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Us’ and ‘them’ status draws response

Letter to the Editor | Thursday, September 18, 2008

Andrew Nesi wrote a column yesterday (“Moving beyond the ‘us’ and ‘them’,”) encouraging interaction with South Bend residents apart from just service experiences, advocating “equal footed engagement,” which, he argues, is the only way we can overcome our socioeconomic and historical differences. After all, he argues, not all South Bend residents are “NASCAR-loving mimeographs of My Name is Earl Characters.”

Thanks Nesi; how gracious of you. Saying “we’re people with disparate interests and experiences, nuanced beyond the stereotypes into which we each cleanly fit ourselves and others” sounds lofty and academic, but it doesn’t negate the patronizing language he used in his opening paragraph to describe his neighbors.

I’ll summarize his unflattering description for those who didn’t have the pleasure (I mean chagrin) of reading it yesterday: “The house with the bench press on the porch … mailbox man was shirtless … the type with a Budweiser belly … sparse, premature gray hair on his chest.” And here’s my favorite, “Jean shorts that hung low enough that I could see his … lower middle class, if you know what I mean.”

Lower middle class? Now I pose the question: How are we ever going to establish solid neighborly relationships with our South Bend residents with people like Nesi writing articles dripping with condescension in our official University Newspaper? I wonder why South Bend Police Department won’t cut Notre Dame students any slack; after all, we Notre Dame students admit that not all South Bend residents are “mimeographs of My Name is Earl characters.”

I want to offer some advice to anyone interested in alleviating tensions between Notre Dame and South Bend. Talk to your cab drivers, servers, cashiers and any other South Bend residents you interact with on a daily basis, and talk to them in the spirit of trying to understand them. In every sense of the word, they are your equals, and their labor is as dignified as your schoolwork. Put pressure on your student leaders and university officials to enact policies that make our campus a place where we can be college students, instead of policies that drive students off campus into neighborhoods where children are trying to get sleep, and show yourself worthy of these policies.

As the entire Notre Dame community, we have to make an effort to resist the temptation that comes along with great blessing – the temptation of self-aggrandizement. Instead of accentuating differences or posing solutions in hypocritical articles, let’s focus on making ourselves – individually and collectively – conduits of blessing for our local community, understanding and sympathetic neighbors and, above all, equals, in thought, deed and word.

Cynthia Weber

sophomore

Pasquerilla West Hall

Sept. 18

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The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

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Us’ and ‘them’ status draws response

Letter to the Editor | Thursday, September 18, 2008

My first reaction when I read Andrew Nesi’s “Moving beyond ‘us’ and ‘them’,” (Sept. 18) was anger.

“It is exactly that kind of elitist attitude that gives Notre Dame a bad name in South Bend,” I thought from the security of my high rise office, 20 years removed from my life as a student.

But as I thought more about it, I actually felt bad for him. Here’s a guy that sees the differences and has at least some desire to bridge the culture gap between “Domer” and “Townie,” between “haves” and “have-nots,” between “us” and “them.” They’re the same differences we face every day out here in the “real world.”

Thankfully, Andrew, in your current role you have the blessing of being able to do something about it. Since you don’t know Mailbox Man’s name, it is obvious that you have never introduced yourself to your own neighbors.

Why not? Surely your differences should not stop you from paying them even this minimum courtesy. If they were students, wouldn’t you have done so by now?

And, believe it or not, you do have similarities. You live in the same neighborhood. You get up every morning and slug it out at your own challenges. You’re likely praying to the same God. You both want to succeed. You both want your neighborhoods to be safe. You’ve both got families, dreams, fears, likes, dislikes. The fact that your specific circumstances are different does not mean that you cannot share those things.

Yes, Notre Dame has a tendency to exist in a bubble. But you, as an off campus resident, have the best opportunity to break through that bubble, even just a little at a time, because you could interact with “them” everyday.

(By the way, there is a good chance that “they” – or at least some of their family members – are serving you in the Huddle or cleaning your classrooms while you sleep. It is likely that you are interacting with them every day and don’t even know it).

How do you know they wouldn’t enjoy Kegs and Eggs? Have you invited them? Have you ever asked them to share a meal with you? Invited them over for Monday Night Football? Asked to borrow a cup of milk or a ladder? Volunteered to pick something up for them on your next trip to Martin’s or Belmont Beverage?

These are the things neighbors do. They are your neighbors. What’s stopping you? You don’t need to think alike or dress alike to bridge the gap.

You’re absolutely right: if you live segregated lives, you will never bridge the gap. But you don’t live segregated lives – or at least you don’t need to.

Do you want to break out of the bubble? Do you want to diversify? Then, you do it. You take the lead. You can make a difference right now, today. We don’t need to change admissions policies or debate diversity or appoint a panel or do any of the other things that stop people from going beyond musing about their differences to actually making a difference.

When they come home from their jobs tonight, go over and introduce yourself and apologize for not having done so sooner. Ask them their names, about their families, their jobs, the neighborhood.

And then, care about them. Really care about them. Love them as Christ commands us. If you do, you’ll find the differences are not that big a deal at all and you’ll do more to burst the bubble than you ever could have imagined. Who knows, you may even come to enjoy NASCAR.

Mike Wilkins

alumnus

Class of 1985

Sept. 18