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Wait, why?

Michael Fliotsos | Tuesday, November 19, 2013

This past Saturday, I made the trek to Club Hes to begin the first of many pre-Orgo-II-exam study sessions. Between bihourly ABP runs, wallowing in collective sorrow with my fellow pre-meds on the second floor, real talk with the friends I came with and – believe it or not – actually studying, I was able to hear some of the quality conversations that proceed when people are sufficiently exhausted and hyped up on caffeine after a long day/about-to-be-long night in the library. One such conversation I overheard between two students sitting at a table next to mine as I was preparing to leave. They had the telltale signs of Notre Dame students – ND logo apparel, reusable ABP coffee mugs, ID cards on lanyards and the like – just sitting there, chatting as I had throughout the day. As I was packing up, I overheard the following conversation:
Dude 1: “Wait, so you grew up here in South Bend?”
Dude 2: “Yeah, I did.”
Dude 1: “Man, that sucks.”
Dude 2: “Wait, why?”
And that seemed to be the same question I was asking myself.
Why exactly would it “suck” to say that you grew up in the city of South Bend? What about this specific city when compared to any other city in Indiana (or the Midwest, for that matter) makes it particularly dreary or undesirable? And why, exactly, are other places inherently more desirable than here?
The bits and pieces I caught of the conversation that followed referenced shopping malls, weather and other miscellaneous topics, but as I walked past them and down the stairs, the question still lingered. Why does there seem to be such a unanimous (or at least vocal) disdain from students here toward the city of South Bend, Ind.?
To preface this entire discussion, I must make a couple of things clear. First, I love the student body at this university. The level of intellectual, spiritual and civic engagement I witness on a daily basis from my peers is inspiring and makes me a better person as a result (see my previous columns for explanation). Second, this column is not a “Let me complain about a small thing that peeved me” column because, let’s face it, I wouldn’t want to write that about as much as you wouldn’t want to read it. Rather, I wrote this column because I’m really, really confused.
South Bend is undeniably the butt of many jokes about student life within the Notre Dame ecosystem, but I ask myself – how much do we actually know about this city? Sure, we go out to Fever on Thursday nights and travel to Mishawaka to get our Macs and iPhones fixed at the mall. Some of us live off campus (although let’s face it – Irish Flats isn’t that far from Mod Quad) and engage in the local non-Notre Dame community every once in a while. Realistically, many of these instances are simply temporary excursions outside the Notre Dame bubble (or an extension of said bubble), which is why I am confused as to why many students at this school speak of this city as if they have intimate knowledge of its ins and outs when, in actuality, they don’t.
The ironic thing about it all is that when I talk to people who actually have been actively involved in South Bend, their perception of the community in which we live is far more positive, or at least, not so negative. One must simply ask a student here who volunteers with an organization in town about his or her experience to discover the rich depth and breadth of people and places South Bend has to offer. Or, alternatively, find someone who saw “Wicked” at the Morris Performing Arts Center during finals week last semester or has visited one of the many museums or restaurants in the area. Either way, you will hopefully come to realize that South Bend isn’t all that bad.
Now, I will concede that the weather in South Bend is actually bad, but the same can be said for anywhere in the Midwest. Aside from that, though, I think many people would be surprised to find that the city that surrounds Notre Dame has its own vibrant culture. Even though South Bend may be different from what you’re used to, it has unique things to offer us as students that we seldom take advantage of. Does that mean that you have to volunteer in the community or be a musical geek like I am? Of course not, although both of those options are a great place to start.

Michael is a sophomore science-business major living in Duncan Hall.  He can be reached at mfliotso@nd.edu
The views expressed in this
column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.