As we celebrate 50 years of coeducation at Notre Dame, the series Then & Now: Stories of Notre Dame Women looks at some of the women in the Notre Dame Family who’ve demonstrated bravery, perseverance, and commitment throughout Notre Dame’s existence—and who continue to inspire Notre Dame women today.
We are honored to share with you two powerful stories that highlight the fearless activism of the women who make up the Notre Dame Family.
Judge Elaine Marshall was accepted into Notre Dame's undergraduate psychology program in 1973—the second year that women were admitted as undergraduates at Notre Dame.
She flew 1,200 miles away from her home in San Antonio, Texas, to join the Fighting Irish. Judge Marshall was one of just 12 black female students in her class.
“We had to prove who we were and why we were there,” she said. “We were always struggling to fit in and to remain true to our identities.”
She worked hard to pave the way for herself and the other black female students. They fought against prejudice and helped establish a dance team, a gospel chorus, and more, constantly pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo. Judge Marshall also served on the Black Student Union Board.
“We did all we could to assist the class of women who followed us in ’74 to help them adjust and succeed,” Judge Marshall said. “It wasn’t easy, but we did it. We made friends for life and stood strong together.”
Today, she continues to push for change in her community as the first African American Director and Presiding Judge for the Municipal Courts. In her 35 years as a judge, she has advocated for justice through her perseverance and passion, and feels that she is a stronger woman because of her experiences at Notre Dame.
Her advice to current Notre Dame students is simply to stay true to your beliefs.
“Whatever it is that you’re trying to do, don’t let anyone kill your joy or steal your dreams. If it’s your dream, go after it. And find people to help you do it,” Judge Marshall said.
Dirichi James-Osondu, currently a sophomore at Notre Dame, is from Dallas, Texas, just a few hours away from Judge Marshall.
She was in Nigeria visiting her family when she first learned that she had been accepted to Notre Dame.
“It was so special to get my acceptance letter in Nigeria because I wrote my college admissions essay about my Nigerian heritage and my grandmother. So learning I got into Notre Dame at home in Nigeria was such a full-circle moment,” Dirichi said.
“Notre Dame has really brightened my horizons. I thought I had everything figured out, but Notre Dame came along and showed me that I had no idea what was going on in the world. Even on the most basic level, I never really knew the opportunities that were out there for me until I came here.”
At Notre Dame, Dirichi is a secretary of the Psychology Club, one of the first clubs she joined during her freshman year.
In addition, she works to improve relations between the Black community and the larger Notre Dame community through her involvement with the Black Student Association. Her sisterhood and volunteer work with Shades of Ebony, a student group founded to unify, empower, and inspire women of all shades through engaging dialogue and service, also help her to subvert stereotypes of Black women.
She even counts a game night with the Shades of Ebony club as one of her favorite moments at Notre Dame thus far.
“After the event, I just thought about how I was so proud and happy to be a part of this amazing community,” Dirichi said.
“This is an example of one of the great moments as a black woman on campus, but of course it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows as a minority here on campus. But even when I am struggling or feel left out, I am always able to lean on some of my closest friends here. I will be forever grateful to Notre Dame for bringing these friendships to me.”
“Notre Dame has really brightened my horizons,” Dirichi said. “I thought I had everything figured out, but Notre Dame came along and showed me that I had no idea what was going on in the world. Even on the most basic level, I never really knew the opportunities that were out there for me until I came here.”
We know there are hundreds of amazing stories of Notre Dame women out there! If you have one you’d like to share, please send us an email and we’ll consider it for a future edition of Then & Now: Stories of Notre Dame Women.
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