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Bolstering a relationship with South Bend

| Friday, December 12, 2014

In a February interview with The Observer, now-student body president Lauren Vidal said the top priority for her and vice president Matthew Devine, both seniors, was to promote service both on campus and in the community.

“We really have this idea of service, and although we understand that’s a broad term, we really [prioritize] service to our peers and to our community as a whole,” she said in the interview.

Student Government sponsored Quad Markets on Oct. 10 on North Quad. Local vendors sold goods ranging from accessories to produce.Photo courtesy of Lindsay Huth

Student Government sponsored Quad Markets on Oct. 10 on North Quad. Local vendors sold goods ranging from accessories to produce.

Now, 10 months into their term leading Notre Dame’s student government, Vidal and Devine have narrowed their service focus while also expanding their vision of a more complete, mutually beneficial relationship between students and the city of South Bend.

“We’ve really tried to be very deliberate with how we approach that image of [students] going out into the community and trying to also balance bringing part of the culture of South Bend to campus and also helping students to find ways that fit their lifestyle so that they can go off into South Bend and explore, or at least have some sort of visibility to what South Bend is,” Devine said.

Through programs such as Quad Markets, the recently launched 29 for 29 — which pairs each residence hall with a South Bend family that has recently moved out of the Center for the Homeless in order to build relationships between students and South Bend residents — and the annual CommUniversity Day, Vidal and Devine have striven to create a stronger bond between the University and the city.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said the relationship has grown deeper over the course of Vidal and Devine’s administration and recent years.

“I think our relationship is enviable as college towns go,” Buttigieg said. “I’ve been in university communities where there isn’t a good relationship, where it’s either hostile — I’d say that’s true at, for example, Harvard and Cambridge — or where the university and the community are kind of doing their own thing and not very involved with each other.

“Here is very different. And it’s important that we not take that for granted because we really benefit from it.

While University president emeritus Fr. Theodore (Ted) Hesburgh advanced Notre Dame as a global institution during his administration, Buttigieg said, University administrators and students have continued to cultivate an international presence, but also develop a robust relationship with the local community.

Buttigieg said collaborative projects such as the Eddy Street Commons, the Notre Dame Center for Arts and Culture on West Washington St., the Notre Dame Turbomachinery Facility and Notre Dame involvement in community organizations such as La Casa de Amistad and the Robinson Community Learning Center are recent developments that have greatly benefited both the city and the University.

“All of that would have been very hard to picture 10 or 20 years ago,” Buttigieg said.

In response to recent student feedback, Vidal and Devine have also addressed the issue of crime in the community in collaboration with local law enforcement agencies, holding periodic meetings with representatives from the University, city, county and state levels.

“In terms of the relationship with South Bend, finding the most effective channels of communication has been a key to our relationship with local law enforcement,” Vidal said.

“It’s been a huge success. We’ve seen that really opening a forum for communication between all the parties allows us to figure out what’s really happening in terms of looking at all the instances of crime or robbery or burglary and figuring out what we can do as students to encourage safety and what they can do better in terms of serving us.”

Buttigieg said clear channels of communication between students and the city extend beyond law enforcement, and there is still room for growth in the relationship.

“There are so many different dimensions to the relationship — students as people who get involved, volunteer, start things, do things in the city; students as residents, whether you’ve got students living in the city limits or not, they’re all in the community and so we need to make sure we’re meeting the needs of students, and there’s no better voice for that than student government; [and] students as participants in the economy, working or shopping or eating or drinking in the city,” he said.

“All of those things will work better if student government is able to create a flow of information about where the opportunities are for the students to know and then where the needs are for us to know, so that we’re doing a better job of connecting students to the community at large. I think a more structured relationship would probably help us get a feel for what’s on students’ minds and how much access they feel they have to the city.”

Buttigieg said small changes, like signs pointing out that downtown South Bend is less than two miles from the heart of campus, can help make a positive difference.

Devine said more students have also contributed to the growth of the relationship by taking advantage of work experience available in South Bend.

“There have been a lot of people who have started looking at South Bend in different ways,” Devine said. “There have been a lot more people taking advantage of professional opportunities here in South Bend.”

Through internships and volunteer opportunities, students can gain meaningful experience and career preparation, Buttigieg said.

“Students can get that hands-on experience not just as practice … but as real-world impact,” he said. “And they’ll find a lot of partners, not just in city government, but in the non-profit community, the business community. It’s a small enough community that you can navigate it and have an impact at a young age in a short of amount of time.”

Vidal, who spent the summer in South Bend interning for Indiana Legal Services, said she had a positive experience and grew more attached to the city, as more students have done, too, through cultural events and unique dining options in South Bend.

“There are a lot of new and exciting businesses in South Bend, … a lot of cool new restaurants that we’ve seen that a lot of students have adopted as their own,” Vidal said.

Buttigieg said students have become more “active citizens” and bring ideas he never would have thought of to the city rather than the city soliciting student help.

“There’s a level of energy there that’s really exciting,” he said. “And we’re going beyond the traditional model of student involvement as going down to the soup kitchen.

Going down to the soup kitchen is great, but we’ve got students applying their talents in so many different ways to the life of the city.”

For their part, Vidal and Devine have sought to bring South Bend to campus and encourage students to bring campus to South Bend.

“There are lots of positive things obviously happening in South Bend,” Devine said. “We’ve tried to promote the visibility of it, too, but also bring some of those positives to campus and help us develop our image off campus, too, as what we can be as a University.”

Overall, Buttigieg said he hopes the relationship between the University and the city stands out as one of the strongest elements of both parties.

“Our goal is for the relationship with the city to be one of the reasons you would come to the University of Notre Dame,” Buttigieg said.

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About Jack Rooney

Jack is a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame, and The Observer's former managing editor. He is currently spending a year living and working for the University in Ireland, and writing columns to keep him busy. For more random thoughts and plenty of news links, follow Jack on Twitter @RooneyReports.

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