‘The Rabbit Hutch’: ND alumna Tess Gunty’s celebrated novel

When I told my friend about “The Rabbit Hutch” winning the National Book Award, she naturally asked me what the book is about.

I grasped around for words but instead, vivid scenes flashed before my eyes. Voodoo dolls dropping from the ceiling, a white-haired girl obsessing over Hildegard von Bingen, a Catholic mystic and a son of a celebrity breaking into the homes of his enemies covered in nothing but glow-stick fluid. I finally said something like “It’s about four foster kids in a dying Midwestern town.”

But that description and even the more elegant one author Tess Gunty provides in various interviews — “a novel that follows a group of characters in a post-industrial city called Vacca Vale as their lives violently collide one summer night” — can’t begin to condense the expansive eccentricity of this novel. 

Vacca Vale, the fictional town in Indiana where the novel is set, draws inspiration from Rust Belt towns like South Bend, where Gunty grew up. Vacca Vale was once home to Zorn, a large automobile company not unlike Studebaker, and the town left behind in its wake is riddled with unemployment and un-walkability. The novel follows the lives of different residents of Rabbit Hutch, an affordable housing complex. 

Blandine, an eighteen-year-old who just aged out of the foster care system, is the novel’s most interesting character. She contemplates using ‘amaranthine’ in a sentence and going down the rabbit hole of fiduciary law as she tweezes her leg hair. When she confronts her abuser, she gives him a Marxist reading of the power imbalance in their relationship, even as the interaction leaves her shaking and distraught. She is “so tired of contorting her emotions to fit her principles” and the fact that Blandine’s angst, sensitivity and intellectualism are not at odds with each other makes her feel utterly real. 

Though Blandine is at the heart of the novel, the true protagonist is the town itself: Vacca Vale. The polyphonic form allows us to inhabit the lives of different residents of the town like the lonely woman who moderates an obituary website and a former Zorn technician and his wife who constantly snipe at each other. All of these stories, though they may not have much significance to the plot, add to a rich depiction of the emotional terrain of the post-industrial Midwest — and it’s definitely not flat. 

Gunty’s metaphors capture these subtle but palpable emotions. To describe a character getting defensive when posed with incriminating information she writes, “she can see his body turning off the lights, drawing the curtains, locking itself up.” Others are jigsaw puzzle pieces of language like “the booze and weed deconstructed Todd’s room, rebuilt it into some kind of boat. I swayed.” They click together satisfyingly when you understand them. 

In general, the novel is more like a collection of scenes that reveal the soul of a multifaceted town than a story with a definitive resolution. Particularly with Blandine’s arc, there is a tantalizing cliffhanger that I was wondering about for nearly half of the book that was ultimately left up to interpretation. To quote Blandine (in a very different context), “my brain is addicted to the unresolved,” and I am still trying to figure out the motives of certain characters.

However, to read “The Rabbit Hutch” is not to interrogate the relevance of each chapter but to savor its poetic prose and marinate in Gunty’s intriguing ideas about Catholicism, effective altruism, orphanhood and the extraction economy.

Title: The Rabbit Hutch

Author: Tess Gunty

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

If you liked: “All This Could Be Different” by Sarah Thankam Mathews, “NW” by Zadie Smith

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5


Notre Dame honors Potawatomi land 180 years after Fr. Sorin’s arrival

Nov. 26 marked 180 years since Fr. Sorin’s arrival in 1842 on the land now known as South Bend and as home to the tri-campus community. This land is the ancestral home of the Pokégnek Bodéwadmik, which are the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, an indigenous nation.

The Potawatomi migrated from north of Lake Huron and Lake Superior to present-day Wisconsin, southern Michigan, northern Indiana and northern Illinois. Their first contact with European settlers was when they came upon the French in the 1600s. 

In the mid-17th century, the Potawatomi entered the fur trade with the French. Catholic French priests, like the Jesuit missionary Claude Allouez, were even invited by the Potawatomi in the late 1670s.

In 1754, the Potawatomi were brought into the French and Indian War, a war between the British colonies and the French in North America where different Native American tribes supported different sides. After the British won the war in 1763, they focused on profits rather than the more mutually beneficial relationship the Potawatomi had with the French. 

Brian Collier is a faculty member and fellow for Education, Schooling and Society at the University, a historian and the senior advisor to the American Indian Catholic Schools Network (AICSN). Talking about this time of upheaval, Collier said, “different Native people sided with the French and some with the British– they were just trying to find the best deal for their families in a time of war and chaos.”

This continued period of changing politics forced the Potawatomi to take sides. In an article in Notre Dame Magazine, Collier writes, “there were Potawatomi who sided with the British during the American Revolution and the War of 1812, both of which led to citizens of the new United States calling for the removal of the Potawatomi from their ancestral homelands throughout the Great Lakes region.”

The Battle of Fort Dearborn in August 1812 also contributed to the new American citizens having ill-will towards the Potawatomi people.

Collier said, that “when the Potawatomi burned down Fort Dearborn — which is located where Chicago’s ‘Miracle Mile’ is today— the newspapers made a big deal of the incident and portrayed the Pokagon band as dangerous.” 

The Indian Removal Act was signed in 1830 by then-President Andrew Jackson. Leopold Pokagon, a tribe leader within the St. Joseph River Valley Potawatomi, asked Fr. Gabriel Richard in Detroit to send them a priest that year. Leopold Pokagon knew that showing the American government that the Potawatomi could integrate into American culture through Christianity would give the nation a greater chance of keeping their land.  

On Leopold’s request, Richard sent Fr. Stephen Badin to minister to the Potawatomi along with two other Catholic missionaries — Fr. Benjamin Petit and Fr. Louis Deseille. Petit was eventually martyred on the Trail of Death as he administered to the Potawatomi during their forced removal. 

Though the Pokagon Potawatomi’s connection to Catholicism aided in them getting to keep their land, it was also the coincidence of geography that led to this fact. Collier explained that another Potawatomi tribe that lived in what is present-day Rochester, Indiana, was forced to vacate their ancestral homelands.

“At the time, what is present-day South Bend and Mishawaka was officially part of Michigan territory which had a lot of French and Catholic influence, which was why Leopold Pokagon was able to make the argument to keep the land,” Collier said.

Collier explained that the other Potawatomi tribe was residing in what was considered to be Indiana territory at the time, which was being influenced by the Ku Klux Klan and Protestant-nation building forces rather than a Catholic one. 

 In the early 1830s, Badin bought the land that would become the University, and then in 1835, Badin donated that property to the Diocese of Vincennes who ended up giving it to Fr. Edward Sorin, on the condition that he establish an educational institution there. When Sorin first arrived, the Potawatomi were the ones who welcomed him in the winter. 

Talking about the current relationship between the Pokagon Potawatomi and the University, Collier said that the University engages in the annual tradition of sending Potawatomi families food baskets during the holiday season. 

On the occasion of Indigenous People’s Day, celebrated Oct. 9, until the weekend of the Stanford game on Oct. 15,  the University flew the flag of the Pokagon Potawatomi above the football stadium.

“The Provost office has been giving out Pokagon flag magnets which have been going like hot cakes among professors,” Collier added.

Collier also said that Jason Ruiz, associate professor of American Studies, received a grant to acquire more flags in a collaboration with Pokagon Potawatomi artist Jason Wesaw. 

Andrew Crowe ’06, a member of the board of the Native American Alumni Association of Notre Dame (NAA of ND), weighed in on how the lack of acknowledgement of the University’s connection to indigenous people can impact the experience of native students.

“[There is] little to no acknowledgement of Chief Leopold Pokagon’s work to ensure that the Potawatomi land that included what would become Notre Dame was already a Catholic stronghold before the University was founded. He remains a forgotten ‘founding father’ of Our Lady’s University,” Crowe said in an email.

He encouraged students to research and gain awareness about the “historical role of the Catholic Church in the creation and running of residential and boarding schools.”

Zada Ballew ‘19, director of student relations in NAA of ND, posed some questions that students can consider as they learn about the history of the land that the tri-campus inhabits.

Examples she gave over email included, “Why are there carvings of Indigenous peoples on South Dining Hall and ‘the Rock’?” and “Why are Potawatomi people buried in [mass graves] in the campus cemetery?” 

Ballew said she appreciates the University leadership’s efforts to “acknowledge failures of the past and recommit to the work of the future.” She points to increasing efforts to recruit Native and Indigenous students, increasing the number of Native and Indigenous staff, faculty and course offerings, even a major or minor, as a way to “raise awareness of overlooked, but no less significant, aspects of our shared history.”

Collier also suggested the revival of the tutoring program Notre Dame students used to run with Potawatami children in Dowagiac, Michigan, a few years ago.

“Some of those Potawatomi kids actually grew up and attended Notre Dame, so that kind of interaction and engagement really makes a difference,” Collier said.

Collier also proposed making the Moreau First-Year course curriculum more inclusive of Native history.

“We could have elders in residence come and share their story with first-year students,” he said.

The Native American Alumni Association of Notre Dame has set up ‘The Native American Alumni Fund,’ a scholarship intended to provide much needed financial support to current Native and Indigenous students. The scholarship is solely funded through donations and private giving. Crowe encouraged all readers, including alumni, staff and friends, to consider donating to the Fund on ND Day.

Contact Angela Mathew at


‘Bergman Island’ and the paradise of Scandinavian cinema

“Bergman Island” (2021) was screened at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center this past Wednesday as part of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies’ film series. The film is directed by French-Swedish director Mia Hansen-Love who follows two filmmakers and their relationship with each other and with famed director, Ingmar Bergman.

Bergman, a Swedish filmmaker, is considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Bergman’s most famous films like “Seventh Seal” and “Persona” were released during the late 50s and early 60s and explored themes of spirituality, death and the identity. He would generally film at Faro, an island just off the coast of Sweden.

The movie follows a filmmaker couple who visit Faro to work on their respective projects and to get inspiration from Bergman’s legacy. The wife, Chris (Vicky Krieps), is troubled by Bergman’s bad relationship with his children — he married five times and was not involved in raising his own children. Chris’ husband, Tony (Tim Roth), is a more established filmmaker and doesn’t feel conflicted about separating Bergman’s art from his personal life.

Chris begins writing a film set on the island but struggles with her work. She reads her script out to Tony to get his thoughts. The film switches between these scenes of the film-within a film where Chris’ script plays out for the audience and back to the story-line with Tony. He is constantly distracted while Chris is sharing her work with him while the film within-a-film traces a passionate relationship which seems to be drawn from Chris’ own life, before her marriage.

The film is wonderfully meta — Chris and Tony’s relationship breaks down in the same house where Bergman filmed “Scenes From a Marriage” (1973), the series that caused many couples to divorce. The characters themselves seem to mirror the director’s own life — Mia Hansen-Love was in a long-term relationship with Olivier Assayas, the established French filmmaker who, like Tony, has an uncomplicated love for Bergman.

Of course, the film is not completely autobiographical. In an interview, Hansen-Love says that her experience of writing a film in Faro was very easy, unlike Chris’ struggles. Furthermore, she never visited Faro with Assayas. Peeling back the layers of what’s drawn from reality is a cinema trivia junkie’s game, but even for someone like me, a wannabe cinephile, it makes Hansen-Love’s brand of realism feel authentic.

Recent Scandinavian films in general have been exploring modern life with this similar sort of realism.  Joachim Trier’s Norwegian film “The Worst Person in the World” (2021) is similar to “Bergman Island” in its exploration of creative ambitions and modern love. Protagonist Julie is a 30-year-old who still hasn’t settled on a career and struggles to cope with finding meaning in life. It also boasts beautiful cinematography that captures summer in Oslo in all its glory and hilarious commentary on the hypocrisy of social justice warriors online.

Danish director Thomas Vinterburg’s 2020 film “Another Round” follows four school teachers to tell an engaging and emotional story about mid-life crises and the worrying side effects of drinking culture. “Flee” (2021) uses animation and realism to explore the life story of an Afghan refugee in Denmark, evocatively capturing the trauma of alienation and exile.

The humor and realism of “Bergman Island,” along with its many Easter eggs, has inspired me to dive deeper into Bergman’s legacy and into Scandinavian cinema in general. It also made me consider fascinating questions about the relationship between art and artist — not just in terms of an artist’s problematic personal life, but also in terms of how artists insert themselves into their work while capturing universal experiences.

Title: “Bergman Island”

Starring: Vicky Krieps, Tim Roth, Anders Danielsen Lie

Director: Mia Hansen-Løve

If you like: “Marriage Story,” “Worst Person in the World,” “Scenes from a Marriage”

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5


Author Clint Smith speaks about history of slavery and writing

The Atlantic staff writer Clint Smith spoke at the Smith Ballroom at the Morris Inn on Wednesday evening. Smith’s book, “How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America,” was a #1 New York Times Bestseller and a 2021 National Book Critics Circle Award Winner for Nonfiction. 

Smith’s talk was the 14th annual Rev. Bernie Clark, C.S.C., Lecture, an event created by the Center for Social Concerns in 2009 in order to highlight justice issues and themes affecting the common good. The annual lecture honors the late Clark, who influenced students with the life lesson of a “Theory of Enough.” 

In addition to being a journalist and writing non-fiction, Smith is also a poet. His poetry collection “Counting Descent” won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. 

Smith’s 2021 book, “How The Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America” is a narrative non-fiction work that focuses on different places and monuments that tell the story of slavery in the country. In researching for the book, Smith interviewed many people, among those his grandparents, which he said reminded him of how “temporally proximate” slavery is. 

“There are people alive today who knew, who loved and who were raised by people who were born into chattel slavery. The idea that we would suggest that that has nothing to do with our social, political, economic and cultural infrastructure today is… profoundly morally and intellectually disingenuous,” he said.

The genesis of Smith’s book came from the realization that there were “more homages to enslavers than the enslaved” in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he grew up. Smith said this selective memory about slavery was a common theme in his research, especially when writing about the maximum security prison, Angola. 

“Seventy-five percent of the people there are Black men and 70% of them are serving life sentences and the prison is built on top of a cotton plantation,” he said. “If there was a prison in Germany built on top of the former concentration camp, and the people held there were disproportionately Jewish, that place would certainly be a global emblem of antisemitism. Something like that would never be allowed.”

While researching for his book, Smith also visited Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg, Virginia, the resting place of thousands of Confederate soldiers. Smith described meeting a man named Jeff at the cemetery whose grandparents would take him to visit the cemetery as a boy. Smith recalls Jeff telling him that “these confederate men didn’t fight for slavery, it was not about racism. This was about states’ rights. This was about state sovereignty and economic protection.”

Smith said he disagreed with Jeff based on the empirical evidence in the Declaration of Confederate Secessions of Mississippi in 1861, which states, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.”

Smith highlighted how this experience exemplifies for him why the “emotional underbelly” that undergirds ideologies is vital to understand. 

“This sort of human texture that animates certain beliefs is important. it’s not simply the case that these folks are two-dimensional caricatures of bigotry. These harmful beliefs, often violent beliefs, emerge from something with real human familial communal texture to it. I think it’s important to wrestle with that and to sit with that,” he said.

Another site Smith visited to trace the history of slavery in the U.S. for his book was Gorée Island in Senegal. The House of Slaves on the island is a memorial to victims of the transatlantic slave trade. 

 “I remember standing there and being told this story in 2009, that so many people have walked through this door and been put on ships and sent to the New World. As a descendant of enslaved people, it was such a somber, charged moment, to stand in this world right now and to look out to the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, and to imagine the possibility that maybe one of my ancestors walked through that door,” he said.

Smith also spoke more generally about how he became a writer. Between his sophomore and junior years at Davidson College, Smith interned at a publishing company in New York City. A fellow intern took him to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in Lower East Manhattan where he discovered spoken word poetry. Back at college, Smith started writing and talking with friends about poetry. 

“We created a Dead Poets Society,” he said. “We would meet at our main academic building on Sunday nights and we would read poems, write poems and talk about them. It was this really incredible organic space that we created. These people were physics majors, German majors, English majors, chemistry majors… so it wasn’t the ‘literati’ necessarily. It was just people who realized that poetry was one of the ways that they could make sense of the world and who they were in relationships to it.”

Smith said he is proud to be a part of an “ecosystem of other writers of color” including Hanif Abdurraqib and Safiya Sinclair. 

“When I was in college, I was an English major and I was struggling to connect with much of the canon because I felt that I was being told what did and didn’t constitute poetry, whether it was Keats or Whitman or Yeats,” he said.

Smith ended his talk with a reading from “Above Ground,” his forthcoming poetry book about his experience becoming a father.

Contact Angela Mathew at


Center for Social Concerns withdraws resources for community engagement

The Center for Social Concerns (CSC) no longer provides vehicles for students to rent, free of charge, to do social service as part of community-engaged learning courses.

The CSC’s website states “effective June 1, 2022 the center will no longer offer vehicles for reservation.”

This change has impacted community-based learning courses across disciplines like romance languages, writing and rhetoric and the program of liberal studies (PLS). These courses include a service requirement at sites like La Casa de Amistad, the Logan Center or the Center for the Homeless in downtown South Bend. 

Elizabeth Capdevielle, assistant teaching professor in the University writing program has been teaching sections of community-based writing and rhetoric since 2012. Capdevielle explained her involvement with service stemmed from an interest in the campus “bubble.”

“I was very interested in sustainability issues and in the Notre Dame bubble itself,” she said. “I wanted students to get off campus to see the urban side of our community and also the rural context in which it exists.”

Capdevielle said the CSC used to sponsor her community-based course in previous years by allowing her students to use rental cars.

“They had a set of vans out in a parking lot by Stepan Center. Students could go to Geddes Hall and check them out and get the keys,” she said. 

Capdevielle said that the rental process included online training for students signing up to drive the vans and that the CSC would pay for gas and maintenance of the vehicles. She mentioned that the vehicles were shared among everybody doing service projects sponsored by the CSC, including different courses, other kinds of service visits and community-oriented retreats.

These community-based writing and rhetoric were not only an opportunity for students to reflect on the service work they did but also impacted the sites more directly, Patrick Clauss, director of the University writing program, said.

“One of the [application materials] that [the Logan Center] needed as part of the grant was profiles of their clients,” Clauss said. “Writing and rhetoric students interviewed the clients and drew up really nice biographies of the clients.”

Clauss said that the change came as a surprise when it was announced in June. The department canceled the five sections of community-based writing and rhetoric scheduled for this fall, replacing them with five sections of the standard writing and rhetoric courses, when they learned that there would be no transportation offered through the CSC.

“Our courses are first-year students … primarily and most first year students don’t have vehicles on campus,” he explained. “We don’t feel it’s fair to shift the burden and have students pay for Ubers or Lyfts.”

Clauss said the CSC told him they suspended the vehicle rental service for students due to financial and liability reasons.

Neither CSC director Suzanne Shanahan nor associate director JP Shortall responded to the Observer’s requests for a comment.

Marisel Moreno, associate professor of romance languages and literatures has been teaching community-based learning Spanish courses since 2010. She said she found out about the new resource changes about a week before classes started.

Moreno said that although she has been able to continue her community-engaged learning courses this semester because enough students in her classes have personal vehicles to arrange carpools, she is wondering about future sections of the class. 

“Going forward with this change, I don’t see a way for me to be able to teach my courses. If it is an issue of finances and the Center for Social Concerns can no longer afford it, I think this is a bigger problem. The University needs to find the resources so that those of us doing this work can continue to do this work,” she said.

Clark Power, a PLS professor, teaches an ethics course which is centered around service learning. He highlighted the importance of institutional support for service learning courses at Notre Dame where 20% of South Bend’s population lives below the poverty line. 

“The University’s mission statement says that it ‘seeks to cultivate in its students not only an appreciation for the great achievements of human beings, but also a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice, and oppression’” Power said. “If we want to take that mission seriously, there needs to be more efforts to make service accessible to students.”

Contact Angela at


Tri-Campus Thursday: Black Images talent show to showcase Black arts and culture

The Black Cultural Arts Council (BCAC) will put on Black Images, a talent show, Friday at 6:30 p.m. in Washington Hall. 

Senior Zoë Bonnichsen is the vice president of BCAC. She said the event will feature a wide range of talent.

“We have spoken word poetry performances, a rap and bass performance, several dance performances from step dance troupes to tap dance troupes,” Bonnichsen said. “We also have several singing performances from bands to gospel choir groups.”

BCAC is an on-campus cultural organization with the goal of responding to the needs of the Black community by sponsoring, promoting and supporting intellectual, spiritual, social and arts and community service programs. The council seeks to create a space that advances the values and customs within the Black diaspora.

The group also hosts events like Paint and Sip, where students can make art together, a fashion show that celebrates the impact of Black culture on design and the Black Diamond Ball, a formal for members of the organization.

Chinaza Udekwe is a senior and the emcee of the event. Udekwe, who started writing poetry in high school, will also be performing some of his own works at the show.

“I’m excited to hear the other poets,” Udekwe said. “It’s always good to gain some inspiration from other people and see different people’s perspectives.”

Sophomore Frances Ubogu, an international student from Nigeria, is the coordinator and stage manager for Black Images. She recalled how she first got involved with BCAC.

“When I was a freshman, I went to Black Images because my friend Vongai had invited me to come watch Dance Africa at the show,” Ubogu said. “And I thought it was really cool.”

This encouraged Ubogu to become involved with planning this year’s event, finding talent for the show’s 11 acts and organizing logistics for rehearsal equipment. 

Ubogu said that the audience will vote to choose the winners of the talent show.

“There will be a QR code attached to the back of the program. Audience members can scan it and pick their top-three favorite acts,” she said. “The first-place winner gets $100 and a certificate, second-place winner gets $60 and a certificate and third-place winner gets $40 and a certificate.”

Ubogu hopes Black Images will give students an opportunity to showcase their talents.

“I hope that freshmen and people who aren’t yet involved feel like, ‘That’s something I can definitely do,’” Ubogu said. “Just like for me last year.”

“We have an incredibly rich, culturally diverse campus and we really want to make sure that we’re highlighting what the arts look like,” Bonnischen said. “Not just for the Black community, but really just for the community as a whole.”

Bonnichsen also hopes that Black Images will be a fun way for students to engage with different cultures and art forms.

“It can get people out of their comfort zones to perform,” she said. “And I think it can also bring … the wider Notre Dame community to really engage with these incredible, talented people and their works of art.”

Students can purchase tickets for the show with card or cash at the box office in LaFortune Student Center for $5 or at the door before the show at Washington Hall for $7.

Contact Angela Matthew at


Tri-Campus Thursday: ‘Latinx Heritage month’ events celebrate diversity within the community

Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 to celebrate the cultures of Americans whose ancestors hail from Mexico, the Caribbean, Spain and Central and South America.

In 1968, the country observed Hispanic Heritage Week and by 1988, the week was expanded to a 30-day period. The independence days of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Chile all fall in the first week of Hispanic Heritage month.

The Institute for Latino Studies at Notre Dame is hosting nine events to mark the month. Some of these events are more academic while others focus on highlighting influential Latinx alumni from the University. 

First-year student Angela Olvera attended professor Luis Fraga’s “Latinos and the Reshaping of American Politics” lecture last Thursday. 

“I’m from Texas, and Texas has the worst cases of voter suppression in the country and racial gerrymandering. Hearing about how the Latino population is close to 40% of the country, and yet only like 15% of us vote was interesting,” Olvera said. “It just goes to show how it’s an invisible demographic … the way professor Fraga talks so passionately about it makes me want to get out there and register everyone to vote.”

Olvera also attended the transformative Latina leadership lecture this past Monday with Dorene C. Dominguez, a Notre Dame alumna who is the CEO of Vanir, a construction management and real estate company.

“She talked a lot about impostor syndrome … because she was a first-generation student like I am … and I think it’s really important to just hear success stories about people who share your background and ethnicity,” Olvera said. “I love that they interviewed her … because there’s still so much machismo and sexism that goes on in the Latino community.”

The Institute for Latino Studies is also co-sponsoring events organized by other academic departments for example, the talk by California State senator Monique Limón last week and a lecture by Nathan Henne, an expert in Mayan culture, scheduled Oct. 10, which is Indigenous Peoples Day. 

One of these events is a discussion of the book “Crossing Waters” by Marisel Moreno, Rev. John A. O’Brien associate professor. The book talks about the dynamics of undocumented migration between the Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Puerto Rico.

Moreno, who teaches Latinx literature and culture in the department of Romance Languages and Literatures, says that the term “Hispanic Heritage Month” is problematic. “The label Hispanic was originally imposed by the U.S. government on a very heterogeneous population to refer to all people of Latin American backgrounds,” Moreno said. “Hispanic is derived from Hispania, which was a Roman region that coincides with what today is Spain. So [the term] Hispanic privileges European ancestry … and the Spanish language.”

Moreno emphasized the linguistic diversity of the Latinx community where people in Haiti speak French, Brazilians speak Portuguese and several other Latinx people speak indigenous languages. 

“I call it Latinx Heritage Month and even that label is problematic. This is inspired by the hashtag ‘Latinidad is Cancelled’ that comes from Afro and indigenous people who would be labeled Latinx but don’t see themselves represented in the … label, because it erases Blackness,” Moreno said. 

Nicholas Crookston, a senior who is co-president of the Latinx Student Alliance (LSA) will be moderating “Latinx Identidades” next Thursday, a panel to shed more light on the diversity within the community. 

“Students and faculty are going to share their stories and knowledge on the complexity … of what we mean by Latino, Latina [and] Latinx,” Crookston said. “We hope to discuss the nuances of all experiences within our community including Afro Latinos, LGBTQ+ Latinos and first generation Latinos.”

“The panel is important because it’ll build cultural proficiency and people’s ease and understanding using the term, so they don’t feel weird about it,” Paloma Garcia-Lopez, associate director of the Institute for Latino Studies said. “We spent a lot of time in the media talking about the undocumented or recent immigrants, which really make up 15% of all Latinos in the US, so 85% are U.S. born.”

The panel is designed for audiences who might not have a lot of experience in Latinx communities.

“We’re trying to help increase the understanding of Latino communities in the U.S. for everybody at Notre Dame … and share some basics about US history that aren’t taught in high school,” Garcia-Lopez said.

The Institute for Latino Studies also collaborates with the Hispanic Alumni of Notre Dame (HAND) for an event each year. 

Students who view the alumni presentations can make appointments for one on one mentorship with them.

“This is a way of exposing them to people who have done pretty creative things with their degrees … there’s boards to serve, community organizations to support and philanthropic efforts,” Garcia-Lopez said. 

At Saint Mary’s, Latinx Heritage month celebrations have largely been spearheaded by students. Jackie Junco, a senior who serves as president of La Fuerza, the College’s club for Latinx students, said that the club held a photo-op event where students could celebrate the diversity of the Latinx community by taking photos with different flags of Latin American and Caribbean countries. La Fuerza also hosted a karaoke night in honor of the month along with their regular volunteering in the west side of South Bend. 

“La Fuerza and our diversity clubs are … the main sources that help support students of color [at Saint Mary’s],” Junco said. “I think implementing some more institutional support and club funding is necessary.” 

In light of Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico, senior Ashlley Castillo, co-president of LSA at Notre Dame also talked about the need for more institutional support. 

“We know that there are other instances where the University has stepped up for other communities, and I feel like they’re not as responsive for the Latino community. Perhaps they can have a prayer service … at least or offer resources at the UCC to students from Puerto Rico who have had this traumatic experience before with Hurricane Maria a few years prior,” Castillo said. 

Moreno and Garcia-Lopez both cited hiring more Latinx faculty members as a first step to building a community that is more supportive of Latinx students. 

Crookston hopes that Latinx Heritage Month events on campus will help build more unity between students of all backgrounds.

“LSA events have always been open for all to attend,” he said. “We want this to be an invitation for the wider community to celebrate with us this month and year round.”


Holy Cross College celebrates Founder’s Day

This Monday marked 56 years since Holy Cross College’s establishment. The College was founded on Sept. 19, 1966 by Holy Cross Brothers whose mission is to be “educators in the faith” to men and women everywhere — especially the poor, afflicted and oppressed.

Michael Griffin, senior vice president and interim provost of Holy Cross College, said that the College was originally founded to train Holy Cross brothers to teach at the high school level.

“At that time, Catholic brothers were really expanding their ministry to teaching,” Griffin said. “If you look around the country at some of the best Catholic high schools, many of them were begun by brothers in the 50s and the 60s.”

Previously, brothers would pursue degrees at institutions like Notre Dame or St. Edward’s University in Texas. Holy Cross was the first of its kind, Griffin said.

“Holy Cross College really provided a foundation where the brothers could live and study together,” he explained. 

In 1968, the College became coeducational just two years after its founding because the brothers saw a chance to expand their mission, Griffin explained.

“The brothers saw that it was not only them who could benefit from the education. So very quickly, before many other colleges, including Notre Dame [that became coeducational in 1972], the brothers decided to open up Holy Cross to women and men to join,” Griffin said. 

When it was founded, Holy Cross College initially offered two-year programs, but over the years, it expanded to become a four-year college. 

Students marked Founder’s Day by wearing their maroon and silver Holy Cross gear to show off their school spirit. The College distributed Holy Cross themed cookies and had food trucks out on the courtyard.

Holy Cross students lined up at food trucks on the quad outside of dorms to celebrate the College’s 56th annual Founder’s Day. / Courtesy of Sara Cole

Sophomore Sara Cole said she thought Founder’s Day was a great way to build Holy Cross camaraderie.

“It’s just a great way for students to hang out and be in community,” Cole said.  

Cole said that she was drawn to Holy Cross because she wanted to pursue the elementary education major that they offer. The program has allowed her to sit in on student teaching sessions since her first year.

“Other schools [with comparable programs] generally only allow students to start practical experience with teaching their senior year,” Cole said. 

Coming from a small high school, Cole said she also appreciated having a small college community where she knows the majority of students. 

Student body president of the College, sophomore Dion Payne-Miller also praised Holy Cross’ tight-knit community.

“I love that the community is so small that you pretty much know everybody from students all the way up to professors, and even administration for that matter,” he said.

Payne-Miller hopes to see more partnerships between Holy Cross, Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s.

“Besides clubs … we can work together for our overall community of South Bend and Mishawaka,” Payne-Miller explained. 

Griffin said that Founder’s Day at Holy Cross really highlights the uniqueness of the tri-campus community.

“The Holy Cross, Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s tri-campus … really is one of the only places in the world where you have three colleges founded by each of the three parts of Catholic religious life — priests, sisters and brothers. I often say that 46556 is the most unique zip code in Catholic higher education.”

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‘Petite Maman’: Like mother, like daughter

They say that great things come in small packages. In just 73 minutes, French film “Petite Maman” (translated “Little Mom”), directed by Céline Sciamma, tells a touching story of motherhood and memory.

The film follows eight-year-old Nelly, right after her maternal grandmother passes away. Nelly and her parents go to the grandmother’s old house in the countryside to move her things, and this is where they discover Nelly’s mother Marion’s old school books and toys. The film envelopes you in the clean coziness characteristic of a grandmother’s house, replete with butter cookie tins filled with sewing paraphernalia and quaint, floral wallpaper.

As they’re in the process of packing up the house, Marion goes back to the city for a few days, leaving Nelly with her father. Though it’s unclear why Marion is going away, Nelly feels nervous and sad in her mother’s absence and wonders if she is the reason why Marion is often unhappy.

While her mother is gone, Nelly begins to play in the woods alone near the house. Her imagination is captured by stories that her mother told her about the huts she used to build out of tree branches when she was growing up. The film’s cinematography is gorgeous, with the fall colors in the picturesque forest and the whimsical decor of the grandmother’s house. As she plays in the woods, Nelly encounters another little girl who looks remarkably similar to her, and they become instant playmates in the way that only eight year olds can.

Over the course of the film, Sciamma’s brilliant magical realism reveals itself. Nelly’s new playmate is Marion — except not her thirty-one year old self stressed by the pressures of motherhood and modern life. This is Marion as she would have been at eight-years-old. Nelly and little Marion make hot chocolate together, explore the woods and go over to each others’ houses to play elaborate games where they pretend to be countesses and inspectors.

At little Marion’s house, Nelly meets her grandmother as a middle-aged woman and tries not to flinch with shock. Nelly is able to relive memories with her grandmother and say a proper “au revoir” now that she has been given the opportunity. 

Through the film’s delicate time-bending and intentionally simple storytelling, we are able to fill in the gaps ourselves. In an interview, Sciamma said: “I did not put too much detail about the life of the characters in it. It’s not about how they feel … it’s about how we feel. Even if you have a good relationship or bad relationship with your parents, you don’t have to fit in with the film, the film will adapt to you.” For me, the film was a delightful way to remember all the stories my mother has told me about her childhood — playing hide and seek with kids in her neighborhood — but for others, like my friend who was in tears beside me during the screening, the film can be a poignant exploration of loss.

As I was watching Nelly and Marion during the film’s long and often silent takes, I realized that “Petite Maman” really encapsulates the different mother-daughter media I turn to for comfort. It embodies the same idealism of “Gilmore Girls” that in essence is about the tension and joy of mother and daughter Lorelai and Rory being friends in a picture-perfect, small American town. It also echoes the themes of A24’s “Lady Bird” and “Everything Everywhere All At Once” that focus on the angst and pain of daughters trying to live up to their mother’s expectations and make them happy. The wise eight year old Marion answers all of Nelly’s anxieties in a tender scene where she simply says, “You didn’t invent my sadness”.

Title: “Petite Maman”

Starring: Josephine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Nina Meurisse

Director: Céline Sciamma

If you like: “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” “Boyhood,” “Lady Bird”

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

Contact Angela Mathew at


Tri-campus Thursday: South Asia Group brings interdisciplinary scholars together

Students and faculty members gathered over samosas and steaming cups of chai in 2148 Jenkins and Nanovic Halls on Wednesday for the South Asia Group’s first event this semester. The South Asia Group is an interdisciplinary group of faculty, scholars and students at Notre Dame whose work relates to the region that includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. 

At the event, professors and students engaged in free-flowing conversations ranging from nationalistic propaganda in India to handicraft artisans in Nepal. 

Susan Ostermann, assistant professor of global affairs and political science for the Keough School of Global Affairs, founded the South Asia Group in 2017 with professors Nikhil Menon, Lakshmi Iyer and Amitava Dutt. Menon and Iyer were new to the University at the time, while Dutt has been at Notre Dame since 1988.

“There were enough of us working on South Asia but in different fields, and almost all of us had been accustomed to being at universities that had a larger community within our fields. I was hired to teach South Asian politics because nobody was doing it, so I was not expecting a community here, but in the spirit of the Keough School … we thought interdisciplinary work had a real place,” Ostermann said.  

The group’s events are funded by the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies.

“Even though the Institute was envisioned as a place that focuses on East Asia, Michel Hockx who runs it is very inclusive,” Ostermann said.

The South Asia Group typically meets four times a semester.

“After the pandemic, it was a little bit challenging to get people to remember we existed, and so we started doing the chai and samosa events to draw people in. It was so enjoyable that we continued doing it just because it brings everybody together,” Ostermann said.

According to the Liu Institute’s website, the group will be hosting two guest speakers this semester, including Yaqoob Bangash, a Notre Dame alumnus and Fulbright fellow at the Mittal Institute at Harvard University. Bangash will speak about the emergence of Pakistan as a postcolonial state. The group also plans to have an event later this semester for students to present their work related to South Asia.

Students can also get involved through taking courses and research assistance through channels like the Kellogg International Scholars Program or independently, Ostermann said.

“We have a lot of relatively young faculty [working on South Asia] so all of us have a very active research agenda … just email us,” she said. 

Ostermann and Iyer are also organizing a conference related to issues of democracy rights and development in May 2023.

“In 2019 we held a conference at the Keough School’s [Washington] D.C. office that put Notre Dame academics in dialogue with policymakers and academics from elsewhere. The topic was religion, development and South Asia at the time,” Ostermann said.

The upcoming conference will be held in Washington D.C. again, but will be livestreamed so it is accessible to the broader campus community.

Mahan Mirza, executive director of the Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion, participated in the 2019 conference.

“At that point I was working on advancing scientific and theological literacy among madrasa graduates in India and Pakistan with Ebrahim Moosa, and the conference was fantastic,” Mirza said. 

As an Islamic studies scholar, Mirza and members of the Ansari Institute often do projects in collaboration with the South Asia Group through the Liu Institute. Mirza is glad the group is increasing awareness about the region.

“Whenever the chai and samosa events get announced, you’ve even got people coming from the architecture school and Mendoza and it’s generated really interesting conversations,” Mirza said.

Prithvi Iyer, a member of the class of 2023 Master of Global Affairs (MGA) cohort who attended the event, got involved with the South Asia Group in March.

“Last semester the hijab row in India was pretty strong … given the amount of talk at Notre Dame about laïcité secularism and the burqa ban in France … not much was being done in the South Asian context,” Prithvi said.

Prithvi organized a panel about India’s hijab row featuring Nabeela Jamil, an attorney practicing in the Supreme Court of India, Notre Dame professor Julia Kowalski and journalist Fatima Khan to discuss the issue and its parallels with religious freedom in the West. 

Prithvi also attended the group’s chai and samosa gatherings last semester, where he was able to meet other graduate students and faculty members with similar research interests. 

Prithvi hopes the South Asia Group will make the University a place where community members critically engage with discourse about South Asia.

“[Indian Prime Minister] Narendra Modi’s rise in the context of rising autocracies in the world is a very important case study, not because he’s Indian, or because I’m Indian … but because 1.3 billion people somehow gave the largest political mandate … as a product of democracy, to a leader like him,” Prithvi said. “These are important questions that shouldn’t be thought of purely geographically as being a South Asian problem. These are questions that have enormous significance, like the way we think about the West.”

Contact Angela Mathew at