Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Around the world, we are seeing the impact of climate change: frequent wildfires, rising lake levels, severe hurricanes, and more. A recent article in Crux, "Candidates approach environmental protection from widely varying viewpoints," discusses the changing environmental policies in the United States and what an ecological approach looks like through Catholic teaching. While some pointed to the potential benefits of these policy changes, Margie Pfeil, Ph.D., associate teaching professor of moral ethics and Christian theology, cautioned Catholics to view care of the Earth as a top priority. 

“Human survival is wrapped in the survival of the rest of creation,” Pfeil said. “This shouldn’t be a partisan issue at all. If we really say we are pro-life, it ought to mean care for all of creation as well. I don’t see how we get around that."

Monday, September 14, 2020

For many people, Labor Day is for enjoying the final days of summer and time outdoors with family and friends. However, Labor Day was originally created to celebrate the labor movement and its accomplishments such as child labor laws, safety in the workplace, and reduced work hours. Dan Graff, Ph.D., professor of history and director of the Higgins Labor Program, was interviewed on local South Bend news affiliate ABC 57 for an article titled "The History of Labor Day." In it, he discusses how as a nation we have forgotten what Labor Day was intended to commemorate, especially evident in the fact that many people still work on Labor Day.

“I think it’s important for people, especially in this pandemic, where we’ve had a lot of a conversation about essential workers and their importance. A lot of those essential workers don’t have Labor Day off. There is nothing under American law, that gives anyone the right to any holiday. So we recognize federal holidays but no employer, private employer is required to give a holiday."

Thursday, August 27, 2020

There are many challenges facing those who seek to organize today--the risk of losing their job or benefits, ineffective negotiations, and limited participation from other workers. A recently article published by The Nation, "There Is Power Even Without a Union", notes that there has been a 50 percent decrease in unioninzed workers since the early 1980s. Dan Graff, Ph.D., director of the Higgins Labor Program at the Center for Social Concerns explains that there are many variables contributing to this decline.

"There’s a whole generation or two of mistrust or suspicion or at least resignation that these unions will not be able to do anything for them. It’s kind of a vicious cycle. The labor movement gets smaller. Unions then look less able to do anything. And it’s hard to escape that.”

Thursday, August 27, 2020

What happens when we take learning outside the realm of our own experience? Connie Snyder Mick, Ph.D., senior associate director and director of academic affairs at the Center for Social Concerns, found that students who engaged in community-based learning, added empathy and strength to their academic arguments and created writing that considered the common good. Read more in "What We Know, We Owe" in the summer edition of Notre Dame Magazine.

 “If you are someone who loves teaching, you love environments where you don’t have all the answers, where something happens that wasn’t on the syllabus or doesn’t fit the model, something that shows the limits of your imagination.”

Friday, July 10, 2020

Sojourners published an opinion piece in its August 2020 edition by Margie Pfeil, Ph.D., faculty joint appointment in theology and the Center for Social Concerns, titled "I used to believe in a just war, but I don't anymore." Pfeil describes being a teenager in a San Diego naval stronghold in the 1980s and her resulting fear of nuclear warfare. In 1985, she joined thousands of others at Balboa Park to commemorate the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. It was in that moment she developed a conviction of conscience to work for nuclear disarmament. 

"Conscience involves the capacity to discern and choose the morally right course of action in a particular situation. In doing so, a person brings to bear a lifelong process of formation of conscience. Each person has the obligation to form his or her conscience as fully as possible, and to follow it."

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

University of Notre Dame sophomore Evan McKenna has been named a 2020 Newman Civic Fellow by Campus Compact. Newman Civic Fellows actively address issues of inequality and political polarization and demonstrate the motivation and potential for effective long-term civic engagement. The fellowship lasts one year and provides training and resources that help students develop innovative and collaborative strategies for social change. It was created to honor the legacy of education leader Frank Newman.

In support of McKenna’s nomination, University of Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., wrote, “Evan is not only a student committed to social change, he is also a student unafraid to lead and use his voice to enact social change and advocate for those who need it most. He has demonstrated the ability to align values, passion, and dedication in service to the local community and the common good.”

McKenna is a Psychology and English major who has been deeply engaged in advocacy and human rights issues since his first year at Notre Dame. McKenna is active at the Notre Dame Center for Civic Innovation, serving underprivileged students in South Bend. He visits elementary schools in the local community to teach children bullying and violence prevention strategies and hopes to launch speech, debate, and public speaking programs across local schools so students can discover the life-changing intersection of advocacy and education. McKenna has addressed county commissioners in Tennessee to advocate for the civil rights of the LGBTQ community and has been active in providing resources and support for children affected by immigration raids.

“Growing up in a small town in Appalachia where education was constantly ignored and devalued, I quickly realized the power of a great education—and the dangers of a poor one,” McKenna explains. “I strive to walk the walk, often organizing groups of activists when human rights are jeopardized. I believe that education is our greatest asset, the fundamental solution to deep-rooted systems of inequity and oppression.”

Contact: Dave Lassen, Center for Social Concerns, (574)631-8017,

Wednesday, June 3, 2020
March 12, 2020; National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.         
Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

The Center for Social Concerns remains committed to racial justice and exposing the white supremacy that prevents it. Reading the signs of the times, we realize there still exists a long way to go. Bishop Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso in his pastoral, “Night Will Be No More,” reminds us: "Challenging racism and white supremacy, whether in our hearts or in society, is a Christian imperative and the cost of not facing these issues head on, weighs much more heavily on those who live the reality of discrimination." In our ongoing commitment to listen, learn, grow, and act for racial justice, the center offers resources to walk with us on the journey. We invite you to join our work for racial justice through personal reflection, the center’s Act Justly seminar, advocacy, organizing, and education. You can find resources and links below.

Call it out! Reflections on Racial Justice

A call for student submissions

To create space for student processing and reflection on all that is happening in our world, students from the tri-campus community are invited to submit creative writing, poetry, visual art, and other forms of expression offering personal reflection and response to the issues of continued white supremacy and racial injustice during our present moment. The Center will feature selected works throughout the summer and fall semester. Please submit all writing or images to Melissa Marley Bonnichsen, Director of Leadership Formation, at

Act Justly: Racial Justice in America

Fall 2020 Social Concerns Seminar

This Social Concerns Seminar will focus on the historic and current impact of racial injustice and will engage the wider campus community in an initiative related to racial justice today. In light of the US bishops' pastoral letter on racism, Open Wide Our Hearts, the Act Justly seminar will invite course participants to reflect deeply on the historical struggle for racial justice in the United States, and seek to enact a deeper personal and social justice.

Students will read deeply from writers across the span of American history, engage in community reflection and analysis, and develop an initiative which invites engagement from our Notre Dame community and beyond. Readings for the course will include a survey of major essayists and advocates for racial justice throughout the history of the United States. Examples include: Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, James Baldwin, Angela Davis, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ta-Nehisi Coates. Two sections will be offered. Additional information will be provided in June on the Act Justly webpage

Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) Campaign

A student-led campaign at Notre Dame

In 2019, Notre Dame students launched a campaign to end ND employees’ investments in private prisons through the University’s mandatory retirement plan. Publicly traded private prisons perpetuate mass incarceration, which is rooted in racism and disproportionately affects people of color. Racial justice demands an investment in human dignity and an end to profiting off our imprisoned sisters and brothers of color. To join students leading Notre Dame’s Socially Responsible Investing (ND SRI) campaign, please contact Elaine, Sophia and Maddie at,, and

Faith in Indiana Live Free Campaign

St. Joseph County Chapter

Faith in Indiana is a catalyst for marginalized people and people of faith to act collectively for racial and economic justice. In response to the death of George Floyd and many others who have lost their lives to police brutality, Faith in Indiana launched the Live Free Campaign which demands the reform of law enforcement. Join here to email Mayor Mueller and publicly announce your support of Live Free South Bend.

Live Free Reform Agenda
Adopt a strengthened police discipline matrix
Implement ongoing de-escalation and procedural justice training
Strengthen police use of force policy
Institute a 'Peacemaker Fellowship' Program
Respond to mental health crisis with treatment not incarceration

Remove unfair protections for officers in law enforcement contracts

We deserve a world where all lives are valued and our loved ones are safe. The only acceptable response is action. Contact Mayor Mueller today and support the Live Free Campaign here

Racial Justice Resources | ​Opportunities to Listen, Learn, and Reflect

Signs of the Times podcast episodes

Finding community in college can be difficult, but it can be especially difficult when you feel like you don't belong. Student Shelene Baiyee shares the struggles she faced her first few years at Notre Dame finding a sense of belonging, especially as a first generation American and the daughter of immigrant parents from St. Croix and Cameroon. Listen here

Jemar Tisby, Notre Dame alum and author of the book The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church's Complicity in Racism, joins us on the podcast to discuss how the American church has helped create and maintain racist ideas and practices. In our conversation he details the difference between complicit Christianity and courageous Christianity and focuses on racism as systemic injustice. Listen here.

Nick Ottone, a senior at Notre Dame, has been involved in many center courses and programs during his four years all of which revolve around the study of race relations, incarceration, and the intersection of two. He shares how studying historical and current events led to feelings of anger and fueled his passion for working towards racial justice. and developing the Let's Talk About Race series. Listen here

This year the Center for Social Concerns explored the theme of racial justice through the Act Justly course, a Social Concerns Seminar that took place this past spring semester. The course is an examination of the American Civil Rights movement with an eye to our mutual responsibility to pursue racial justice today. It brought together students, faculty, and staff to reflect deeply on the historical struggle for racial justice in the United States, and to enact a deeper personal and social justice. Three students share their stories, reflections, and insights from the experience. Listen here

Catholic social teaching and related reflections

Mark Joseph Seitz, Bishop of El Paso​

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Bryan N. Massingale


Racial justice reading list

The New York Times, Nikole Hannah-Jones, '98

Claudia Rankine

Jemar Tisby, '02

James Baldwin

Ibram X. Kendi

Bryan Stevenson

Robin D'Angelo


Friday, May 8, 2020

The Center for Social Concerns recently selected its 2020 spring semester Community Impact Grant recipients. Grants are awarded to faculty and students doing community-engaged work that advances human dignity, solidarity, and the common good, values central to Catholic social tradition. The grants were awarded based upon a proposal submission and selection process and are part of the center’s continuing effort to support collaboration between campus and community partners for social justice impact.

Libbie Frost, Joseph Miller, and Cristina Escajadillo, current Notre Dame undergraduate students, were awarded $250 for “The Eagle: Bus Mural,” a project intended to collaborate with the students at St. Adalbert School to paint a mural on the side of the St. Adalbert School bus. 

Maria V. Alexandrova, assistant professor of practice, Eck Institute for Global Health; Heidi Beidinger-Burnett, assistant professor of practice, Department of Biological Studies; Roya Ghiaseddin, professor of the practice, Applied Computational Mathematics & Statistics; and Sophia Pantano, Meagan Matuska, and Rebecca Hammond, current Notre Dame undergraduate students, were awarded $5,000 for “Improving Human Papillomavirus—Vaccination Rates and Related Health Outcomes in Saint Joseph County, Indiana utilizing Three Cs Model.”

Patrick Farran, associate director, Graduate Business Career Services was awarded $4,000 for “Heartful: Exploring the transformational impact of community storytelling through theatre” as a mechanism for enhancing prisoner reentry efforts, community integration, and changing the hearts and minds of others.

Ellen Kyes, director of Take Ten, Robinson Community Learning Center, Office of Public Affairs; and Jennifer E. Burke Lefever, program director, Psychology were awarded $2,000 for the “Evaluation of the Take Ten program: Classroom intervention v. Peacemaking Circles practice.”

Marya Lieberman, professor, Chemistry and Biochemistry was awarded $5,000 for “Lead-safe painting 2020” to educate, train, and implement lead-safe painting practices.

Neeta Verma, associate professor, Department of Art, Art History, & Design in collaboration with others in the South Bend community were awarded $5,000 for “UNITE: Mitigating Youth Violence And Strengthening Communities Together Through Art And Design.”

Community Impact Grant proposals are reviewed once in the fall and once in the spring. The fall 2020 application will open July 20, 2020. Applicants may request grants up to $15,000. For more information on grants, please visit the grants webpage.

Contact: JP Shortall, director of communications and advancement, (574) 631-3209,


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Around the country, essential workers are putting their health and well-being on the line for continuity of services. Many employees are finding, however, that employers fail to provide sufficient care and protection for them in the workplace, resulting in a series of walkouts over the past few weeks that span a number of different industries. AP News, in their article "Pandemic job actions offer hope for renewed labor movement", discusses how the COVID-19 crisis could spark a more rigorous labor movement, quoting Dan Graff, Ph.D., director of the Higgins Labor Program

"People’s fears of sickness and death are finally stronger than people’s fears of their employer. It might be a sort of cataclysmic opening."

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Earlier this spring, 46 students, faculty, and staff boarded a bus bound for the American South. Their purpose was to retrace the significant moments of the Civil Rights Movement with a specific eye toward applying that learning to the work of racial justice today. Act Justly: Racial Justice and the American Civil Rights Movement was a groundbreaking class—facilitated by the Seminars program here at the Center for Social Concerns—because of both its scope and origins.

Over a year ago, a small group of center staff began to imagine together how to apply our commitments—Catholic Social Tradition (CST) and pedagogy (authentic encounter and community engaged learning)—to the conversations arising from Walk the Walk week, the University sponsored week demonstrating the University’s dedication to working for racial justice. The Seminars program—with its combination of classroom and immersion coursework—seemed like a good fit for exploring another center expression of the campus conversation around race and justice. 

The center also has a long history of engaging the content and implications of Church teaching on issues of justice; and the publication of the USCCB’s letter regarding race, Open Wide Our Hearts, generated more momentum toward an official offering from the center on the issue of racial justice today. In fact, the 2020–2021 theme of the entire center was Act Justly, providing the inspiration for the seminar’s name. 

For this seminar to have the desired impact, some of the normal mode of operation for Seminars would need to be enhanced. Instead of the usual 12–15 participants for a seminar like this, Act Justly created space for nearly 50 participants and storytellers to journey together on a seven day immersion. Experiencing the week on a bus was appropriate since so much of the movement depended upon the transportation and social symbolism of buses. The Freedom Riders took bus trips through the south in 1961 to protest segregated bus terminals; many of the 200,000 people who attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took buses to get there; and most famously, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger on December 1, 1955. So being cramped in a bus seemed to be a way of joining in spirit with the many student activists who had championed racial justice during their college years at the expense of their physical safety.

Those participants were shepherded through the collective journey by eight student leaders; a team of incredible, high-capacity students who are each dedicated to embodying racial justice in their lives and communities. The Seminars staff worked with these leaders to develop vision and strategies for building a genuine community of people spanning many campus constituencies. This community would need to be able to wade into the deep and troubled waters of the story of racial injustice in the United States—not just our collective heritage of hate but its modern day expressions as well—all the while helping individuals reflect upon their experience and life stories in a constructive way. The participant stories coming out of this seminar, both classroom and immersion, are evidence that these leaders succeeded in the task set in front of them. 

The immersion took place March 7–13 and followed a rigorous itinerary through four states with scores of stops along the way. The heavy lifting of administration for this immersion was managed by Judy Benchaar, administrative assistant for both the Seminars and Higgins Labor Programs at the center. Preparation included organizing food, lodging, and site arrangements for 50 throughout the journey. Beginning in Memphis, TN the group began its learning at the Lorraine Motel—a flashpoint of history and controversy as the historic site of the assassination of Dr. King—and current home of the National Civil Rights Museum. This opening day left participants with a lot to ponder about both the historical events that took place there and the nature of these sites that have become places of both pilgrimage and tourism. 

One of the days of the immersion was coordinated by Jemar Tisby, a Notre Dame alumnus who moved to the Mississippi Delta after leaving Notre Dame and has stayed there ever since. This day left an indelible imprint on the Act Justly participants as it gave them the opportunity to get their shoes dirty, encountering the face of racial discrimination in Southern rural communities not typically visited by Civil Rights tours. It was here that participants were forced to confront the relative nature of our historical narratives and the way in which local communities are forced to deal with their legacy of violence long after the official historical record is written.

Storytelling was a hallmark of the experience, as participants sat with real life ‘foot soldiers’ of the Civil Rights Movement in Jackson, MS and Selma, AL and wrestled with their stories and reminders to them that the work of civil rights and justice continues today. In Jackson, participants heard from someone who integrated the local school. Their story demonstrated a deep resilience in the face of hatred and violence. In Selma, the group listened to the story of a front line marcher and learned some of the history of the Catholic presence during the push for voting rights. These exemplars of justice left their mark on students, faculty, and staff alike.  

The journey began to wrap up by spending a full day in Montgomery, AL, the destination of the Voting Rights March and the birthplace of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a non-profit legal organization dedicated to exposing how the ugly history of racial violence in America continues to adapt and corrupt our capacity for justice in the United States. EJI was a fitting experience for a seminar immersion designed to bridge our history with present realities. 

While the return to campus and planned learning and action was interrupted by COVID-19, student participants continue to process their learning and are actively applying that work to modern racial injustices, like the private prison industrial complex and the manifestations of racialized aggression on campus experienced by many students of color. 

The Center for Social Concerns and the Seminars program see this as just a start. The work of racial justice—not to mention the work of racial justice education—continues. The Seminars team is working to expand the scope of existing Seminars, notably Realities of Race, to engage other concrete inequities in society. Additionally, plans are in the works to offer a staff and faculty version of this immersion with a particular eye to advocating for racial justice within the campus community and culture. The center is deeply grateful to the other campus partners who collaborated with us to make the Act Justly Seminar a reality: the Department of American Studies, the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, Notre Dame Human Resources—Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Jordan Family Foundation, and the Klau Center for Civil and Human Rights.


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