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Buttigieg speaks to Writing and Rhetoric class

| Tuesday, May 1, 2018

For the past two semesters, Ph.D. student Stacy Sivinski has taught “The Rhetoric of Place,” a Writing and Rhetoric course focusing on residents’ relationship with their communities and the concept of community identity. The class specifically focused on the South Bend community, exploring its current challenges and its future.

“The class is kind of scaffolded on different assignments, so one of the first major assignments was an oral history project where they get paired with a local organization … and they all get different people associated with the organization, either people who work there, people who receive services, something along those lines,” Sivinski said. “They’re all spread throughout the city, too, so everybody’s getting a different perspective.”

From those oral histories, students chose local issues to explore further and write formal research papers about. This Monday, four of those students had the opportunity to present their research before their classmates and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. The presentations covered the correlation of poverty and gang activity, mass incarceration and re-entry into society, improving the South Bend public schools and modernizing South Bend’s workforce.

Freshman student Kaylin Woodward, who researched modernizing the workforce, highlighted the community aspect of the project and how it reflected the inequalities felt across the city’s population.

“I started out wanting to solve every problem and so every one of my paragraphs was on a different issue. … When I realized I needed to narrow down I was like, ‘OK, what is it that’s very specific to South Bend that is kind of a hot issue right now?’” she said. “I wanted to work on how you can actually involve the community and what it is that’s supposed to be elevating the community.”

Many of the students chose issues they had a personal connection with. Freshman Elijah Grammer researched ways to improve the school system, a system he of which he is a product. Grammer highlighted the difficulty of narrowing down research that may not apply specifically to South Bend.

“Research was a bit interesting because there’s both an embarrassment of riches with education policy and also no one’s really solved any substantial issues, so it’s kind of trying to weed through all of the various resources there,” he said.

Buttigieg praised the students’ engagement and depth of care for the community. He also highlighted the difficulty of solving these issues.

“There’s always a lot of nuance to it and some of it’s also, just because I like an idea doesn’t mean we’ve figured out how to make it happen. Actually, mass incarceration is probably the best example of the ones we heard where, I’m not going to use the word powerless, but I feel very limited in my ability to impact it,” he said.

Despite the many obstacles facing him in his efforts to revitalize the community, Buttigieg said he feels he has made progress and created a more attractive city to live and work. One of his initiatives was to give the formerly incarcerated the chance at a career with the city without the handicap of their criminal history.

“There’s a lot of research that suggests the later in the game you ask the question, the more open you are to good candidates who maybe have had an experience with incarceration in the past,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you can’t think about it, but it means the later you think about it, the more fair you are. So we’re doing that and we’re encouraging others to do it.”

Buttigieg also spoke about his decision to leave a comfortable job at McKinsey, a prominent consulting firm, to pursue a career as the mayor of his hometown.

“Once I got the intellectual experience I could out of it, learning about data structure, business, accounting, teamwork, project management and all that, which are skills I carry with me to this day, I realized I needed to do something that had more of a fundamental propulsion to it,” he said. “And then the problem when you leave that warm embrace is, suddenly you’re on your own and you’ve got to build whatever it is you want to go do.” 

Buttigieg emphasized the ease with which people can be labeled and judged by factors such as a company they work for, a school they attend or an organization they are a part of. While working for McKinsey did not conflict with his values, he said he wanted more than material wealth out of his career.

“Notre Dame is a very big brand name that will speak for you, some people will use that as a shorthand to understand who you are before they even meet you,” Buttigieg said. “It also does a lot of your work for you because it helps to define you. The flipside of it is the longer you’re in an organization, the more you’re kind of taking on its values whether or not they’re exactly like your values.”

Buttigieg concluded by discussing the importance of fostering a sense of community before expecting to create a successful industry in a city.

“You’ve got to have a reason for people to want to be here, and I think you’ve got to have a reason for people to want to be here beyond just having a good job,” he said. “So in many ways we’ve kind of come full circle to the importance of real fundamentals about place in order to make sure that everything else in the equation holds when it comes to the resources, the physical plant, the human capital that it takes for this stuff to work.”

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