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Class explores local Latino challenges

Haley Koth | Tuesday, September 13, 2011

For the second year in a row, a small group of Saint Mary’s students will spend a weekend with local Latino families on South Bend’s west side this fall.

The College’s Justice Education Studies program is now accepting applications for its “Church in the City” seminar, a program designed to bring students face-to-face with challenges in the Latino community.

Education Professor Nabila Bhatti is involved with coordinating the seminar. She said the program’s goal is to “explore the specific issues of poverty and immigration through reflection, analysis and immersion into the Latino community.”

Bhatti said Campus Ministry and the Justice Education Studies program created the program as a way for students to become more aware of the impoverished conditions of South Bend immigrant families.

The students who participate in the seminar need to be willing to listen to members of the local area that are sometimes forgotten, she said.

“We approach our immersion with humility,” Bhatti said. “[We are] open to hearing the stories and perspectives of those within society whose voices are seldom heard … Together we will reflect and learn with those on the margins of society, knowing that it is in the midst of these that we encounter the face of Christ.”

Last November, 14 Saint Mary’s students participated in the seminar.

While “Church in the City” was only recently added to the College’s course listings, senior Bridget Gartenmeyer, one of last year’s participants said the program is more than an average college class.

“The experiential learning course is a great way to break out of the Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame bubble and experience the challenges and concerns for South Bend communities,” Gartenmeyer said. “As a political science major, I learned a great deal about what it means to be a faithful citizen and how to incorporate social justice and human dignity into my public participation.”

Gartenmeyer said the 14 students worked closely with La Casa de Amistad, a Latino group in South Bend, as they talked with community leaders about social justice.

“We got the chance to speak to affected families and students and advocates to get a personal perspective on the difficulties involved with immigration,” Gartenmayer said.

La Casa de Amistad also works with members of the Latino population in South Bend to provide education and literacy programs, health education and social services.

The six local host families that worked with the program made the Saint Mary’s students feel welcome in their homes, Gartenmayer said.

“By far my favorite part was staying with the families for the weekend,” Gartenmayer said. “Our entire experience was built on trust because the family opened up and let us in to every part of their life.”

Bhatti said the Justice Education Studies office would accept applications for the seminar until Wednesday. The course is worth one credit hour and is open to all majors.

“We hope it will again be a great opportunity for students at Saint Mary’s College … to be more involved in local and global issues of justice, peace and development,” Bhatti said.