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Being part of the community

Editorial Board | Friday, September 17, 2010

With its new beND program, student government is trying to tackle the complicated issue of the University’s relationship with the community — a focus of every student government administration each year.

Student body president Catherine Soler and vice president Andrew Bell have created their version of a community relations agenda with the new program, which Soler said is a “cohesive effort” to promote off-campus activities and encourage students to be respective members of the community.

BeND is a good start, and has several events lined up for its kickoff this weekend. Student government is hosting a picnic for both students and community members this evening on at the Robinson Community Learning Center, as well as co-hosting a block party in Eddy Street Commons Saturday. On Sunday night, an attorney will speak to educate students about interacting with police, followed by a Monday night panel with representatives from the Indiana State Excise Police, Notre Dame Security Police, the Office of Residence Life and Housing and a defense attorney.

Despite these events, though, beND lacks a clear plan of how to achieve its goals in the long term. Soler has outlined several lofty aims, but student government still has to work to flesh out the program.

“The program asks students to be mindful and respectful … and be willing to be engaged in South Bend,” Soler told The Observer.

But Soler and Bell are vague on how the events they have lined up will achieve this goal.

The objective of the block party at Eddy Street Commons is to get students out into the community, but that begs the question: Is Eddy Street Commons part of the South Bend community?

Economically and demographically, the Commons is not representative of the community, but rather more of an offshoot of campus. There are better ways for students to engage with the South Bend community.

This starts primarily with students living off campus. Student houses are surrounded by family homes. Introduce yourselves to your neighbors.

While the goals of this initiative are most relevant for off-campus students, those who live on campus must also recognize the roles they can play in the South Bend community.

South Bend has some great local shops and restaurants. Try the Chicory Café in downtown South Bend for lunch instead of Chipotle. Support local products by visiting the South Bend Farmer’s Market instead of grabbing a burger at Five Guys.

While the block party at the Commons is a fun way to get students off campus, beND should focus on educational initiatives, like Sunday’s lecture about interacting with the police.

The goals of the program, however, should extend beyond dealing with parties and police officers. As for events to get students into the community, student government should look outside Eddy Street Commons. For example, instead of sponsoring another Cubs game trip, it should send students to a Silverhawks game.

Finally, student government should separate beND from volunteering initiatives. A community relations platform inherently has a different set of goals than student volunteer work. Notre Dame students are often involved in service, which aims to give something to a community. The equally important goal of community relations, however, emphasizes the value of actually being a part of that community rather than simply serving it. Volunteering at the South Bend Center for the Homeless is an admirable activity, but so is getting to know your neighbors.

Overall, beND is a good launching point for Soler and Bell’s community relations initiative. The objectives are worthwhile and necessary, but the leaders need to put more work into narrowing beND’s focus and coming up with a concrete action plan.

In the meantime, individual students should take up the responsibility to be good neighbors on their own.