SOUTH BEND — In the words of Angie Torain, it’s now time for Notre Dame to “walk the walk.”
Torain was announced Tuesday as the new senior associate athletics director for culture, diversity and engagement for the University of Notre Dame. This is a new role to help Notre Dame become a more inclusive campus, including through the athletics department.
Notre Dame has had a Diversity and Inclusion Council for three years, but Torain becomes the official leader of the department’s work toward ending racial inequality on campus and in the surrounding community.
“Extremely excited about the opportunity,” Torain said. “It is a huge opportunity, but what makes it so exciting is the rally that we’ve gotten from staff, coaches and the campus as a whole.”
Torain has worked within the athletics department since 2017 and has served as the senior associate athletics director over compliance, legal and risk management since 2018. Her primary work will still be in the compliance office, but she will add the culture, diversity and engagement role to her job as well.
An Elkhart native, Torain graduated from Elkhart Central in 1990. She continued her education at DePauw University, where she also played basketball and ran track for the Tigers. She earned a law degree from Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law in 1997 and has worked in college athletics ever since. She has had varying roles at schools like IUPUI, conferences like the Summit League and with the NCAA itself.
This new opportunity came about for Torain following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last month, one that has sparked thousands of protests around the world. Torain recalls a meeting with the Notre Dame leadership team in the wake of Floyd’s death being the start of the discussion within the department.
“Instead of going into every day business, we actually stopped and touched base, and it gave us an opportunity to reflect on how we were feeling and how upset we were about it,” Torain said.
That meeting snowballed into the movement Notre Dame is experiencing on campus today. A town hall-styled meeting for Black staff and student-athletes was held shortly after, giving them a place to talk about the ongoing issues facing Black Americans.
Externally, the Notre Dame football team started using its platform on social media to let its players speak on the issue of racial inequality. The team held a unity walk and prayer last Friday in honor of Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating when the last slaves were freed following the Civil War on June 19, 1865.
As discussions within the athletics department continued, Torain knew she wanted to take action.
“As I continued to sit in on these calls and think about my own experience and my own hurt in this situation, I figured that I would step up,” Torain said. “I was hesitant at first because we all have a lot going on, but I said to myself, ‘You know what? I’m going to pray about this. If I wake up the next day and I still feel the same, then I’m going to volunteer to take on this role.’
“I did, and luckily individuals saw the need and trusted me to step into that role right now.”
Having an active student-athlete base excites Torain as she enters this new role.
“Sports is on the top of their mind, but at the same time, making a change in our department, on campus and in the community is just as much on their mind,” Torain said. “So I’m excited that I get to help them and put their platform forward and put their thoughts forward — although they’re moving pretty fast, so I have to catch up with them.”
Torain said one of her first objectives with this role is to establish a task force to help identify the issues on Notre Dame’s campus and community. Torain expects coaches, athletic staff, student-athletes and other people from the university to comprise the task force.
She also wants to open up the campus more to the community. During last week’s Juneteenth rally, senior football player Daelin Hayes talked about the work he has done in the South Bend community, specifically with elementary students who looked at Notre Dame as an “ideal that was not accessible to them.”
Torain had those same thoughts growing up in Elkhart. She hopes making the campus more accessible could change the perception of those who look at Notre Dame as something unattainable.
“I would love to see those students coming to our campus and having tours, getting to see what a classroom looks like ... really integrate them into campus and let them see that it is an option,” Torain said. “There are people at Notre Dame that look like them, that come from the same areas that they do as well. Being more visible in the community, I think, will help.”