. He passed away six years ago. An African American from Osceola, Arkansas. My mother is white, and she’s from Liverpool, England. I grew up in England and Idaho. On my mother’s side, my grandfather was Catholic. My grandmother was Jewish. They raised their children, my mom and her siblings, not Catholic or Jewish, but Church of England Protestant. A couple of my older siblings were baptized Church of England Protestant. My mom married a Baptist from the South. We kind of were considered Church of England Protestant growing up, until we moved to Idaho. Then I think Episcopalian was the closest thing. Here at Notre Dame, I go to Mass and one of my favorite things to do is to walk up, cross my arms and get a blessing.
What about your undergraduate and graduate education?
I attended Boise State with a degree in social sciences, with an emphasis on political science and psychology. I got my master’s at Idaho State in counseling. At Idaho State, I wrote a proposal to the president of the university, suggesting that he hire me as a grad assistant to work on issues of diversity. I was his intern for one year. After that, they opened it up and created the president’s fellowship. I think the next year they had one. The following year they had two. I believe it continues now. They have about 20. Grad students pick a project that they want to work on, and it’s funded and they report to the president. That was a long-standing tradition that I started.
After your master’s, what next?
I worked on my master’s for two years. When I completed that, then Idaho State hired me, so I worked there an additional five years. I guess that’s really where I honed my skills on diversity and inclusion. Then I decided to work on a doctoral degree and went to IU and worked on it for a few years. I was getting burnt out on school, so I applied for a job as director of diversity education and got it. I still dabbled on my Ph.D. a little bit, but still haven’t finished. I just love diversity work. As I said, I think I’m inherently made for it, but I think it’s important work. I feel like I can really make a difference.
You’ve been at Notre Dame now for just over seven years and have trained several thousand staff members. Tell us about the work you’ve been doing.
I offer three workshops. One of them is about 30 minutes. It’s a part of a full day of onboarding.
For new employees?
“Whoever they are, if they’re here, they’re part of the Notre Dame family, they should be treated with dignity and respect.”
All new employees go through onboarding. They learn about benefits. They learn about the University. I do a 30-minute workshop that helps lay the foundation of how we’re expected to treat each other with dignity and respect. Then the two other workshops are very similar. One of them is called Multicultural Competencies/Hiring Game Changers. That’s a full-day workshop. Part of the afternoon is dedicated to hiring managers and supervisors, helping them take the bias out of job descriptions, out of announcements and advertising and interviewing, and ultimately hiring. That’s a workshop specifically for hiring managers and supervisors.
Then the rest of it deals with benefits of diversity, defining some terminology, multicultural competency. We learn how we gain skills and attributes that help us treat everyone, no matter who comes into our office, no matter who we work with, we treat everybody with dignity and respect. Make sure we give everybody the same level of service, whether they’re a Muslim woman in a hijab, or they’re an African American male in a hoodie, or an older person with a (walker) that’s taking a while to get up to our desk. Whoever it is, we treat them all with the same basic excellent service that’s expected with Notre Dame.
That’s multicultural competencies. It helps us learn a little bit about different cultures, so we’re not surprised when somebody comes in. Even if we’re comfortable, we don’t have any ill will, but we’re surprised if, “Oh, there’s somebody wearing something different,” that person might pick up on it, and then they might interpret that as a negative thing. Multicultural competencies help us make sure we serve different populations with the same level of service.
We also have a workshop on microaggressions to help Notre Dame staff treat each other well, so we’re comfortable, we can do our best work and we can continue to excel as a university. I hired Eve Kelly, Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager. She helps with all the programs we initiated, in designing our path forward for staff at Notre Dame regarding D & I, looking at analytics and more campus outreach.
What about some of the guest speakers who I know you bring in for these workshops?
As a part of the multicultural competencies workshop, I usually bring in a cultural speaker. We’ve had people who do research on diversity in higher education, people who do research in corporate. We have an ongoing person I bring in who’s from the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi that talks about issues locally, and general issues about Native Americans. I’ve had someone from the Latino community that talks about immigration and those issues. I’ve had a speaker talk about LGBTQ+ identities. We rotate speakers. The most frequent one is a Puerto Rican doctoral candidate who lives in Bloomington, and he does theater work on race and inclusion.
What about for employees who aren’t supervisors or hiring managers? Tell me about the training for them.
We have We Are All ND. We all know the phrase We Are ND. This just tweaks it a little bit to let you know, that no matter who you are, where you’re from, your gender, your job title, your socioeconomic status, religion, we are all ND. If you’re here, you’re a part of the Notre Dame family. That’s a four-hour workshop that covers similar material as the other workshop, without the cultural speaker and without the hiring game changers. It’s definitions, it’s multicultural competency, microaggressions, and we have small-group dialogue where people just get a chance to share their experiences. That’s required for all staff who aren’t supervisors. Supervisors, managers take the other class for a full day. All other employees are required to take the four-hour workshop.
Do you offer some optional programming?
“If we want to be a force for good in the world, we have to know the world, so we’re learning more about it. Everything we do, it has an eye to our Catholic Social Teaching and the mission of Notre Dame.”
Yes, we also periodically bring in guest speakers. We also offer some other workshops such as a Hanukkah and Kwanzaa program around the holidays. We celebrate Christmas extensively here, which as we should. December’s my favorite month at Notre Dame. It’s amazing. I do a Hanukkah/Kwanzaa program. Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday, Kwanzaa is an African American holiday. We do both of them. Just a little program. Give information, have some food. It’s been really well received. These are cultural opportunities. There’s some political, civil political dialogue, as well. We’ve had one on racial battle fatigue. That explains the phenomenon of the stressors that could take place from people of color in majority of white spaces, or women in majority male spaces. Anything that we can enlighten people on so we can become more empathetic or sympathetic with our colleagues. All of these workshops are all tied together to increase people’s comfortability in having dialogue, talking about these issues. Not being afraid to ask about it.
We focus on inclusion. We focus on Catholic Social Teaching, we focus on really aligning our diversity and inclusion initiatives with our Catholic Social Teaching, and the Notre Dame mission. If we want to be a force for good in the world, we have to know the world, so we’re learning more about it. Everything we do, it has an eye to our Catholic Social Teaching and the mission of Notre Dame.
Can you speak to how these sessions are not about political correctness, but instead are in harmony with Catholic Social Teaching?
I think one major premise of Catholic Social Teaching, and I think other areas of the Catholic faith, is that we are all made in the image of God. How can we mistreat someone who’s made in the image of God? Whether you disagree with someone, or you don’t understand somebody, you still have to treat every individual with basic human dignity and respect. We also have the “Spirit of Inclusion” at Notre Dame, which goes well beyond our workshops. What we’re doing is right in line with other Notre Dame initiatives.
Do you have a basic philosophy behind your work?
One of the opening statements I make for all the workshops that I’ve done — I’ve done hundreds of workshops, trained over 5,000 Notre Dame staff — I always say that we don’t all have to agree. We’re different. Look around the room. There’s no one person who’s exactly the same as anybody else. It’s OK to disagree. We think differently, we come from different backgrounds, we’re supposed to disagree. But when we do, we have to do it with dignity and respect. I feel my ultimate goal in my role at Notre Dame, with my strategic plans, with all the work that I do, is to help create a campus climate that’s conducive for everyone to do their best work. No matter where they’re from, who they are, if they have an accent, their job title, their religion, their race, their gender, their ethnicity. Whoever they are, if they’re here, they’re part of the Notre Dame family, they should be treated with dignity and respect.
Do you have any favorite moments of your time here?
One thing I really love about Notre Dame is our staff chaplains, and Father (Jim) Bracke, in particular. I mentioned that my father passed away. When I first moved here, my father had cancer and someone told Father Bracke. He checked in with me weekly; every week to see how my dad was doing, to see how my mom was holding up. When my father was on his deathbed, essentially, Father Bracke called. He did a nondenominational prayer. But then he also did a Catholic blessing for my dad. He passed away maybe two days later. My mom talks about that still. That’s Notre Dame. That kind of love and caring and compassion. Father Bracke does that for so many people. I don’t know how he does it. He’s absolutely amazing. That’s one of my favorite moments at Notre Dame. I don’t think you can be on this campus without having some sort of spiritual feeling. It’s just a part of the place.
“Whether you disagree with someone, or you don’t understand somebody, you still have to treat every individual with basic human dignity and respect.”
Another special memory is when I had the opportunity to meet Father Hesburgh. (Vice President for Human Resources) Bob McQuade took me to Father Ted’s office in the library. I was in awe. After hearing him tell stories of civil rights battles and triumphs for about 15 minutes, he turned to me and said, “We’ve been talking about diversity for a long time, and now we need you to do something. Let me know how I can help.” When you get your marching orders from Father Ted, you get to work.
As we pay tribute this week to Martin Luther King Jr., I know you’ve played a role in expanding observations nationwide. Can you talk about that?
I was instrumental as an undergrad in having Idaho adopt the Martin Luther King holiday as legal in Idaho. Idaho was one of four states that didn’t have a legal state holiday. As an undergrad, I started to push for us to have that. I organized marches and rallies, and ultimately, we got a holiday. The governor, when he signed it into law, he said, “There were a lot of people who were involved, several senators, the human rights commission. But there’s one person that without him it wouldn’t have happened.” And he called me by name and gave me the pen he used to sign the legislation. Since then, I’ve been involved in Martin Luther King events all over the country for 30 years. Boise State still does an event that I started. They do a march every year. Idaho State still does events that I started. Indiana University does events that we started. Our prayer vigil here at Notre Dame is one of the things that I’ve helped initiate here. Four campuses doing King events.
The prayer vigil the night before MLK Day has become a popular event on campus. Tell us about your role in that.
The first time we did the midnight prayer vigil, I was speaking at the King holiday in Idaho. I flew back Sunday evening, and then I was going to be the first speaker Sunday night. Father John and I were on the docket. I remember it was negative 10 degrees, but it was so beautiful. I arrived at like 11:30, and there was Father John. I knew he was going to be there because he was speaking. But then there was John Affleck-Graves, and Bob McQuade, Paul Browne. All these senior-level vice presidents. I’ve been at all these different universities, and that isn’t always the case. For me to arrive at 11:30 at night for a midnight program, negative 10 degrees, and all these senior-level people are there, I got emotional. When Notre Dame does something, they mean it. Look at everybody that’s here. Then the students were there. I got emotional, because I thought, “This is such a special place.” Again, the prayer vigil’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
Overall, how do you think your work here has been received?
I think my work has been really well received at Notre Dame. If we look at the evaluations of the 5,000 people that have taken training, there are very few people who have been dissatisfied. And most of them, it wasn’t because they didn’t like the workshop. It had to do with dreading to come to it. But those people tell me afterwards that they didn’t want to come, but then we make it so comfortable to talk about these issues and that the time flew by. I get that more than anything. I’m enjoying the challenges that we have at Notre Dame. In many ways we’re much more compassionate. I get a lot of support from Bob McQuade, my boss, from the executive vice president’s office, the president’s leadership council. We have a lot of support, but we still have a lot of work to do too.
We do as a society.