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A note about South Bend

| Wednesday, January 22, 2020

To the Notre Dame student body:

“South Bend has nothing to do” or “what a boring place!” followed by “I can’t wait to get out of here. I mean I love Notre Dame, but…..” are old and tired words.

Has it ever occurred to you that South Bend isn’t boring, but you are just missing out? In case you weren’t aware, South Bend is quite a bit larger than Eddy Street.

Maria Luisa Paul | The Observer
A storefront in South Bend reads “Somos West Side” — “We are West Side” in Spanish.

Perhaps you’ve visited Woochi, the Crooked Ewe or Fiddler’s Hearth and stopped by the South Bend Chocolate Factory (the actual factory, not the downtown shop) for good measure. But have you ever ventured to an India Garden lunch buffet, eaten at Tacos el Aguila or tasted a freshly patted Girasol pupusa? Have you ever watched the River Lights? Walked along Island Park? How about the Fragrance Garden for the blind? Have you looked down on the dam from one of the South Bend Art Museum’s outcrops (not to mention actually seeing the art there)? Help yourself to a brunch at the Sunrise Café (if Barack Obama found it good enough to visit, you will too) and then stroll around the Farmer’s Market, which has been around since 1911. If you haven’t spent a lazy afternoon browsing the collection of Erasmus Books for the perfect antique volume or attended a reading at the Poetry Den, can you really say that you’ve lived here?

On campus, only three messages really come through about South Bend. In just my first two weeks I learned: South Bend is boring. South Bend is poor. South Bend is violent. The only interaction students are encouraged to have with South Bend is either through dorm/class-related service or the annual Back the Bend, a week dedicated to service in the city. While service is certainly good, the fact that it is the only form of South Bend experience encouraged on campus is problematic. The implication that South Bend is nothing more than a place that needs our help makes it more difficult to also call it home. 

In October, Scholastic published a cover page titled “Into the Crossfire: a Special Report on Gun Violence and Prevention Efforts in South Bend.” The title alone makes it seem like stepping into South Bend is the same as stepping into a war zone. The rather dramatic sub-heading “Hearing Shots: Notre Dame Students Bring the Conversation to Campus” follows. However, this section of the article covers a series of stories about gun violence that are in no way connected with South Bend. They are certainly not accounts of students experiencing gun violence in the city first hand and bringing those experiences to campus dialogue, as the subheading would suggest. The section of the article that is about South Bend is only a third of the whole piece and contains no student input. While the title and framing of the article imply that students are concerned about their experiences of gun violence in South Bend, the reality is that most Notre Dame students have not experienced South Bend in any form and care about South Bend’s gun violence only on principle. For the record, in 2018, South Bend’s homicide rate (per 100,000 people) was 8.79 and 14.73 in 2017. Cities such as Kansas City, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Indianapolis fall anywhere from 18 to 31. While no level of violence is good, South Bend is not an exceptionally violent city.

On another note, for those of you who are excited about Mayor Pete’s candidacy, I have to ask: Why? Do you know what policies he implemented during his mayoral term? Was your life affected positively during that time? Were you familiar with the South Bend political scene before that? Or are you just excited about the name recognition and your proximity to someone who regularly makes national news? 

I hope this note will be a challenge to shift your perspective on South Bend. Explore it and be open to loving it. You may be surprised, I know I was. As a first year, I never expected to leave campus, but at the end of this semester, when I graduate, I will be happy to say that I miss South Bend. I hope you will too.  

Maria Pope


Dec. 8

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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