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Venturing into the neighborhood

Molly Howell | Monday, October 29, 2012

Notre Dame’s campus is a bubble. For those who live here and do not have the luxury of a car, it would appear the University and campus is self-sustaining. It has the necessities – housing, food, classes and a long list of extracurricular activities. It incredibly easy to forget about the outside world, especially about what it is going on in South Bend, the University’s backyard.

For the most part, I would argue that Notre Dame students are blessed financially. Tuition is not cheap and scholarships are few and far between. The majority of students are here not only for their academic and athletic achievements, but because their families are able to financially support them. Yes, there is financial aid, but that does not change the fact that tuition is steep. Due to the fact that the student body has this background and that the campus is such a bubble, there is a concern that Notre Dame students are becoming elitists, that they are not exposed to the real world. It’s a worry my parents had for me when sending me here. They knew the student body was not among the most diverse in regards to race, religion or economic class in the nation.

However, though many students are coming from more privileged lifestyles back home, many have a background in community service. And not only do they have this background, but they are encouraged by the University and upperclassmen to further pursue service while on campus. This can be witnessed in the long list of service programs and organizations promoted on the beginning of the year’s activities night. There are clubs and programs that cover everything from providing clean water overseas, to building homes throughout the U.S., to tutoring underprivileged kids in the community. I felt called to become involved with a community service program. A friend from home invited me to come to the program he had become involved with. So, I ventured outside the bubble to tutor South Bend kids one Monday afternoon.

The program is called Teamwork for Tomorrow and meets twice a week for a couple of hours in an old church 10 minutes from campus. There, Notre Dame student tutors meet with elementary school kids to help them in reading and other schoolwork. After tutoring, there’s always gym time or free time for the tutors and students. A couple of weeks ago while the boys were playing dodgeball in the gym, I was drawing with the girls. A friend and I starting making “cootie catchers” out of the construction paper. One person holds the cootie catcher and asks the questions printed on the sides of the origami, while the other chooses among the answers. Some prediction or fortune is eventually revealed for the person answering the questions. My friend was wearing a Disney World sweatshirt that day, so we made one of the predictions, “You will visit Disney World.” One of the young girls happened to get that prediction and immediately asked, “Really?” It was almost heartbreaking as my friend explained to this seven-year-old that she would not actually be going.

I would argue that a large majority of Notre Dame students have been to Disney World. And if they haven’t, I would also argue that many Notre Dame students have been on at least one vacation. However, almost all of the kids at Teamwork for Tomorrow have never been out of the Michiana area. None of them have been to Disney World.

That day I realized the disparity between Notre Dame and South Bend. South Bend is a small town whose economy is heavily reliant on the neighboring university. This fact places an enormous responsibility on the University and its students. Students cannot forget about the outside world during their time here. It’s never too early to start giving back; the Notre Dame community owes it to South Bend to venture outside the bubble and step into our backyard.

Molly Howell is a freshman anthropology and international economics major, as well as a gender studies minor. 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.