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We live here, you know

Jackie Mirandola Mullen | Monday, September 28, 2009

A recent “Scholastic” piece addressed tensions in the Notre Dame student/alumni relationship. Highlighting this Freudian strain seems to have replaced our former pastime (past-pass-time?) of bemoaning Notre Dame-South Bend relations.

But wait! Eddy Street Commons cured that tension, didn’t it? Yeah, Chipotle and the Notre Dame Bookstore “outlet” are definitely tailored to low-income families who actually live around the area. Perhaps, however, the answer to the problem between University-community relations does not lie in equal-opportunity shopping.

Let’s think about it. How many times have you told someone that you attend Notre Dame and received the response, “Where’s that?” For Midwesterners, this probably isn’t the case, so for your enlightenment: Few people outside of the Midwest realize where Notre Dame is located.

Blasphemy! Holy Mother of Lakes! How could our conspicuous reputation retain such an anonymity of place?

At the risk of sounding accusatory, it’s our own fault. It relates seamlessly with the Notre Dame-South Bend relations tension.

We don’t do a good job of appreciating Indiana. Sure, we can’t laud her massive peaks or grand canyons, her clean air or starry sky, but without the great glacial flattening of the Midwest, how would the Great Lakes have ever formed? (Think of the plains as a massive plateau.) In order to begin mending the gap between our carefully manicured campus and the actual Indiana culture and environment, we need to understand and embrace our region beyond campus borders.

Indiana is unique in taking one for the team and actually housing substantial amounts of industry. Next time you gush about how wonderful Chicago is, remember that all of the steel that makes those buildings (and the bean) comes from the oft-ridiculed industrial griminess that is East Chicago, Gary and Michigan City.

Sure, the state itself hasn’t helped our perception of its “clean” practices, trying to pass bills like this past spring’s Indiana Senate Bill 420 that attempted to redefine coal as “renewable” to increase its funding possibilities (don’t worry, it didn’t make it out of committee). But when your state’s entire livelihood is built on coal, securing funding for the enabler of your economic existence seems momentarily more important than long-term environmental benefits.

The railways, the mills, the highways, the farms all make the “beauty” of Chicago possible. When we separate our resources too intensely, the production side is all too often lost to the consumer. America can’t send all of our factories to India, which makes Indiana’s (albeit sometimes too eager) willingness to house these industries very valuable to the ideas of “national security” that our country superficially totes.

When you are a state that is flat and nondescript on first glance, it’s tough to convince people that it’s a great place to build unique character of place. Yet, that same flatness was what drew the original founders of Notre Dame. The Holy Cross brothers saw the land as good for farming, rich in natural resources for building, with flatness that made it easy to build upon. Notre Dame did not exist independently of Indiana; it was and is a part of the farming state whose heavy industry arrived somewhat later, but whose light industry began around the same time as the founding and construction of our very campus.

Indiana’s flatness gets ridiculed, but it’s why we are here. The Midwest is “simple” because life is fairly simple. Other than tough winters, which have been fought by regional abundances of wood and now coal, there are no major obstacles to living in Indiana. No water shortages, earthquakes, fires, avalanches or volcano fears, and even lessened tornado fears because of the Great Lakes.

It can be tough to remember that flatness is not equal with lack of character. Yet, not only does Indiana possess its own identity, which we as residents of the state are inextricably a part of, but it also holds its own natural beauty.

If we really want to improve relations between Notre Dame and Indiana, we have to venture past Corby’s and the Morris Center. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Potato Creek State Park and the St. Joe River Trail are just a few of the many preserved areas with real, complete ecosystems that are just as naturally beautiful and complex as dramatic natural wonders. Try visiting them if you are skeptical that flatness can hold appeal.

Community-campus relations are not going to improve until we can embrace the community. We don’t have to love everything the state does, but if we stop pretending we aren’t a part of it, it’s a lot easier to work to help improve the dirtier, less appealing parts we may feel squeamish about. And while we’re in the process, we might as well appreciate all of the natural and practical beauty that Indiana already has to offer.

Jackie Mirandola Mullen is a junior history and German major who believes flatness is more than just a lack of mountains. She can be reached at [email protected]

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