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Campus Ministry focuses on faith and justice, expands opportunities for students to serve

I’m writing to respond to an article in The Observer on Oct. 11: “Center for Social Concerns withdraws resources for community engagement.”

As the inaugural assistant director of faith and justice in Campus Ministry (beginning this new role July 1), I have the privilege of organizing service opportunities and social justice initiatives for students. Many of our students at Notre Dame are enlivened by their faith and because of it, feel called to serve the marginalized and fight for justice. I’m here to create opportunities for these encounters to happen. I organize a program called Mercy Works, which used to be a collaborative effort between the Center for Social Concerns and Campus Ministry and is now housed entirely under Campus Ministry.  Mercy Works offers students the opportunity to practice the works of mercy: feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and so on. Students go out into the South Bend community to feed breakfast to homeless folks, tutor children experiencing poverty, accompany men transitioning out of the prison system and more. Not only do the students serve, but they have the opportunity to gather for monthly dinners on campus and incorporate what they have experienced with issues of social justice, spirituality, and Catholic social teaching. I set up transportation for the students as well, either by finding a driver for the group, determining a bus line students can utilize or offering reimbursement for Uber or Lyft rides to their service sites. These students are truly a force for good in our community, and Campus Ministry is here to support them.

As someone who admires the work of the CSC and the difference they have made in the lives of our students, I believe that they too desire for students here to be a force for good in the world. The fact that they are moving in a new direction and are not providing funding for transportation to service sites does not mean that they or the university as a whole has lost interest in our South Bend community. It means we have the opportunity to create new initiatives and relationships that will expand and enliven our students’ experience of service. We can take this change as an opportunity to begin again, to start fresh and to reimagine a campus where service is part of who we are and what we do.

I agree with Clark Power, who Angela quoted as saying, “…“If we want to take [our] mission [as a university] seriously, there needs to be more efforts to make service accessible to students.” But I want to clarify for you and your readers that it is not only the CSC that can offer these opportunities to our students. Campus Ministry is delighted to oversee Mercy Works, which we know from conversations with students and community partners is mutually transformative.

This program is just the beginning: Campus Ministry is excited to explore how we can continue to make an impact in our local community through both service and justice opportunities as people with hope to bring. I warmly welcome any student who wants to get involved! All are welcome to contact me at rczarne2@nd.edu.

In peace,

Becky Czarnecki

assistant director of faith & justice, Notre Dame Campus Ministry

Oct. 21

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News

Center for Social Concerns ends SSLPs, introduces NDBridge

The summer service learning program (SSLP) and its international counterpart (ISSLP) have been phased out by the Center for Social Concerns. NDBridge is the University’s new summer community engagement program, limited to rising sophomores. The previous programs were open to students in each of their three summers.

NDBridge will continue to offer eight-week service-based immersion experiences, a one-credit supplementary course and international options through NDBridge-International to the smaller applicant pool.

JP Shortall, associate director of the CSC, said that the new program will build on the SSLP framework.

“NDBridge will combine the best elements of the SSLP/ISSLP programs while also providing additional resources and structures to enhance and deepen the experiences of our students as they engage in domestic and global service-learning opportunities,” Shortall wrote in an email to The Observer.

Shortall cited the difficulties the previous programs faced over the past three years as the reasoning behind the CSC’s decision to replace SSLP and ISSLP with NDBridge.

“The past three years have presented significant challenges for community engagement programs both at Notre Dame and around the country,” he wrote. “As disruptive as these challenges were, they offered us an important opportunity to assess best practices in community-engaged learning, both nationally and globally,” he wrote. “In light of these assessments and changing student interests on campus, we decided it was a good time to make some changes to our summer community engagement programs.”

The program’s goal is to “get students to think hard about injustice, work with communities around the world that face it and consider their responsibility to the common good while at Notre Dame and beyond,” according to the NDBridge website

Shortall added that he hopes the Notre Dame community can gain “a sense of connection to communities around the country and the world, a sense of solidarity with their joys, hopes, griefs and challenges” through the program.

NDBridge will seek to deepen the experiences and connections of their students through the living situation for students in the program, Shortall said.

“In NDBridge rising sophomores will live with other students in intentional communities of four either at or near community partner sites,” he wrote. “Students often find themselves searching and/or disoriented after their first year in college, and programs like NDBridge serve to reorient them with meaning and purpose. The four-person intentional living-learning communities will offer opportunities to enrich the work the students are doing each day through common meals, prayer, reflection and discussion, with special emphasis on engaging with the local community.”

According to the website, “applications for NDBridge opened Oct. 31 and close at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 2, 2022.” Students will then be selected for interviews, receive offers and enroll in a preparatory course.

Shortall said that students should apply because the program “connects some of the most important things about being a person: meaning, purpose, a sense of community and self-discovery. And it’s a great way to participate in the University’s mission ‘to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.’”

The next information session for NDBridge is on Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. in the Geddes Hall coffeehouse.

You can contact Tess Brennan at tbrenna4@nd.edu.

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News

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 amathew3@nd.edu

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News

Center for Social Concerns’ Labor Cafe discusses K-12 teacher shortage

Members of the Notre Dame community convened Friday evening in Geddes Hall, the home of the Center for Social Concerns (CSC), for the first Labor Cafe of the fall semester.

Dan Graff, history professor and the Higgins Labor Program director at the CSC, kicked off the conversation.

“[The Labor Cafe] is the longest running vehicle of the Higgins Labor Program,” Graff said. “The idea is simply to talk about compelling labor issues in a casual, collegial environment. No one pontificates for too long.”

Graff said the Labor Cafe welcomes participants beyond the “Notre Dame community” as it’s traditionally defined.

“[We] bring together members of the Notre Dame community, and that’s broadly defined, we welcome people who aren’t necessarily card-carrying members of Notre Dame,” he said. “Visitors might be community members [and] all are welcome.”

The co-facilitators of the gathering were Notre Dame seniors Lucia Carbajal, a history major, and Brendan McFeely, a political science and classics double-major. The co-facilitators determine the topic of conversation and help select the suggested readings.

The topic of discussion for the evening was the teacher shortage in American K-12 classrooms today.

Kevin Christiano, a sociology professor, approached the issue of a shortage by looking at the word’s literal economic definition.

“The usual solution to any shortage of anything if you’re an economist is to say … if you want more workers in a particular type of job, you raise the level of compensation, and that ought to draw in greater amounts of labor,” Christiano said.

McFeely expanded the scope of the conversation from the absence of teachers in the classroom to the more general lack of food service employees and custodians — workers crucial to the well-ordered operation of K-12 schools.

“When the Department of Education classifies local education shortages or rates of employment, they don’t differentiate between teachers, custodians or anyone who works with food … those are typically not certified positions. [They are] the ones that have had shortages for even longer [and] are very important but not as well respected,” McFeely said.

Graff confirmed that this difficulty has been affecting the South Bend school system.

“Bus drivers in the South Bend School District has been an ongoing, like almost a decade-long issue,” Graff said. “[You] haven’t been able to rely on the bus showing up because there are not enough bus drivers.”

Acknowledging the larger factors at play, most recently, the switch to remote learning during the pandemic, Carbajal did not condemn teachers for the shortage in the education labor market.

“[Teachers] were very reluctant to leave, and part of it was the burnout. It wasn’t that they were happy to leave or if they had an opportunity that they were more excited about,” Carbajal said. “It was that the quality of life wasn’t fitting it, and they weren’t getting the support from their employers. So, it was really unfortunate that it seemed like that was the issue at hand.”

Graff encapsulated the frustration that walks hand-in-hand with the labor question in American classrooms, expounding on who the stakeholders might be.

“We live in a society that trumpets education is the route for success and that the answer is individual achievement and education to achieve the American dream,” Graff said. “While at the same time, [there are] all these comments are about the indignities of working as an educator, either because the pay is so bad or the conditions are really troubling. What in the world is going on there?”

After the conversation concluded, participants had the chance to hang back to propose topic ideas for future cafes.

Two more Labor Cafe gatherings are scheduled for this fall, on Oct. 28 and Dec. 2.

Contact Peter Breen at pbreen2@nd.edu