Town meets gown at symposium
Grace McCormack | Friday, April 12, 2013
On one of the few occasions when a mayor outranks a president, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and student body president Alex Coccia discussed the evolving Notre Dame, South Bend relationship last night.
The conversation, which was part of the Siegfried Symposium, brought Buttigieg and Coccia together with students and South Bend residents at the “Town and Gown” event in the Carey Auditorium of Hesburgh Library.
American Studies professor Robert Schmuhl moderated the discussion, which addressed topics ranging from resident-student conflict to the town’s best restaurants.
Buttigieg, who grew up in South Bend before attending Harvard, said although South Bend is not necessarily a strict college town, it presents many unique advantages for students.
“[Notre Dame students] are at one of the most important moments in the life of the city,” Buttigieg said. “With that comes great opportunity.”
Buttigieg said these opportunities include not only service through events like CommUniversity Day, but careers as well.
“More and more students are starting businesses while still in college,” Buttigieg said. “South Bend is a good environment to do that.”
Buttigieg said as South Bend has grown from its strictly industrial roots, its connection with Notre Dame has evolved.
“The [Notre Dame, South Bend] relationship is at an all-time high. … It’s a set of overlapping relationships … economic, social, and cultural,” he said.
Buttigieg said there are as many challenging problems and engaging environments in South Bend as anywhere else students might seek them.
“If you can commit a summer to South Bend, … I can probably help you find environments and areas and communities that you would find no less challenging and interesting and eye-opening than one that is 1,000 miles away,” he said.
Coccia, who has volunteered in the community since his freshman year, said he recognizes the advantages of Notre Dame’s close relationship with its surrounding city.
“There’s a lot of opportunities in South Bend, and where I see student government fitting in is really providing and facilitating that relationship for students to have access to those opportunities,” Coccia said.
Coccia said students need not wait until they move off campus to become engaged in the community. He said he hopes more freshmen will take advantage of the city and in that way be ready if and when they make the move off campus.
“My specific goal would be to get freshmen out there [in the South Bend community] early on,” Coccia said. “I think that [community engagement] helps later relationships once you move off campus if you develop those relationships early on.”
Buttigieg said despite some tension in the relationship, sentiments between South Bend and Notre Dame are much more amiable than feelings between some other colleges and cities. He said South Bend residents consider Notre Dame a piece of the larger community.
“There are always areas where there can be friction, … but I also think it’s important to be conscious of how much less tension there is here than in most college towns,” he said. “I also sense sometimes a self-consciousness about how people at the University think they’re perceived [by residents], which overstates any tension which may be there.”
Buttigieg and Coccia said they look forward to continuing to improve the relationship between South Bend and Notre Dame.
Coccia said communication will be especially important to this goal going forward.
“There definitely seems to be an open line of communication with the mayor’s office [from student government],” Coccia said.
Buttigieg said he and Coccia have already met a few times since Coccia’s election.