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Entering the Shadow Lands

Caleb Cobbin | Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I distinctly remember my first meeting with my RA in my freshman year. There was a good 15-minute diatribe about the dangers of South Bend and how Notre Dame is a bubble that is hard to break out of. My RA and others told horror stories of people getting mugged, beaten up or taken advantage of from the outsiders who reside away from our campus. As a South Bend “townie,” I was particularly reminded of this iconic scene from The Lion King:
Mufasa: “Everything the light touches is our kingdom.”
Simba: “Wooow …  And what about that shadowy place?”
Mufasa: “That is beyond our borders. … You must never go there, Simba!”
In this scene, it is like Mufasa is speaking to every single student here. For the next four years, I continued to hear this sentiment in the same countless “thriving metropolis” jokes and complaints about the bipolar weather, or in references to the abounding crime and sketchiness.
For the most part, these trivialities never provoked more than an eye roll or fake laugh from me. However, I was overtaken with anger when a friend in my section called South Bend an explicit name and followed up his assessment with the comment that “the best part about South Bend was Notre Dame.”
When I discuss the matter with my South Bend friends, we all seem to reach the same conclusions. Liz Everett, a fellow “townie” and senior on campus shed some insight on the issue: “The extent of knowledge for the average ND student of South Bend is Eddy Street and Grape Road and not much else.”
The “story of South Bend” told from the very beginning of freshman year is sadly an incomplete one. How many students have been to a Silver Hawks game or the Potawatomi Park/Zoo? How many students have visited the art museum or seen a show at the Morris downtown, or gone kayaking in the East Race waterway or run on the many trails around the city?
Moreover, South Bend gives Notre Dame students a unique opportunity to serve in a way that would be harder on any other college campuses. The city need tutors, teachers, and willing and open minds.
How many students have ventured off campus to the Catholic Worker, which feeds and shelters the homeless and many others, or volunteered at the Robinson Center – a place where I spent much of my time when I was younger, for tutoring and piano lessons? There are many other countless organizations that need servers to uplift the community, and there are many students on this campus that are willing to do so.
Michael Strock, another South Bender who was born and raised in the city, when asked to sum up the relationship between the two entities in one word replies, “Apprehensive; [Notre Dame students] are aware of the existence of South Bend but are cautious and ignorant when it come to the true spirit of the city.”
 I will be the first to recognize the drudgeries I experienced growing up. There were many times I said to my grandparents, “I’m bored,” “there is nothing to do here” or “I can’t wait to get out.” I’ve complained countless times about the cold in the winter and the unbearable heat and humidity in the summer.
I also recognize that South Bend is not all sunshine and happiness and these bad things are a part of the reality. But there still remains something in this place that is not connected to the shimmer of the dome we adore.
There are residents of South Bend whose extent of Notre Dame knowledge is merely the traffic on home football Saturdays and a University they would never have the hope to attend. To them, Notre Dame is nowhere near the best part of the city. There are people like me who had never thought of the university seriously until high school. Now, I am more thankful than ever for having grown up in both worlds.
I am not here to make out South Bend to be something that it’s not. But like all stereotypes, while truth lies within them somewhere, they are often one-sided and incomplete, and no people or community deserves to be made into a mere perception of the truth.
I understand there are many students who successfully venture outside the bubble; I commend them. To those who haven’t, I charge you to do so. Go into the shadow lands, make a mark in a community and surprise yourself! By working in the community, learning the countless stories of the good people here and understanding the history of this place, South Bend becomes less of an apprehension and more of a reality.

Caleb Cobbin is a senior. He can be reached at ccobbin@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.