2015-2017 Engaged Program

University Writing Program

Stories to be Told

 “I was just using anything just to kill myself, so when the police caught me, I wasn’t mad. It was like a big relief just came over me. I was like, Ok, God, I hear you. I was like, Ok this is my moment, and if I don’t take it now I will be back out here. So, I took that moment.”

The speaker is Marianne, a forty-five year-old, HIV positive former drug addict now living in the South Bend area. Marianne told her story to students in Professor John Duffy’s community-based learning course, in which students conducted interviews with members of South Bend’s most marginalized communities: immigrants, the homeless, the disabled, and those living with HIV. Those interviews became life history papers, or the written narratives of a life, that were subsequently shared with people who told their stories and with non-profit agencies serving those people. Students then conducted research and wrote formal academic papers on issues—economic, educational, political, and others—that had arisen in the context of the life history interviews. 

In the University Writing Program, which Duffy directs, Community Writing and Rhetoric courses provide students with a unique opportunity to develop effective research and written argumentation skills while performing approximately 10 to 15 hours of community service over the course of the semester. Students combine their service experiences with readings, research, writing, and discussion about the meanings of community, citizenship, and social justice in contemporary America. 

Students may choose from a diverse palette of community-based learning experiences. Students in Professor Elizabeth Capdevielle’s course, The Farm in the Community, partner with the Prairie Winds Nature Farm to study how local food can be a medium of positive change and community healing. By increasing the accessibility and appeal of local food in impoverished neighborhoods, students in Capdevielle’s course work to break down racial and socioeconomic barriers among members of the Michiana community. Courtney Wiersema’s students also study and write about the rhetoric and politics of food as they perform volunteer work at the Monroe Park Co-Op and the Urban Garden Market. In Instructor Edward Kelly’s classes, students reflect upon and write about their experiences mentoring youth at the Frederick Juvenile Justice Center in South Bend or volunteering at Dismas House, a re-entry venue for formerly incarcerated men and women. Professor Matthew Capdevielle’s students recently partnered with the coordinators of the Darkroom Project to teach a writing class to a group of adults with chronic, severe mental illness. And students in Jillian Snyder’s class work with the Shakespeare Club at the Robinson Learning Center, helping middle-school students in the club design a video trailer and a program for their upcoming performance of Romeo and Juliet

Writing courses that take students out of the classroom and into community settings challenge students, Duffy says, “to see the relationships of rhetoric, literacy, and social justice.” Students in Community Writing and Rhetoric courses learn that writing and rhetoric can be forces for positive social change. 

For the next three years, the University Writing Program will partner with the Center for Social Concerns in the Engaged Program Initiative. This initiative will make formal the long and productive relationship between the Writing Program and the Center for Social Concerns, both of which have worked together for years providing community-based experiences for Notre Dame students. The initiative will support future course development and offer opportunities for Writing Program faculty to connect their classroom teaching to their academic research.

The University Writing Program has been offering community-based learning courses since fall 2003 with 1,085 students enrolled and 3,567 total credits. Each semester will see three to five courses offered in partnership with the South Bend Center for the Homeless, the Logan Center, the Robinson Community Center, and other local service providers.