By Maura Boston ‘17 and Jessie Wurzer ‘17
Pamela Nolan Young was appointed Notre Dame’s first Director for Academic Diversity and Inclusion in 2016. After graduating with a B.A. in government from Dartmouth College, Young received her J.D. from the Notre Dame Law School. Before turning to higher education, Young worked as a lawyer and consultant in roles such as Assistant District Attorney and consultant for the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. Check out this month's Campus Conversations to learn why Pamela is the perfect fit for this important work at ND. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.
You've worked across a variety of industries on really significant work. What initiative or project are you most proud of?
My answer isn't work related actually. In 1989 I was asked by one of my church ministers to help form a housing nonprofit. It turned out to be destiny. I joined a group of about 15 people from various backgrounds - social workers, attorneys, non-profit professionals - and we wrote grants to eventually receive funding from HUD and a few nonprofits to start our Housing Discrimination Project. In the beginning, it was just a tiny office with one full time attorney, a part time administrator, and volunteer investigators. It has flourished over the past 20 years and now serves four counties in Western Massachusetts. I left the group after 5 years, but my contributions there helped the organization to grow and I am very proud of my involvement.
What brought you to higher ed?
Education has always been very important to my family. My mother was an elementary school teacher and I would often help her with getting her classroom ready or grading papers. Education was highly valued in our family, so it has always been very near and dear to my heart.
I participated in a program called Street Law while I was at ND Law School, which introduces high school students to the legal system. After law school, I was a full-time attorney and also served as coordinator for a legal education program for the district attorney in Hampden County. We educated 3rd -12th graders and taught at juvenile facilities. It was a natural progression for me, and I loved being in the classroom.
I realized I couldn't go back to practicing law full time after enjoying teaching so much, so I started moving more completely towards education. I served as the Diversity Director at an independent school just outside of Boston, and then HR Director at a community college. Afterwards I went to work at Smith College, then ended up here at Notre Dame. The transition was very smooth.
How does your legal experience inform what you do now?
I think having a legal background is very important for working on diversity. Most diversity officers work very closely with both General Counsel and HR, and that is true here at Notre Dame. Questions come up and issues arise that require you to work well with both groups. My experiences as a practicing attorney and an HR Director really help me to facilitate that teamwork. I also focused on employment law many times throughout my legal career and had a short stint as a consultant working for the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. I feel like I have the perfect background for this kind of work.
What was it like coming into a position that didn't exist before?
It is an opportunity and a challenge to be the first person in a new role. There are so many ways for you to shape and build the job, but your vision may not always align perfectly with the vision of those who created the position. That challenge has been enjoyable, but it has also been frustrating at times.
What partnerships do you draw upon to do your job?
The partnerships are really the most wonderful part of my work. During my first year on campus, my strongest partnerships were with the Center for Social Concerns and the Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning. In the Center for Social Concerns I found a group of faculty and staff who enjoy thinking about issues like race and religion and are getting students involved in those conversations. At the Kaneb Center I conduct professional development workshops for our faculty. During my second year I created a Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator's Group. I asked each college on campus to pick out a representative to work closely with me. The full group includes 7 individuals and we meet twice per semester to create some standards of practice for the university as a whole.
In addition to that group, there is another group called the Practitioners Group that I formed with Iris Outlaw, who handles diversity and inclusion work with undergraduate students, and Eric Love, who works on staff diversity and inclusion. The group is open to faculty and staff working on diversity and inclusion issues or just interested in those issues. We have over 50 members and it continues to create a spiderweb of partnerships across campus.
What work tasks do you enjoy the most?
I really enjoy training others because I’m a talker. I’ve been a talker my entire life starting in grade school when my parents would hear from my teachers that “Pamela talks too much in class.” I also have a very relaxed style when it comes to my interactions with people. Notre Dame can be very traditional and formal, and I tend to have a very informal style. I most enjoy when I can have those informal interactions.
What work tasks are the most difficult for you?
Trying to get buy in for some of my big picture ideas can be challenging. For example, the Provost recently sponsored a panel discussion series featuring 15 chief diversity officers from universities all over the country. Each of the 5 panels addressed one of the pillars of Holy Cross education (Mind, Heart, Zeal, Family, and Hope) and how those pillars intersect with inclusive excellence. The conversations were fantastic, but I was disappointed in the attendance. I expected to have 100-150 people at each talk, but the average was around 60-75. That's good, but it wasn't what I was aiming for. I'm excited that we are doing the right things and trying to get people engaged in the right types of conversations.
Next year I'm very excited to build a series of conversations around the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s (USCCB) Pastoral Letter Against Racism. When I think about diversity, inclusion, and equity, I think about Catholic Social teaching which goes hand in hand with those themes. The USCCB’s letter is very powerful and it is important for our University to have conversations about what we are called to be as an institution, and continuing to follow the principles of the gospel and Catholic Social teaching more fully. My work is a calling and that letter is a calling to all of us.
What does Notre Dame do well in terms of diversity and inclusion?
While professional workshops for faculty are voluntary, diversity and inclusion workshops have been mandatory for staff for the past 3 years. At least 90-95% of our staff has gone through some type of cultural competency training. I think that’s a reflection of the university’s commitment to this issue and I wish it was mandatory for faculty, although I understand the realities of academia that make that difficult.
I think it's also important to recognize that we are having really great conversations and those conversations will hopefully help us move the needle on campus and find ways to solve the issues we are facing. All colleges and universities are working toward how we as an industry can be better at driving inclusion for faculty and students. Colleges and universities often focus on the need for their faculty to reflect their student population. We know future student bodies are becoming more diverse and our faculty need to reflect that.
Thank you to Pamela Nolan Young for taking the time to share your experiences with us and for your dedicated service!
As we continue our campus conversations, we encourage you to tell us who we should talk to. Do you know a woman on campus who has a story to tell? She can be a professor or pianist, coach or chemist, rectress or rower, administrator or athlete. We hope you'll help us seek out more Notre Dame women who can share a bit about their lives, so we can all continue to learn from each other. Click here to make a suggestion.