Lessons in solidarity and the common good from a virtual SSLP
Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, October 20, 2020
This summer, the six of us undergraduate students had the opportunity to participate in the Virtual Summer Service Corps through the Center for Social Concerns. We worked with Faith in Indiana, a coalition of faith leaders throughout Indiana that advocates for social justice and voter engagement, and NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby based in Washington, D.C. Alongside members of these organizations, we worked on issues of racial justice, especially in light of the coronavirus’ disproportionate impact on minorities and the devastating murder of George Floyd.
As partners with NETWORK, we contributed to an op-ed where we reflected on ways in which systemic racism has repeatedly stolen opportunities from people of color and threatened their lives, as well as the necessary role of white people in speaking out and taking action against racial inequality. Whether through the racial wealth gap, inadequate access to healthcare, government neglect, outright acts of violence or the countless other consequences of a racist society, members of the Black community have been treated unjustly for centuries. This summer, our nation’s racial disparities were on full display as we reckoned with police brutality and struggled to protect communities of color from the pandemic.
Throughout our summer experience, we conducted one-on-one relational meetings with peers within the program, Faith in Indiana organizers and student leaders. While these meetings are designed to be strategic initiatives rather than sources of entertainment, in our social isolation, these opportunities to connect brought us great joy as we identified the self-interest and passions of others and compared them to our own. However, it shouldn’t require a global crisis for anyone to exercise such a basic act of compassion and empathy.
We also had the opportunity to meet virtually with the office of Todd Young, the senator of Indiana. We pressed him to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) in order to meet the heightened needs of low-income families across the country. Because people of color are disproportionately affected by poverty, targeted tax relief has the potential to play a key role in closing the racial wealth gap. If he ultimately decides to take action and expand the EITC and CTC, Senator Young would demonstrate his commitment to protect communities of color at a pivotal time, hopefully with a lasting impact.
The South Bend community has already taken steps towards positive change. After a meeting with the St. Joe County chapter of Faith in Indiana, Mayor Mueller released a new police disciplinary matrix, a positive step forward. Additionally, in a virtual meeting we attended with Commissioner Kostielney, he agreed to open up more COVID-19 testing sites on South Bend’s West Side to help minority communities who are testing positive for the virus at disproportionately higher rates.
As South Bend responds, we at the University must begin making substantial changes to our own culture. Through classes and activities, we spend a lot of time reflecting on the themes of Catholic Social Teaching — preferential option for the poor, the common good, solidarity — by which the University expects us to live. Now, it is time for the University to embody this doctrine by addressing racial injustice on campus. As people with power and privilege, the administration has a moral responsibility to take action to protect and affirm the inherent dignity and worth of minority students on campus.
A vital part of this commitment is limiting the spread of COVID-19. We know that the virus has taken a much harder toll on communities of color, which the administration and students must take into account when thinking about campus health and safety guidelines. Failing to control the virus could force low-income students to go back to inadequate housing situations or staff members to lose their jobs. We are proud of the way our campus community has responded to the uptick in COVID-19 cases during the beginning of the semester. However, we should stay vigilant about abiding by safety protocols, especially if we are serious about our commitment to racial justice. Beyond campus boundaries, our actions pose risks to the health and economy of the greater South Bend community, especially its residents of color.
We implore Notre Dame students, staff and alumni to recognize the unique difficulties faced by those around us and to build relationships — albeit socially distanced — that can lead to change. We echo Student Government’s call for concrete action in order to support our Black students, and we will hold the University accountable in its efforts to fulfill the requests Black alumni have made. We — students, faculty and staff — must be committed to furthering the mission of the Black Lives Matter movement on our campus in our everyday lives. We must use our voice to build power and be participants in the fight for racial justice.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.