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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