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In South Bend too

| Thursday, August 27, 2020

An 8-minute and 46-second murder caused outrage across the nation, 11,000 people signed a petition by Notre Dame Alumni and hundreds of Black students and allies walked in solidarity on Notre Dame Avenue.

Yet to offer a first response, the Notre Dame President tweeted fifty-two words.

The disconnect between Notre Dame’s faculty and its student minority has long been an issue on our campus: students who are racially profiled by NDPD at night, students who are signaled out at parties for the color of their skin, students who are called irrational for reporting blatantly racist behavior. Segments of every graduating class have been forced to live these experiences for Notre Dame’s entire history. But their voices have always been swept under the rug, never being deemed “urgent” enough.

Thankfully, we are at a time where these voices are finally starting to be heard. Notre Dame faculty at the highest levels have at least committed to the promise of exploring these issues further, brainstorming action plans that would attend to the grievances of its own community. I, along with many others at Notre Dame, am happy to see this change start to happen, though we are nowhere near the end. In this period of self-reflection, it is important to recognize the debt we owe to the Black community extends far beyond those who graduate with a gold-stamped diploma. It’s a debt we owe to South Bend at large.

Despite touting itself as a paragon of community engagement, Notre Dame has brought countless harms onto South Bend’s African American community. Even places like Eddy Street — the spot we all know and love for Jimmy John’s subs and Five Guy’s burgers — were constructed at the cost of countless Black families being forced from their homes. It is why there are barely any minority-occupied houses left in the area, and it is why a clear divide exists between roads up kept by our $14 billion endowment, and neighboring blocks with potholes and cracks.

Unfortunately, it is easy to hide these cracks with statistics. With all of the business brought in by Irish football and even these same development projects above, it isn’t hard to claim that Notre Dame has made a seven-figure positive impact on South Bend’s economy. Median household income data, for example, showed an increase of nearly $30,000 between 2011 and 2017. Poverty rates were also reported to dip during that period, while the percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees continued to rise.

However, it is important to look at what this change actually looks like. As with the norm with any gentrification cycle, new development projects raise property values, making it too expensive for low-income individuals to compete as wealthier white residents fill their place, pushing often-poorer African Americans to more clustered, poorer areas. Certainly, none of that cycle happened by accident, nor could you say with malicious intent. It is just the kind of thinking that led to a half-hearted tweet and a paucity of racial accountability — the communities being hurt were just never of upmost concern.

At Notre Dame, we are always told to champion our service to others as something that is selfless and uncompromisingly good. And personally, I not only know we do this; I am inspired by it. Whenever in the face of injustice, our generation has repeatedly taken to the streets, talked to our congresspeople and kept ourselves accountable. We have always endured the struggles of today, and I know on this issue, our passion for change will be no different. However, as we try to do our part on this uniquely systemic issue, it is important to recognize why such work is needed in the first place. At its best, Notre Dame can be complicit for some of the very structural inequalities that often necessitate our “community assistance.” At its worst, Notre Dame can be responsible. 

As the Black Lives Matter movement grows in strength as the year goes by, it is beholden on all of us to ensure our University’s policies stay scrutinized and held accountable, even if the mainstream attention on racial inequality goes away. It is imperative Notre Dame listens to the demands of the Black community, both within its student body and in South Bend at large. Because in its role of creating the harms, this school has a distinct responsibility in removing them. Not just through means of Twitter posts or resume building community projects, but through actions meant to solve the very inequalities it helped create.

Observer Viewpoint | The Observer

Edward Brunicardi is a sophomore at Notre Dame pursuing a major in Political Science and a minor with the Hesburgh Program of Public Service. Though he may have had all the creativity sucked out of him in high school, writing serves as Edward’s best chance at getting something back. He can be reached at [email protected] or @EdwardBrunicar1 on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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