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viewpoint

South Bend, for you

| Monday, April 14, 2014

Two days ago, about six houses south of the Frances Street abode I call home, a perfect, innocent two-year-old was shot and killed. The act was senseless, horrendous and purportedly a result of gang violence. I was mortified, to say the least.

When relating the tragedy to my Notre Dame cohorts, their responses converged in disgust, shock and one depressing echoed line. This line sang something to the tune of “That’s wonderful South Bend, for you!”

Flashback to one month ago: I’m sitting comfortably on a plush and snug couch in a tastefully-refurbished high school swimming pool, sipping on Kombucha tea and relaxing to a much different tune. The Accidentals, an up-and-coming folk duo out of Traverse City, are blowing my mind with their talent and energy. As I’m rocking out to an instrument I assume is a modified cello and highly considering giving up my senior year at Notre Dame for life-on-the-road as a groupie, the elderly gentlemen next to me takes a break from pounding his marimba drum to offer me a sip of his Indiana microbrew. I turn him down. He’s enjoying it way too much for me to steal a precious sip of the raspberry-infused wheat ale. My friend giggles next to me, “That’s wonderful South Bend, for you!”

I’ve long anticipated the day I would finally write my Observer Viewpoint column. As April of my senior year at Notre Dame rapidly progressed, it’s about time I did. Yet, if you had told the wide-eyed freshman version of myself that my contribution to student opinions on campus would look something like this … well, I simply wouldn’t have had it.

That’s because, like most students, I’ve lived in South Bend for the last four years. Wait, let me try that again. As a senior, like most students at Notre Dame, I’ve lived in my homework assignments for the last four years. I’ve lived in my dorm parties, my dining hall dates, my football morning tailgates, my chaperoned service outings and my preconceived notions about life outside the ominous and infamous “Notre Dame bubble.”

It irks me to use that clichéd term. And it is important for me to say, I love the bubble. I love endless fresh vegetables and steaming hot entrees on call at South Dining Hall, I love the beautiful walks around well-kept lakes and most of the time I love a world filled with 20-something-year-olds and the professors, staff and other people living in the world of 20-something-year-olds. When you’re a busy and motivated Notre Dame student, the bubble is a wonderful place for productivity and beautiful times with like-minded friends.

But bubbles, my Notre Dame family and friends, can be dangerous little things.

Because had I not taken the leap off of campus and eventually been coaxed out of the bubble by the new and wonderful Notre Dame Bridge Project, events like Ignite Michiana and a survival-based need for groceries, I wouldn’t have met Bethy at Purple Porch Co-Op, the Hill St. local food cooperative. Today, she spent at least 15 minutes running around the store attempting to find a sample cup big enough to let me try the home-cooked broccoli cashew-cream soup. I would have been much the worse without my hours of puppy-play and kitten-snuggling at the Humane Society of St. Joseph County. I never would have gaped in awe at the infamous “Sword of John Adams”, an artful compilation of every bleeding steak possible featured exclusively at the locally-sourced, sustainable restaurant Corndance Tavern. I probably wouldn’t get free hugs and decadent cheese and chocolate samples every time I visited Whole Foods Market (admittedly way too frequently). I definitely wouldn’t have shared passionate conversations about the thriving South Bend Unity Gardens, the growing eco-friendly South Bend culture and the value of the arts in architecture with Kathy, the passionate Notre Dame alumna and proprietor of the trendy Circa Arts Gallery located a mile south of campus. I haven’t even gotten into my love for the crazy socks I recently purchased at Just Goods (Indiana’s oldest Fair Trade general store), the Live Music Sundays at Chicory Café, the South Bend Adventure Club or the bustling Farmer’s Market…

I list to you these experiences because South Bend is an immensely underappreciated special kind-of-place with a special kind-of-people you aren’t going to find anywhere else. And these special kinds-of-people are aching to get involved with the energy, intelligence and youth locked inside the Notre Dame bubble. They want to share with you their food, their story, their music, their art and their city. They’ve all been working hard to instigate positive change for a very long time, and it is finally budding to fruition in sprouts like Unity Gardens, Downtown SB First Fridays, Greening the Bend Campaign and so much more.
My Viewpoint article is less opinion and more strong suggestion: give “The Bend” a chance and break out of your safe zone. I’m not asking you to race out and grab a job application to work at the South Bend Museum of Art or start obsessively adoring the gluten-free, organic and home-made Carrot Cake Muffins at the Garden Patch Market to the monetarily unsustainable level I do.

Be Notre Dame.

Go on your service trips to Africa, dance your heart out at Club Fever, tailgate every Saturday ever and even admit to scaling Stepan Center. Appreciate the bubble.

But, be South Bend too.

When you remove the imposed filters and experience the city for yourself, I think you will find — not a city of tragedy, violence and unbearable winters — but effervescent and alive culture, musical appreciation, art and culinary adventures just waiting for you to take part in. That is wonderful South Bend, for you.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Jack G.

    Powerful viewpoint. Nice to see a student whose made some really incredible connections to the community.

  • Xenokilla

    Please visit the South Bend Reddit (reddit.com/r/southbend) for a great list of upcoming events and links to local groups like the one’s mentioned in the article!

  • IU Alum 13′

    What a breath of fresh air, you have a gift. Your viewpoint is so refreshing to other college age kids like myself, hope your article inspires more and more and that more like it surface.

  • ND Grad ’12

    I’m very confused about how you were sitting on a plush and snug couch in a swimming pool….

  • Sara Dryden

    Thank you for this!! Something every student (and administrator!) needs to read!

  • Veronica

    This is a beautiful article. I’ve lived in South Bend my entire life until college. None of my friends understand the true, amazing bits of South Bend. It’s not perfect, but it is home.

  • Veronica

    This is a beautiful article. I’ve lived in South Bend my entire life until college. None of my friends understand the true, amazing bits of South Bend. It’s not perfect, but it is home.

  • Thom

    Thank you! As a South Bend native turned “townie” in attending Notre Dame, I almost feel as if I’m sometimes betraying the people, places and memories I made growing up here. I truly appreciate your effort in producing this (very well written!) article – may it be an inspiration to us all. Maybe I’ll write one on downtown Mishawaka…

  • AJR

    One of the worst things about South Bend is that so many resources go into catering to Notre Dame, and that the students generally don’t care in the slightest about anything outside of that ND Bubble. It’s nice that you want to change that.

  • VM

    Awesome viewpoint! When I transferred my junior year to ND I lived off campus, worked off campus, had a local internship, and really familiarized myself with the community. At ND we always push the “ND Network” but I’m happy to say when I leave South Bend I will have not only my ND network but my SB network as well. I’ve met some really great people in this community and my involvement off campus has given me a very well rounded college experience. Your message should really be passed around to entire student body, it is that important.

  • metatay

    Really great piece… everyone has a bubble we live in and it’s important to bust out of it every once in a while. Your piece really speaks to a wide audience, even a substantially older South Bend transplant with a child. Thanks

  • jkSarasota

    Having grown up in the Bend, and now having been gone for over 20 years now, your column makes me homesick after all these years. South Bend is a great cross section of America that has an incredible history, but also shares in many of the challenges facing our country. Very well written…and thanks for bring back some great memories.

  • Mordred Morphelson

    Dear God this is so painfully bad… a classic example of thoughtless sensationalism spun to evoke an “Awww” reaction despite being completely void of common sense, authority, or any kind of valid argument. South Bend is a crime-ridden wormhole that is completely void of any culture beyond chain restaurants. Visit exotic locations such as Whole Foods? Really? Almost everything listed here is awful. Even the few meritable local businesses are fighting an uphill battle because South Bend residents prefer Buffalo Wild Wings and faux-Irish pubs to anything else so these places invevitably go out of business while the next Wal Mart moves in.

    • JD

      She is right that the very real situation you describe is beginning to change. I lived in SB from ’05 to ’11 and found it was depressingly … well, depressed, for pretty much that entire time. Purple Porch, for example, is finally beginning to flourish, but while I was in SB it looked like it was going to go out of business multiple times.

      In the past there has been a powerful culture of mediocrity in South Bend, but believe it or not, it looks like that may be starting to turn around.

  • Conestoga

    Thank you for such a well written, refreshing viewpoint. Kudos to you! You portray a person who cares and respects the diverse cultures of the world. I think it is so sad when some Notre Dame students, committed to make the world a better place, cannot tolerate the world in need eminating from their backyard. If a student can openly learn about the diverse cultures of the world, then it is not hard to open up and appreciate the diverse cultures of your neighbors here, and find a deeper connection than the mere bubble. Every community has its good and it’s bad parts. When a parent entrusts their child to ND, they expect and appreciate the bubble. But that doesn’t mean a student is “better” than the community, it means ND is doing what it can to protect and guide students.

  • JD

    These are really recent, if very welcome, developments. The typical Midwestern resistance to anything seen as “putting on airs” — frankly, resistance to anything which excels in any way — has resulted in the kinds of things you discuss in this article having been impossible to take root for decades.

    It’s good that South Bend has found its voice. I’d be very interested in another article explaining why this change has come.

  • South Bend’s my home now

    I’m a Jersey Girl, triple Domer and 25 year resident of South Bend. Here’s my perspective:

    If more ND students (and their families) would find ways to connect with South Bend residents and our downtown businesses, the economic benefit to our town could be huge.

    By choosing to shop local more often (giving up some trips to the “chains” which are largely located in Mishawaka) this generation of young adults could contribute in meaningful ways to our shared future.

    As the author pointed out, there is a lot going on in South Bend. Get out of the bubble; it’ll be worth the risk.