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Students attend Urban Plunge immersion trips over break

| Thursday, January 17, 2019

Over winter break, 199 Notre Dame students traveled to 27 cities across the country as part of a Social Concerns Seminar called Urban Plunge. Urban Plunge is a one-credit seminar with a two to four-day immersion built to give students an opportunity to engage with communities experiencing poverty in U.S. cities.

Kyle Lantz, director of Social Concerns Seminars at Notre Dame, said the program now known as Urban Plunge began on campus in 1968. Then just a Chicago-focused program, the trips were led by Monsignor Jack Egan, who worked in the North Lawndale neighborhood on the West side of Chicago and wanted to get members of the community more aware and involved in the area.

Olivia Venvertloh
Urban Plunge students display their artwork featuring slogans and lessons that they learned from their experience.

“In 1968, the seeds of Urban Plunge began and it grew from there,” Lantz said. “Cleveland was the second city, and by the late ’70s we were going to a lot of different places.”

Today the program continues, with students increasing their involvement not only in their home communities across the country but in South Bend as well. Lantz said that the South Bend Urban Plunge has grown from 10 students to 30 in the past year.

“Locally, we want to create opportunities for Notre Dame students to engage the local community,” Lantz said. “There’s increasing interest in engaging South Bend in this way and it helps students have more tangible ways to continue this engagement throughout the rest of their time at Notre Dame.”

Sophomore Olivia Venvertloh from San Diego went on immersion in Los Angeles. Her group stayed with the St. Francis Center in downtown L.A., but doing service projects throughout the city on their two-day immersion.

“I had been to Los Angeles before but had never heard of Skid Row, which is a densely populated street with so many tents that you couldn’t see the sidewalk,” Venvertloh said. “I had never been faced with this kind of homelessness before.”

This learning experience was supplemented with in-class coursework for all students participating in immersion, Venvertloh said.

“They gave us more information on the different aspects of poverty showing that the road to homelessness is multifaceted and there’s not just one cause,” she said.

There are also post-immersion class that deal with reflecting on the experience in the form of small group discussions and papers.

The objective of the course is to inform students of the varying factors and causes of urban poverty within the lens of Catholic Social Teaching, Lantz said.

“Students will be introduced or refreshed on what Catholic Social Teaching means, what does faith in action mean, and how are both the Church and other folks on the ground addressing the root causes of poverty in cities,” he said.

The main point of the class, however, is to prepare students for entering the immersion, both intellectually and being in the correct mindset.

“In addition, I think a big component is we are encouraging and teaching students how to go, what kind of posture, one of humility and listening and being open to learning from the community they are going to,” Lantz said.

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