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Poetry Pulitzer Prize winner Natasha Trethewey discusses her inspiration for writing

Students, faculty and guests came together on Tuesday evening to listen to Walk the Walk Week keynote speaker, Natasha Trethewey as she answered the question “Why I Write.”

Trethewey is a former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winning poet, best known for her books “Memorial Drive” and “Native Guard.” As the Initiative on Race and Resilience artist-in-residence for 2022-23, she was selected to give the keynote address for the eighth annual Walk the Walk Week at Notre Dame.

Fr. John Jenkins kicked off Walk the Walk Week, introducing the event and its significance.

“Walk the Walk Week is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on what it means to be Notre Dame,” Jenkins said. “Let us listen to sieving, not only from the perspective of scholarly detachment, but let us open our minds and hearts to engage in ways that lead us to action for peace and justice on our campus, in our local communities, in our nation and in our world.”

Trethewey then took the stage and began by paying a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr..

“It could be said that part of my journey as a poet began with Dr. King when I was only in the third grade. I wrote my first poem for him and his message of social justice continues to guide me,” Trethewey said.

Titled The House of Being, Trethewey’s lecture was split into four distinct sections. The first section was titled “The World Book”, named after an Encyclopedia set Trethewey’s grandmother kept on her bookshelf.

“That the story of The World Book’s provenance was passed down to me from the beginning made it even more prized. I was enthralled with the title,” she said. “The idea that a set of books could contain even a single year of the world beyond our house.”

She then discussed her father’s role in introducing her to knowledge through books and stories.

“I heard Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium”, Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays”, Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey”, all in the cadence of my father’s resonant voice,” Trethewey shared. “When I think back on it now, I can see that all the stories my father told me, each with some form of the hero’s journey, must have taken root in my psyche, establishing early on the pattern to which my own journey would conform.”

Next, Trethewey moved on to the second section of her lecture which was titled “Crossroads.” In this section, Trethewey’s main focus was on her hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi.

She discussed the cultural and familial significance of her homeland before going on to highlight the devastating changes which then took place.

“In the decades of the early 20th century, when my grandmother was growing up there, the land and the house on it had abutted a pasture. By the time I was born, the pasture was gone, paved over to make way for new highway 49 and the house now stood at a crossroads — the intersection of 49 and Jefferson Street,” Trethewey noted.

Trethewey then explained the significance of the changes to her homeland, emphasizing the unjust concealment of many people.

“On every corner, four foot tall concrete pillars sunk deep in the ground and painted white, bore their names like monuments to the founding of the nation, the complex ideals embedded therein,” she said.“It was one of the myriad ways the landscape of my geography was inscribed with one version of America while simultaneously subduing or erasing others,” Trethewey said.

She then continued her point by explaining that the geographical location one is born in, or grows up in, plays a significant role in determining their fate.

“Inevitably, individuals are shaped by the history and culture of inherited places,” Trethewey said. “Geography is fate.”

Returning to the purpose of her talk, Trethewey takes a moment to link her story thus far to the purpose and reason behind why she writes.

“That is one of the reasons I write, to create the narrative of my life so that my story would not be determined for me,” Trethewey shared.

Before moving on to the third section, Trethewey delves into the fact that she is biracial, as well as how that affected her writing.

“Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act, my parents’ interracial marriage was still illegal in Mississippi, rendering me illegitimate in the eyes of the law,” Trethewey highlighted. “The act of writing is a way to create a world in language. It is an act of reclamation and resistance.”

Trethewey then moved on to the penultimate section of her speech which she titled “The House of Being.” Here, Trethewey shared details about her grandmother’s job as a seamstress and how she was impacted by it.

“She made precise measures in cuts so that no material was wasted, nothing was out of place, the patterns true, the results a thing of beauty. That translates to me now as a way to think about syntax. How one writes is inseparable from why one does,” Trethewey said.

Next, Trethewey shed light on the abusive relationship her mother was involved in after her parents’ divorce. At this point in her life, Trethewey was no longer living in Mississippi.

She emphasized her extreme dislike for living in Atlanta as well as how much she enjoyed the summer when she got to return to her grandmother’s house.

“At my grandmother’s house, I could relax and I’d spend a good deal of my time in solitary reverie, as the dreamy child does. I could sit down to read and lose myself all without fear of the chronic tensions I left behind in Atlanta,” Trethewey recounted.

Finally, Trethewey began her fourth section, “The Pasture.” In this section, Trethewey dove into her relationship with her mother, emphasizing how supportive her mother was.

“She will do whatever she wants,” Trethewey recalled her mother saying in response to doubtful comments made by her stepfather.

After discussing her close connection to her mother, Trethewey shared her reaction to hearing of her mother’s murder.

“Following her death, I turned to poetry, the only language that seemed capable of containing my immeasurable grief,” Trethewey said. “I placed my grief in the mouth of language, the only thing that would grieve with me.”

Before concluding, Trethewey returned to the big question one last time, giving a final insight on why she writes.

“I have turned to literature for the way it enables us to momentarily suspend time, to live in the moment of a story unfolding, wherein the intimate voice of a poem reanimates in the mind both for the writer and reader,” she said.

Prior to the conclusion of the event, there was an opportunity for a brief question and answer session. When asked about how she goes about unpacking something so traumatic, Trethewey shared that it is all about memory.

“The rhythm of my own thinking makes memories reemerge. I think that is one of the joys of writing poetry,” Trethewey said.

Another audience member asked a question about how Trethewey is able to overcome the fear of others’ perception of her work.

“First, I believe in the goodness of people. The second thing is precision in the telling of our own experience,” Trethewey responded.

Finally, Trethewey was asked about her upcoming work. She shared that she plans to expand this very lecture into a small book. She then plans to work on a memoir about her father in which she will really explore how she came to be an author.

Contact Jenna Abu-Lughod at jabulugh@nd.edu.

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ZeroProof hosts alcohol-free tailgate, builds space for sobriety

In the spring of last year, a group of Notre Dame students came together to start ZeroProof, a club with the goal of providing alcohol-free options for sober students and students working
towards sobriety.

“As I’ve been at Notre Dame, I found it difficult to enjoy activities that didn’t involve partying or alcohol and started to feel disconnected from my peers. Moreover, I’m very passionate about helping people that struggle with substance abuse or are in recovery and I realized that Notre Dame doesn’t have many options for people that may need resources for these issues,” senior Caroline Paige, one of the leaders of ZeroProof, said in an email.

Paige and her fellow ZeroProof leaders, senior Van Gundersen, and junior Mary Musselman, have partnered with the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being in order to expand the club’s capability when it comes to educating students about substance abuse.

“We decided to start ZeroProof and partner with the Wellness Center so that aside from our events, we can provide education and resources on substance use and abuse for people that may need them, but this is still in progress,” Paige stated.

While the club is still fairly new, the leaders have already organized numerous events, and are in the process of planning even more.

“We have had trivia nights, gone to a [South Bend] Cubs’ game, ice skating, and the football tailgate,” Paige said in an email. “We will host more events that may consist of bowling, hiking, more trivia nights, karaoke, going to more South Bend Cubs’ games and many more fun recreational activities,” Paige said.

Senior Megan Mikuen noted in an email that she enjoys that she can remain present while participating in ZeroProof activities.

“I really enjoy the ZeroProof community and have actually gone to a few of their past events including a trivia night and a trip to a South Bend Cubs game,” Mikuen said. “I love getting the opportunity to have fun in a setting where drinking isn’t a priority. It really makes you focus on being present and enjoying an activity for itself.”

Last Saturday marked Notre Dame’s first home game of the season, with campus festivities beginning as early as 5 a.m. According to Paige, tailgating occurs prior to every home game throughout the season and gameday festivities tend to revolve around alcohol consumption.

For that reason, ZeroProof decided to host an alcohol-free tailgate with the hope of creating a safe and inclusive environment absent of social pressures related to drinking, according to Paige.

“Personally, I was extremely excited to host the tailgate because football tailgates commonly involve excessive alcohol use,” Paige said. “ZeroProof wants to provide a safe place for people to feel included with the Notre Dame community and cheer for the football team without feeling pressured to drink alcohol or being surrounded by it.”

“Since college environments have such an emphasis on partying, many people that don’t want to drink or are in recovery can feel disconnected and excluded from their college community and it’s our mission to help them enjoy fun activities and connect with other people that could share some of the same interests,” Paige said.

“I attended the event because I enjoy being sober at football games. Most of the gameday events that are popular with students involve some sort of alcohol consumption, so it’s nice to have a safe space to partake in traditional events without the pressure to drink,” Mikuen said.

Similar to other tailgates, ZeroProof provided a variety of foods and drinks to those who stopped by.

“We had Chick-Fil-a, Jimmy Johns, a variety of chips, buffalo chicken dip, fruit and other snacks! We decided to have a variety of drinks including Gatorade, La Croix, Arnold Palmer, water, and some soda,” Paige shared in an email.

Contact Jenna Abu-Lughod at jabulugh@nd.edu

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Bookstore renovation hopes to provide an improved customer experience

On July 1, 2021, the University of Notre Dame announced that the bookstore’s management was going to be changed from Follett to Barnes & Noble College (BNC), a transition that has been in progress over the past 14 months.

“The renovation was completed in August 2022, and the newly remodeled Hammes Bookstore is open and serving guests,” BNC Regional Manager Derek Holbert wrote in an email.

The University decided to undertake this project with the goal of improving the experiences of students, faculty and visitors at the bookstore.

“We sought an elevated experience for faculty and students regarding course materials, and BNC answered this need,” vice president for University enterprises and events, Anne Griffith, wrote in an email.

Notre Dame’s partnership with BNC has paved the way for further networking, giving the University an opportunity to collaborate with Fanatics, Champions, Under Armour and many more.

“Through its strategic alliance with sports merchandise leaders Fanatics and Lids, BNC will help deliver an elevated retail experience for students, faculty and the Notre Dame community,” Holbert wrote. “Customers can discover expanded brands from Champion and Under Armour, to Johnnie-O, Peter Millar, Vineyard Vines, Dooney and Burke and female-founded jewelry line, Kyle Kavan.”

The bookstore’s collaboration with Under Armour. | Courtesy of Jenna Abu-Lughod.

Griffith added that students, faculty and visitors all seem to be thrilled and impressed with the changes to the bookstore.

“We’ve heard great feedback on new features and renovations, such as the bright and upscale décor, Hat Zone, Custom Zone, The Gilded Bean and fast-moving check out,” Griffith wrote.

First-year student Martha Cleary, who has lived in South Bend for four years, offered insight into the positive differences she has noticed since the renovation.

“One thing I noticed is the carpet used to be a much darker color than it is now,” Cleary said. “I feel like they really opened up the space and made it much more welcoming.”

Cleary also noted the change in the distribution of apparel on the two floors of the bookstore.

“There didn’t used to be any women’s items on the first floor, which meant women had to go upstairs to shop. The new layout, which has both men’s and women’s clothing on the first floor, is far more inclusive and convenient,” she said.

Another change Holbert expects to be beneficial to Notre Dame students and faculty is the addition of social spaces.

“The social spaces placed throughout the bookstore provide intimate spaces for community gatherings,” Holbert wrote.

A social space located on the second floor of the Hammes Bookstore. Credit: Jenna Abu-Lughod | The Observer

Holbert said another prominent student-specific renovation is the introduction of new course materials and resources that are accessible to all.

“BNC offers students access to course materials across multiple formats to meet any student’s needs or budget, which we believe will benefit our students greatly,” he wrote. “This includes more than one million digital titles, a flexible rental program with the most expansive title list in the industry and access to the nation’s largest used textbook exchange.”

Similarly, BNC’s “Adoption and Insights Portal” is a new resource intended to specifically benefit faculty. It will allow faculty to “easily research and choose affordable course materials,” Holbert wrote.

More new features intended to improve fan and visitor experiences include convenient delivery options, the Custom Zone — which allows fans to customize one-of-a-kind hats, easy self and mobile checkout technology, and digital and analog wayfinding signs.

The Hat Zone and Custom Zone allow customers to make one-of-a-kind hats. Credit: Jenna Abu-Lughod | The Observer

“With new self and mobile check-out technology, customers can check out via their phones on the sales floor, making it easier than ever to bring home the best of Notre Dame books, gifts and apparel,” Holbert wrote. “New delivery options allow customers to purchase in-store and have their items shipped home, picked up after a game or delivered to their hotel. This offers Fighting Irish fans the convenience of purchasing products without needing to carry them around during games.”

Griffith and Holbert both emphasized that the management transition not only involved major changes to Notre Dame’s five bookstore retail properties but also to its online order fulfillment center.

“With BNC’s strategic omnichannel merchandising partnership with Fanatics and Lids, Notre Dame will have the most innovative merchandise and apparel programs available in the college market, as well as cutting-edge online and mobile accessibility,” Holbert wrote.

New self-checkout technology located in the Hammes Bookstore. Credit: Jenna Abu-Lughod | The Observer

However, according to Holbert, one of the most beautiful changes is in the actual design of the bookstore.

“Inspired by Notre Dame’s historic campus architecture, specific design elements were added to pay tribute to the look and feel of other campus landmarks including gold metal finishes that mimic the design of the University’s Basilica,” he wrote.

Contact Jenna Abu-Lughod at jabulugh@nd.edu.

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‘Building an Anti-Racist Vocabulary’ lecture discusses history of the ‘white power’ movement

Kicking off year four of the “Building an Anti-Racist Vocabulary” lecture series on Sept. 2 was Dr. Kathleen Belew, an associate professor in the department of history at Northwestern University.

In her lecture, which took place via Zoom, Belew discussed the “white power movement,” which is the focus of much of her research as well as her book, “Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement.”

Belew began her lecture by introducing modern instances in which the white power movement was evident, specifically focusing on the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

She emphasized that the attack was carried out by several groups of people, one of which was a small but highly-organized group of white power activists who seem to be part of a more complex movement than previously thought.

“What we thought about for a very long time as simply the Ku Klux Klan, an anti-Black movement, or the neo-Nazis, an anti-Jewish movement, or skinheads, who seemed to be attacking all kinds of people of color in the 1980s, actually appear to be part of the same thing,” Belew said.

She went on to highlight the Oklahoma City bombing, which she explained is often thought of as the work of “only a few bad apples.”

“The Oklahoma City bombing was actually the work of a social movement. It was perpetrated by not just one or a few people, but by a broad network of people who had set their sights on the same building in 1983 — so more than a decade before the bombing — and had worked together to bring about this major act of domestic terrorism,” Belew said.

In considering these groups’ cause for unity, Belew cited the Vietnam War.

“The white power movement comes together immediately on the aftermath of the Vietnam War,” Belew said.

She added that 1983 and 1984 were two extremely relevant years for the white power movement. Firstly, the movement adopted a strategy she called “leaderless resistance.”

“Leaderless resistance is what we now understand as simply cell-style terrorism,” Belew said.

The leaderless resistance strategy, Belew said, was implemented during the Civil Rights Era to prevent federal informants, such as the ATF and FBI, from infiltrating the movements’ groups. This led to difficulty in linking various related events with one another.

“For instance, we might get a story about the Tree of Life shooting or about the Christchurch shooting as isolated events, instead of stories about those events as all being perpetrated by the same movement,” Belew explained.

Belew went on to state that the Buffalo shooting manifesto was nearly identical to that of the Christchurch shooting, indicating an interconnectedness between the two.

“The other major event that happened in the years 1983 and 1984 was the introduction of networked computers,” Belew said.

For example, The Order, a white supremacist group, stole millions of dollars to buy computers that could be networked together in order to allow various other groups to communicate without being seen by law enforcement and the FBI, Belew said.

“These groups were early adopters and were using social network activism to network and create the infrastructure for violent action all the way back in 1984,” Belew said.

With their new technology, Belew said the movement grew larger over the next few years. However, in 1987 and 1988, the U.S. Department of Justice attempted a seditious conspiracy trial, meaning it tried to prove that the various activists conspired in a group in an attempt to violently overthrow the government.

“However, for many reasons, this trial did not go as the Department of Justice had hoped,” Belew said. “The movement was acquitted. And what happened afterward is that it shifted directly into the militia movement.”

Belew continued by stressing the importance of using correct and accurate terminology and language when addressing the militia movement.

“It’s tricky, because ‘militia’ is embedded in our shared historical knowledge in a really different way, because we go back and think about men with the tricorn hats instead of about paramilitary guys holding the big guns and wearing the scary masks,” she said.

Belew said that militias were integral to the founding of the United States and are even mentioned in the Constitution. However, she explained they have since been reorganized into other military structures as part of the Dick Act.

“In fact, militias are now illegal in all 50 states,” Belew said.

However, militias still exist and have been seen at events such as the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally. These militias, Belew said, are not regulated by anyone except themselves.

“So, following the legal scholar Mary McCord, I have begun to think of them not as malicious but as an unregulated private army,” Belew said.

She concluded the lecture by reiterating that building an anti-racist vocabulary is an excellent way for people to help limit the power and capacity of white power violence.

She also moved away from the 20th century and gave a final take on the modern militia movement.

“We’re now living in an age where members of these unregulated private armies are running for office,” she said. “That means that we have to worry not only about mass-casualty violence, but we also have to worry about threats to the rule of free elections, to the idea that America should be ruled by and for the people and to the idea that democracy is going to be our system of governance.”

Jenna Abu-Lughod

Contact Jenna at jabulugh@nd.edu.