See South Bend
Nicholas Ottone | Thursday, November 8, 2018
Since I started attending Notre Dame, I haven’t left South Bend for longer than five weeks at a time. I spent my first summer volunteering at the Center for the Homeless and my second interning for an educational non-profit in Elkhart. After so long spent in the community, I feel premature pangs of homesickness while anticipating my spring semester “abroad” in Washington D.C.
I could spend my entire column extolling the virtues of the South Bend River Lights. Towers of light and spotlights underneath the Jefferson Street bridge decorate a stretch of the St. Joseph River. A chain link fence near the river is filled with combination locks, mimicking similar displays around the world to symbolize long-lasting love. During the summer, the city puts on a River Lights music festival filled with local talent as part of its Best Week Ever festivities. I would spend hours sitting by the river during my summers, my books illuminated only by their strange glow. I excitedly recommend a short visit to my friends’ parents when they visit. They inevitably return with an amused grin, confused as to why I was so excited.
Or I could encourage you to visit the History and Studebaker Museum. You can learn about the region’s history spelled out in the language of museum exhibits. I recommend going into the Oliver Mansion, which is just as extravagantly odd and interesting as you might expect a 1920s-era chilled-plow baron’s house to be. And if you’re a car person, the Studebaker Museum wing is interesting as well. These neatly encapsulate major parts of South Bend’s industrial past, which is necessary for understanding its troubled recent past and its optimistic future.
But what’s really fascinating is current South Bend politics. Everyone knows about Mayor Pete, and if you don’t, please rectify that immediately. But did you know about the South Bend schools and their history of disparities in school discipline by race? How about the shockingly high levels of lead poisoning in the Near Northwest Neighborhoods? In Elkhart, two police officers are facing criminal charges for battery of a suspect in custody. These are social justice issues that sweep the nation, yet they remain intensely important here in South Bend. Any justice-minded student at Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s or Holy Cross should consider joining local efforts to help their community. I did not know much until I reached out, and I am thankful I did. Connecting to community activists, who are so clearly passionate about South Bend and their neighborhoods, inspired even more affection for my adopted hometown.
Go see the River Lights, or get involved in the community. Go visit the History Museum, or eat downtown. My college experience would not be the same if not for South Bend and its unique brand of culture. Don’t let your time here go to waste.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.