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Center for Social Concerns immersions cancelled as a result of pandemic

| Monday, August 31, 2020

The Center for Social Concerns routinely offers opportunities to engage in current issues that deal with injustice, poverty and oppression. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, some seminars have undergone changes this semester.

Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross students are able to participate in social concerns seminars, which allow students to take a pragmatic approach towards learning about social issues that impact their communities and beyond.

Under the direction of Adam Gustine, interim program director of the social concerns seminars, students in these programs analyze different texts, study the role of Catholic social tradition and participate in hands-on immersion experiences in order to develop both empathy and understanding towards social concerns topics.

Associate professor Kraig Beyerlein, was unable to teach his normally popular course, the Border Issues Seminar, this year.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “This course is always the highlight of my academic year and the immersion trip has transformed in many, many ways, and it’s heartbreaking that we couldn’t do it.”

In typical years, the fall semester would be spent in the classroom completing academic readings and an immersion trip to the Mexico-U.S. border would take place the first week before spring semester begins. This year, the seminar will not take place at all.

When asked if there was ever the consideration that the seminar would be moved virtually, Beyerlein said, “Immersion is in the title of the course description.”

He later added, “It was an issue of integrity. I couldn’t teach a course that didn’t do justice to the description.”

Gustine echoed Beyerlein’s views about cancelling some of the seminars due to COVID-19 restraints.

“The DNA of a seminar is rooted in an immersive learning experience, encountering people, encountering situations,” he said.

However, he also had a positive outlook upon the changes made within the seminars.

“There are new opportunities that we have because we are not traveling this semester. And that is to ask questions related to larger cultural issues, larger societal elements that we’re in, and to ask good questions about what it means to be a people committed to faith and justice and action on campus and within the Notre Dame community,” Gustine said.

He is also excited about offering two additional sections on racial justice called “Act Justly,” which evaluates prejudices through the lens of the campus community.

Gustine revealed the seminar that changed the most this year was the Spirit of Appalachia. Typically, this course involves a trip to Appalachia as the culminating experience. Instead, they have adapted it into a seminar called “People, Land and Community” which Gustine described as “thinking about questions of creation, care, community and human dignity through the lens of Appalachian pastoral letters and some other theological reflections as well.”

While seminar professors and directors are taking important steps to provide students with opportunities to get involved despite travel restrictions this year, it doesn’t go without remorse.

“It’s truly disappointing on so many levels. I know students are disappointed, I’m disappointed,” Beyerlein said. “At the end of the day, it is about keeping people safe, and I don’t see a universe in which we could have done it, as unfortunate as that is.”

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