Wednesday, June 27, 2018

When I arrived at Casa Vides, I found a nondescript two-story brick building close enough to the border that you could walk to it.

This is a place that provides refuge for two types of people: those who evaded border patrol and those who were caught, handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and then released while their cases are still pending. Casa Vides provides food, shelter and legal support to up to 40 people at a time. It's run by the faith-based nonprofit, Annunciation House.

"My mom is an immigrant from South America so this issue has always been close to my heart," says Daniel Rottenborn, a 19-year-old volunteering for the summer. He and 20-year-old volunteer Francis Brockman are both students at University of Notre Dame.

"For me," Brockman says, "I've taken a lot of Spanish classes and so I wanted to put that to use and just the situation with immigration today, like, the political climate. It was something that I wanted to explore and learn more about. So I feel like coming to the border was a pretty obvious choice."

At this shelter, there are families and a number of teens—and that's an interesting experience for a young volunteer like Brockman.

"Sometimes there will be people that come into the house that are 19 or 20, like around our age, and they'll already have kids with them," Brockman says. "So that's just an entirely different situation that I cannot even imagine at this point my life."

Casa Vides said we couldn't talk to any of the residents. But Brockman and Rottenborn have heard from teens here—some of whom crossed illegally instead of through a port of entry–about fleeing all kinds of violence on their journeys. What little they say, says a lot.

"You see this 16-year-old kid," Rottenborn says. "He's with his family. You know, he has a bed, he has food for the first time in a while. And he's just sitting there quiet. It strikes me is vastly different than the experience of a normal American teenager."

Brockman and Rottenborn could have gotten more typical summer jobs. Brockman says his other option was working at a bagel shop back home in Ohio. The two are living at Casa Vides sharing a room adjacent to the migrants' rooms. They spend their time doing chores from cooking to cleaning to organizing games.

"Along this wall here, we have more stuff for babies," Brockman says. "We have a room full of sheets, dry goods, medicine."

"Yeah, we have a closet full of cleaning supplies, baby diapers, sanitary products, all of the hygiene and health-oriented stuff as well," Rotterborn adds.

Rotterborn says he and Brockman aren't trained on how to work with babies and children. The shelter's goal is to promote independence and allow parents to do what they do best, parent.

"The resiliency that we see from these kids when they come into our house, and they start playing with the toys, and immediately, it's like that, you flip a switch, and they go from scared kids hiding behind their parents to just kids," Rotterborn says.

This past weekend, a bus pulled up and 32 undocumented parents got off. With a few small belongings, including papers, they quietly walked into Casa Vides, greeted by staff with hugs. The parents had been separated from their children at the border. Their criminal cases were dropped after Trump reversed his policy on family separation.

Casa Vides tells migrants they can stay at the shelter as long as they want. Many will connect with family members in the U.S. and move out to live with them while they wait for their day in court.

Borderzine, a student-driven online magazine in El Paso, contributed reporting. This story was produced by Youth Radio.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Formed by Catholic social teaching and especially inspired by the welcome and healing ministries of St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. André Bessette, C.S.C., the Center for Social Concerns lends its voice in support of Fr. Jenkins’ call that the Executive branch of the federal government cease its practice of separating children from their parents. As Pope Francis noted in his 2015 address to the U.S. Congress, we must respond to the refugee crisis “in a way which is always humane, just, and fraternal.”'

What can we do? (suggestions from Fr. James Martin, S.J.)

Visit the Vatican's Migrant and Refugee page 
Visit the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services
Visit the pages for the Jesuit Refugee Service/InternationalJRS/USA, and the Kino Border Initiative

Help organizations, financially, who are helping the migrants now, including:

Catholic Charities/USA
Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley
Kino Border Initiative (a Jesuit ministry) 
Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), Legal help is very important right now, particularly for asylum seekers.
You can also read and sign the Advocacy Action Alert on Family Separation.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Journal of Catholic Higher Education has just published a special issue (Winter 2018) dedicated to exploring the role of Catholic social teaching (CST) in Catholic colleges and universities. The issue is the culmination of the CST Learning and Research Initiative, a collaboration of faculty and administrators from 11 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States.

Jay Brandenberger, research and graduate student initiatives director at the Center for Social Concerns, and Bill Purcell, associate director and operations and Catholic social tradition director at the Center for Social Concerns, helped direct the initiative and contributed to the special issue.

Together with Kathleen Maas Weigert and Kurt Schlichting, Brandenberger contributed an article called “Institutional Commitment to the Catholic Social Tradition: Implicit or Explicit?” The article analyzes mission statements, curricular offerings, and centers at eleven Catholic colleges and universities in order to examine how CST is embedded in the structures of Catholic institutions of higher learning.

Bill Purcell contributed an article co-written with Margarita Rose called “Engaging Mission: Applying the Catholic Social Tradition to Investing and Licensing.” Like their secular and other religious counterparts, Catholic colleges and universities use endowment and licensing revenues to supplement tuition income. Purcell and Rose look at how Catholic colleges and universities adhere or not to basic principles of CST in their investing and licensing practices.

Other articles in the issue look at CST and the composition and orientation of boards of trustees of Catholic colleges and universities; CST and labor policies at Catholic colleges and universities; CST and faculty development programs; student perceptions of CST; and a rubric to assess student learning of CST.

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


Friday, April 6, 2018

Five-year anniversary event at University of Notre Dame focuses on 'radical inequality' 


Pictured from left: Journalist Anne Thompson; Prof. Anantanand Rambachan; Kevin Sandberg, executive director of the University of Notre Dame's Center for Social Concerns; Prof. Julie Hanlon Rubio; and San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy (Katie McCauley)

NOTRE DAME, IND. — Among the plethora of events commemorating five years of Pope Francis' pontificate this spring, the one at the University of Notre Dame aimed to focus on his contributions to Catholic social teaching on peace, the poor and the planet. But another "P" also kept coming up: polarization.

Although Francis remains popular, controversy about his pontificate is real, especially among inner-circle Catholics deeply invested in the church, said speakers at the April 3 event, sponsored by Notre Dame's Center for Social Concerns.

Much of that polarization is the result of Francis' "new lens" on the church's social teachings that reflects the experience of the church in Latin America, said San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy in his keynote address. Catholics in the Global South, he pointed out, represent at least two thirds of the universal church.

"Thus the real complaint of many critics of Pope Francis is that he brings the perspective of the majority of Catholics, rather than the minority, to bear on social teaching," he said.

McElroy sees "fundamental continuity" in Francis' teachings, but identified several ways this pope's perspective is different, including his use of an inductive methodology that starts with experience and applies the Gospel to that reality. This "see-judge-act" method has been central to the church in Latin America, he said, in part, because it is accessible to all people.

McElroy compared Francis' critique of globalization to Pope Leo XIII's critique of industrialization in Rerum Novarum, the 1893 encyclical that launched modern Catholic social teaching. The current pope believes "the tremendous upheaval in economic, familial and cultural life caused by globalization requires the erection of new structures of social justice," McElroy said.

Another part of Francis' new lens is his emphasis on the theme of marginalization that has become outright exclusion. "In Pope Francis' very memorable terminology, such people are 'throwaways,'" McElroy said, citing as examples hungry children, the unborn, the undocumented, those affected by racism and "young white non-college educated men and women who have seen their hometowns and their expected livelihoods destroyed by globalization."

Such exclusion is rooted in "grave inequalities of power, wealth, education, race and culture," McElroy said. "It is precisely because exclusion is tied inextricably to these levels of inequality that Pope Francis views radical inequality as a moral curse, and an enemy of human dignity."

Also contributing to polarization around this pope is his application of a consistent ethic to all social issues, including family and gender, said panelist Julie Hanlon Rubio, professor of Christian ethics and of women's and gender studies at St. Louis University. Rubio is a member of the NCR board of directors.

This methodological shift toward a consistent ethic is evident in "Laudato Si', On Care for Our Common Home," Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, and in Amoris Laetitia, his document on the family, Rubio said.

In the former, he moves teaching from dominion to stewardship, emphasizing our responsibility to future generations. In the latter, Francis repeats traditional teachings but also stresses welcoming those who fall short of the ideal. In both cases, he leaves the practical specifics to those at the local level, Rubio said.

"This combination of challenge, refocusing and complexity is exciting for many, but troubling for some," Rubio said, noting that he is not the first polarizing pope. 

"The only difference is that now opposition is coming primarily from the right rather than the left," she said.

Although Francis could do more on LGBT persons' and women's issues, he has made progress in convincing Christians and non-Christians that the church aspires to be a "church for the poor," Rubio said. 

"Though little in his social teaching is completely new, the choice of what to say frequently and what not to say at all speaks volumes about priorities," she said.

So do the pope's actions, said panelist Anne Thompson, an NBC News correspondent who has covered Francis.

She told stories of witnessing the pope's "gospel of gestures" during his travels, when he often shares meals with people who are homeless. "He pretty much just listens," said Thompson. 

San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy gave the his keynote address at the April 3 event. (Katie McCauley)

Panelist Anantanand Rambachan also praised the pope's movements on interreligious dialogue, comparing him to Swami Vivekananda, who first introduced Hinduism to the United States and called for religious tolerance at the 1893 Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago.

Yet Rambachan challenged the pope's frequent connection of interreligious dialogue with evangelization. "How can one be committed to diversity as a religious good if his ultimate aim is evangelization," asked Rambachan, professor of religion at St. Olaf College in Minnesota.

Responding to questions posed by Notre Dame students before the event, speakers stressed dialogue — especially with those who think differently — as necessary to address the polarization around the pope and in the broader culture.

Rubio called for universities to teach how to talk across lines of division. McElroy said the Latin American church offers a model in base communities, but with a twist: the people must be from different backgrounds.

Personal narrative is the solution to the polarization and partisanship that has infected the church and culture, he said. For example, the San Diego Diocese has 200,000 undocumented immigrants, but also some Catholics very concerned about illegal immigration.

"If you get them in the same room to talk to each other, the partisanship tends to fall away as you see how the issues affect people," McElroy said.

Heidi Schlumpf is NCR national correspondent. Her email address is 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Rev. Kevin Sandberg, C.S.C., has been appointed Leo and Arlene Hawk Executive Director of the Center for Social Concerns, effective July 1. He has served as acting director of the center during academic year 2017-2018 while Rev. Paul Kollman, C.S.C., has been on research leave. Father Kollman has served as the center’s executive director since 2012 and will resume full-time teaching and research in the Department of Theology June 30.

"Father Sandberg's innovative teaching and ambitious vision for the role of Catholic social teaching at Notre Dame and beyond make him well-suited for leadership of the center," said Christine M. Maziar, Vice President and Senior Associate Provost for Budget and Planning. "And we want to thank Father Kollman for five years of faith-filled leadership that helped the center expand its many important contributions to the University's mission."

“I am very grateful for the confidence that Fr. Paul and the Office of the Provost have in my ability to continue to lead the Center for Social Concerns,” said Fr. Sandberg. “Our vision is to be the pre-eminent academic institute in the academy that provides a place to gather, form, and nourish people in the study and practice of engaged Catholic social teaching. Together we learn more fully what it means to understand the Gospel mandate that the love of God enjoins us to the love of neighbor.”

Since joining the center in 2014, Father Sandberg has directed the Common Good Initiative, a Catholic social teaching immersion course for graduate students with sites in Haiti, Cuba, Uganda, Jerusalem, and Detroit. In a previous stint at the center, he taught immersion seminars in Hispanic ministry and education. He regularly teaches a development of theology course for undergraduate students who have participated in service learning.

He is a Fellow of the Institute for Educational Initiatives, a member of the board of Ave Maria Press, and a past board member of the Religious Education Association: an Association of Professors, Practitioners, and Researchers in Religious Education.

Father Kevin received his B.A. in economics and an M.Div. from the University of Notre Dame, an M.A. in theology from the Graduate Theological Union/Jesuit School of Theology, and his doctorate in religion and education from Fordham University. His research interests include theological reflection, the principle of the common good in Catholic social teaching, and the neglect of listening and its restoration through religious education.

Prior to pastoral ministry as a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Father Kevin was a trust officer with the Northern Trust Bank and a financial economist with the U.S. Treasury Department. He was the founding director of Young Adult Community at St. Clement Church in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

Contact: JP Shortall, director of communications and advancement, (575) 631-3209,

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Originally published by the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences

The Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem (BCe2) has been awarded by the Indiana Department of Education for Excellence in the Postsecondary Partnership category. Leaders of the program were honored at a ceremony in Indianapolis on Thursday, February 8. BCe2 was also honored at the 12th annual IMPACT Awards Luncheon hosted by IndianaINTERNnet. The South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce nominated the program, and BCe2 was named Nonprofit Employer of the Year. 

The program’s humble beginning started in 2012 with a cleanup of Bowman Creek in the city’s southeast neighborhood. A City of South Bend supplemental environmental investigative report found it was the most impaired tributary in the St. Joseph River and uninhabitable to marine life.

However, faculty staff, and students from the University of Notre Dame Center for Social Concerns (NDCSC) and College of Engineering (NDCOE) knew there was more to this than just the creek.

The Southeast neighborhood had been a bustling site for employees of the Studebaker factory, but after closing its doors in 1963, the population dramatically declined. 55 years later, only 2,500 of the original 10,000 residents remain.

The revival of downtown made it an appropriate time to capitalize on the resurgence in the area. Without hesitation, NDCSC and NDCOE got started, capitalizing on their students' infectious energy. 

"There was this really great ecosystem of innovation and support," says Notre Dame Environmental Engineering Alum and BCe2 Team Leader Sara Boukdad. "People wanted to help each other out and collaborate." 

Faculty and students from local colleges and high schools brought their talent to BCe2 starting with the creek cleanup. Engineering students from the University of Notre Dame worked alongside students from Riley High School, home to the technology and engineering magnet program.

“Riley was naturally a part of the program since the creek goes underneath our parking lot and our practice football field,” says Matt Modlin, magnet coordinator at Riley High School. “We worked for a summer doing water quality analysis to try to get a baseline set of information.”

Students from NDCOE also designed a pedestrian bridge and students with NDCSC surveyed the neighborhood on issues residents wanted to see addressed. By 2015, several interns from across the city started working with the program. 

As cleanup efforts expanded, community partnerships began to grow. Representatives from Ivy Tech Community CollegeIndiana University South BendSt. Joseph High School, and more started to lend their expertise. There was a clear need to address neighborhood problems beyond the creek, but it was imperative that participants include the community on prospective projects.

 Boukdad says collaborating with grassroots neighborhood organizations, the City of South Bend, and residents of the Southeast neighborhood was key to growing the program.

“We do things with the community, not to or for,” says Boukdad. “We do not start a project until we see there is interest from the community or if there is a need for a certain task force to be working towards a solution.”

The main challenge has been gaining the trust of neighborhood residents who have been wary of the program’s longevity. Helping to ease the transition is Southeast Neighborhood Resident and Ivy Tech Community College Student Fred Teague.

“Initially, the community was skeptical about a new organization in the neighborhood,” says Teague. “They had seen organizations make these big promises but they have never seen the results.”

Teague serves as a liaison to two other neighborhood organizations, 466 Works, and SOAR, or Southeast Organized Area of Residents

"The main thing is being an active, consistent presence in the neighborhood," Teague says. 

To fulfill this mission, BCe2 continued to host barbeques with SOAR in local parks to increase visibility and communication between the organizations and neighbors.The picnics provide an opportunity to dialogue on ways to address challenges in the neighborhood and include residents in the decision-making process. BCe2 stepped in to help advertise and promote the events. By the end of the summer of 2017, over 300 people came to the SOAR picnic to celebrate, meet their neighbors, and break bread together.

In addition to these gatherings, Teague says BCe2 members canvassed the neighborhood and surveyed residents on the most pressing issues preventing the area from prospering. 

"We walked block by block and took a survey determining that poor lighting was a main issue," he says. 

BCe2 worked with the City of South Bend and homeowners to implement and publicize a City of South Bend pilot program for lighting. Homeowners paid for a portion of the installation and connected the lamp posts to their electrical system while the city paid the remainder. The program provided an affordable way to combat late-night crime while beautifying the area. In April, 30 new lamp posts will be installed.

BCe2 has evolved to include several other pilot programs, including the Vacant Lot Optimization Team. After Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s 1,000 Homes in 1,000 Days program ended, there were roughly 400 vacant lots on the southeast side. The team mapped out their locations and collected data to determine the best use for each space. St. Joseph High School Student Marty Kennedy was one of the interns involved with the project.

“We would go to these lots and observe the best kind of use for each one, whether that is splitting the lots between two neighbors to increase property value or installing residential housing or building a rain garden,” says Kennedy.

The team presented their information to city officials who gave them the green light to use the lots as a way to find creative solutions to local problems. From the data, they found one of the most prevalent issues was basement flooding from excess rainwater.

“We are trying to reduce the human health effects of combined rainwater with sewage backup in a person’s basement,” says Gary Gilot, director of engineering leadership and community engagement at NSCOE. 

BCe2 came up with the environmentally-conscious and cost-effective solution of implementing rain gardens filled with native plants. The roots would expand several feet into the ground, soaking up excess rainwater at a quicker rate. By incorporating several gardens near homes and vacant lots they can prevent excess water from flooding the sewer systems and basements.

The project has also allowed high school students to get involved with BCe2 through Bowman Creek Academy, a week-long summer program focusing on environmental sustainability and youth empowerment. Kennedy helped establish the program in 2017.

“We created a rain garden at Ivy Tech which was awesome because it allowed the students to take what they learned and apply it to a tangible project,” he says.

Participants also visited local tree nurseries, learned how to incorporate technology into the projects, and had the chance to look at the smart sewer infrastructure in South Bend.

“Going to an academic program like this in the summer is not always the number one thing people want to do,” says Kennedy. “It was very humbling to learn that other people are thinking this way and care about social issues and believe their voice can create change.”

The University of Notre Dame is also capitalizing on the educational impact of BCe2. The site has become the inspiration for a new engineering course.

“The Bowman Creek Internship was gaining momentum and we wanted to start thinking about how we could integrate it into the general curriculum,” says Notre Dame Graduate Student Maria Krug.

She now teaches the undergraduate Community-Based Engineering Design Projects course through NDCOE. In it, students learn how to combine their engineering expertise with a human-centered design.

BCe2 has also led to a collaboration with Indiana University South Bend (IUSB). NDCOE and NDCSC led the development of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) grant, which brought in partnerships with the School of Education at IUSB and Anthropology at Notre Dame. Last summer, Anthropology and Education faculty led a team of ethnographers from regional schools to analyze the BCe2 program. Students collected data on the relationships between the interns, mentors, and the community.

Gabrielle Robinson, a South Bend native and graduate of Indiana University South Bend, spent the summer working with the ethnography team. She says it was rewarding to see the students evolve from the start of their internship to the end. Even more rewarding is how invested they became in the community afterward.

“They embrace the challenge of going into this area that is seen as a conflict-ridden place and they give it something to be proud of,” says Robinson.

As BCe2 continues to gain close alliances with residents, community organizations, and the city, they are also subconsciously cleaning up the tarnished reputation South Bend has been trying to rid itself of. Gilot says South Bend has involuntarily become net exporters of talent. Now, the city has opened its doors to technology, sustainability, and creativity, leading to job growth. The missing element is making students feel personally connected to the area.

“If we can get their hearts a little more connected to community-engaged work it makes a lot of difference in whether the talent wants to stay,” he says.

Krug has seen the results for herself.

“We have close to 50 percent of the people who have gone through the summer internship program who end up staying in South Bend,” she says. “It is exciting to see more students who are invested in the city.”

Kennedy says he has also witnessed a renewed pride in his hometown.

“A lot of the rhetoric I was hearing a few years ago was, South Bend is terrible, it is boring and there is nothing here,” he says. “As we have tried to do more things to improve the city and make it better, more people say they love South Bend and want to stay here."

The reach of BCe2 is an impressive feat that has brought together people from all walks of life who may not have interacted otherwise.

“To see students from all over the world at different universities come together for a united cause and actually see results is amazing,” Teague says.

Krug says the diversity of these collaborations has also enhanced in-classroom learning. Students are now beginning to leave the university bubble and see what is out there.

“That immersive experience for the students is the most important aspect. On a regular basis they are able to go to Ivy Tech and Indiana University South Bend and the city,” she says.

Earning an award that recognizes the importance of these partnerships from the Indiana Department of Education is validation that the group's hard work is paying off. 

"We are very excited about our program but for someone else to acknowledge that, it is something we have been striving towards as long as we’ve been around," says Boukdad.

As BCe2 looks to the future, they will continue their existing programs and hope to expand their involvement in lead risk management, affordable housing, and community development spaces.

The BCe2 model may also soon be replicated on South Bend’s west side.

"We think this is a way of community engagement that really works," Boukdad says. "It is a whole city approach for how we can improve quality of life, get other people involved and uplift this city."

Of course, the focus will stay the same -finding sustainable solutions to real-world challenges and in so doing, empower residents.

To learn more about the Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem, community partners, or to get involved, visit

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Originally published in The Observer

Members of the Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s, and Holy Cross College community gathered in the Geddes Hall chapel on Monday for a prayer service in honor of recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Hosted by members of the “Advocacy for the Common Good”—a one credit course that aims to inform students of advocacy tools and mechanisms—the prayer vigil featured two speakers, Juan Constantino, development director of program staffing at La Casa de Amistad, and Becky Ruvalcaba, assistant director of multicultural ministry in Campus Ministry. The course, offered by the Center for Social Concerns, is taught by Michael Hebbeler, the director for Discernment and Advocacy at the Center for Social Concerns, focuses on the building of a DREAM Act campaign as a focal point for the class to rally behind.

The timeline of the class’s advocacy strategy was altered with the announcement that the congressional vote was moved up from March 8 to Thursday.

Freshman Grace Stephenson, chair of the event team, said the class chose a prayer vigil as its platform of advocacy because it embodies the Catholic identity of the University.

“This is not a protest but a chance for the community to come together in solidarity for the 40 plus DACA students on the three campuses,” Stephenson said.

Jackie Navarro, a junior at Holy Cross College and member of the event planning team, said this issue is a big part of the campus identity.

“We can’t just be Catholic by name,” Navarro said.

Following an opening prayer, Ruvalcaba spoke on the definition of an eligible DACA candidate. She provided the government definition and then incorporated scripture.

“There’s a moral and spiritual commitment we all have a role to play,” she said. “Regulation and security are necessary, but Catholic social teaching dictates that all initiatives be oriented for the common good.”

Costantino followed with his own testimony as an recipient of DACA. He told stories of growing up in South Bend with the constant fear of deportation and the opportunities Holy Cross provided him with scholarships.

“Like many other DACA recipients, I’m the member of a mixed family with undocumented, DACA registered and citizen members.”

 The prayer service concluded with a prayer to St. Frances Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants.

 Stephenson said one of the biggest obstacle with the nature of advocacy is increasing participation when not everyone has a personal stake in the issue.

Junior and member of the event team, Rathin Kacham, said he is a DACA recipient himself, having immigrated from India. He said he credits the support he’s received on campus with having encouraged him to become more public about his status as a DACA recipient.

“We all probably have friends who are on DACA and don’t want anyone to know,” Kacham said. “There’s a fear that comes with that status, but it also can be liberated.”

Thursday, February 1, 2018


Originally published in Notre Dame News

Established to register, educate and mobilize University of Notre Dame students ahead of pivotal elections, ND Votes has evolved to become a nonpartisan leader in politics, working to foster conscientious engagement in political and civic life on campus.

As evidence of that work, the student-led organization recently was recognized by TurboVote, an online service of Democracy Works that facilitates voter registration, requests for absentee ballots and voting reminders, for its engagement efforts over the past year.

According to the nonpartisan voter assistance group, ND Votes engaged more than 500 students with TurboVote during the 2017 calendar year, placing it within the top 10 among 104 college and university partners.

“TurboVote is only as effective as those committed to growing its audience: Those who believe in democratic participation and the power of one’s voice at the polls,” Democracy Works wrote in praise of ND Votes. “The University of Notre Dame’s voter engagement efforts in 2017 are an incredible reflection of these ideals.”

As a successor to Rock the Vote, the MTV-led voter registration, education and mobilization campaign, ND Votes has been active on campus since 2008, participating in that year’s presidential election as well as the midterm elections in 2010.

The group went dormant for a period but then reemerged in 2015.

Wanting to increase political engagement on campus, Sarah Tomas Morgan, then a freshman, helped resurrect the group with help from other students.

“The 2016 election was upcoming, but it wasn’t on a lot of people’s minds,” said Tomas Morgan, a liberal studies major and peace studies minor from South Bend. “So I was looking for people who wanted to engage in political conversation.”

She added, “I knew from growing up in South Bend that Notre Dame had had various programs like Rock the Vote and ND Votes in the past, and I wanted to make sure that something like that happened again.”

With support from the Center for Social Concerns, the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy and the constitutional studies minor, the newly reestablished organization—governed by a nonpartisan student task force—helped register, educate and mobilize hundreds of Notre Dame students ahead of the polarizing 2016 presidential election.

That was supposed to be it, but with an intense mixture of excitement and anxiety on campus after the election of Donald Trump, the group decided to continue in its mission as a permanent part of the political landscape on campus.

“ND Votes in the past had been focused on registration and education around elections,” Tomas Morgan said. “But what we found was that task force members and (students in general) were looking at ways to talk about the election. They wanted to know what had happened and what was going to happen as a consequence of the election. So we decided to continue holding bipartisan education events and voter registration.”

“There was such energy and engagement that, after the November election, the student task force didn’t want to let go of it,” said Rosie McDowell, who directs justice education at the Center for Social Concerns.

 Aside from engaging students with TurboVote, ND Votes hosts “Pizza, Pop & Politics,” a popular series of faculty-led educational events that explore relevant political issues from multiple points of view.

Recent themes have included “Godless Politics: The Political Causes and Consequences of America’s Secular Turn” and “Truth, Trust and Trump: The President’s War on the Press.”

“We try to have a broad range of event topics because we find that different topics draw from different parts of the political spectrum,” Tomas Morgan said.

The tone is civil.

“Students have strong political opinions, but they don’t always feel safe or okay to talk about them in the residence halls,” McDowell said. “So what we try to do is create space for them to voice those opinions, at least for an hour and a half.”

The group also hosts an annual dorm competition on National Voter Registration Day, the fourth Tuesday of September, and engages with incoming freshman as well as transfer and graduate students as part of “Welcome Weekend” each fall.

Currently, the group is gearing up for consequential midterm elections this fall, with control of the U.S. House and Senate, as well as several statehouses and governorships, at stake—not to mention local boards, councils and mayorships.

“The midterm is a big deal, so the (Pizza, Pop & Politics) events will focus on (topics like) gerrymandering and voter suppression and the psychology of voting and political ads,” McDowell said, citing a few possible examples.

But as it matures, the group is considering a move beyond campus as well, Tomas Morgan said, into the community.

“I and a few other people on the task force hope to establish a community engagement sector of the task force to integrate ND Votes into the South Bend community as a way to be more sustainable as an organization but also more socially, politically and civically conscious,” she said.

Already, Tomas Morgan said, the group has started reaching out to potential partners, including the Northern Indiana Restorative Justice and Reentry Clinic, a nonprofit record expungement agency that counts Notre Dame as a partner, and local high schools.

“They’re looking at how they can provide voter registration assistance in the community,” McDowell said of the task force, “perhaps at the high school level or among the formerly incarcerated at the Second Chance Clinic,” another name for the reentry clinic.

Consistent with its nonpartisan approach to politics, the student task force is composed of members of various social and political groups on campus, including the Notre Dame College Republicans and Democrats.

Dylan Jaskowski, a junior accountancy and political science double major and president of the College Republicans, described the relationship as “beneficial in that it gives us an avenue to reach out for collaboration on events with other political clubs.”

Moreover, Jaskowski said, it contributes to a more informed and engaged student body.

“In the past, there has been a general apathy regarding politics on college campuses,” he said. “So by educating students about the political atmosphere on campus and in our country, there will hopefully be more students interested in politics, and this increased engagement should lead to more people contributing to civil discourse, which should create better policy.”

For McDowell, it all comes back to the students.

“To me, the real story is that this is a student-driven initiative,” she said. “These students really wanted to bring active political participation back to our campus.”

“The student leadership of ND Votes has been outstanding in helping us identify high-quality speakers who represent the full spectrum of political viewpoints, in organizing our “Pizza, Pop & Politics” events and in rallying their fellow students in their dorms and other campus organizations to register to vote and to become more engaged in community and national political issues,” said Geoffrey Layman, professor of political science and interim director of the Rooney Center.

An important part of that leadership, Tomas Morgan, now a senior, agreed, adding that she is “not in the least bit worried” about the future of the program—even as she prepares to graduate and move on to other challenges in May.

“We have an outstanding team of people from across the political spectrum who care deeply about political engagement on this campus,” she said, “and who know just as well as I do what students are looking for in terms of political education.”


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Originally published by College of Arts and Letters

Notre Dame senior Sarah Tomas Morgan has always had an interest in global issues.

And the College of Arts and Letters has enabled her to explore that passion through her coursework and a variety of international and internship experiences. 

Coming into her first year, Tomas Morgan intended on majoring in political science. But after completing a University Seminar in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS), her plans changed.

“I just fell in love with the classics we were reading and the discussions we were having,” Tomas Morgan said. “So I decided to stick with the Program of Liberal Studies and continue it as my major throughout the four years.”

An interest in international politics led Tomas Morgan to add a minor in peace studies.

“I wanted that present-day applicability to the issues I was studying in PLS,” she said, “and I feel like peace studies has really enabled me to do that and has focused my questions around more modern problems of peace and conflict.”

These disciplines, along with courses in Arabic, have opened several doors for Tomas Morgan to deepen her learning and to gain valuable international experience in the Middle East and North Africa.

“My Notre Dame education has definitely fostered my

peace-building interest.”

Gaining firsthand knowledge

After her first year, with two Arabic classes under her belt, Tomas Morgan traveled to Amman, Jordan, for an immersive language-learning experience in the Summer Language Abroad program.

“I didn't really know what I was getting into, but I really enjoyed Arabic so I decided to pursue it further,” Tomas Morgan said. “I went to class for four hours a day in Jordan, then had time to explore the city to get more exposure to people speaking Arabic. Because of this background and the language skills I gained, I was able to apply to other opportunities in the region.”

Eager to return to the Middle East, Tomas Morgan secured an internship with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in East Jerusalem the following summer, through the Center for Social Concerns’ International Summer Service Learning Program. UNRWA is an agency designed specifically to work with Palestinian refugees not covered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Tomas Morgan’s experience in East Jerusalem helped her see the real-world implications of issues and problems she had been studying in the classroom, while also helping her hone practical skills. In addition to attending various UN events, Tomas Morgan edited documents that had been translated from Arabic to English and got to conduct interviews and reporting for feature stories on Palestinian refugees.

“I loved it there, because it not only related to my interest in peace studies and in the region, but it also used my reading and writing skills from my PLS classes,” Tomas Morgan said. 

Fostering a passion for peace-building

These experiences, combined with her courses in the College of Arts and Letters, prepared Tomas Morgan for her most recent internship experience with the Global Center on Cooperative Security in Washington, D.C., last summer. There, she worked as a research assistant for Brookings Institution senior fellow Eric Rosand on “The Prevention Project: Organizing Against Violent Extremism.”

The project emphasizes a whole-society approach to countering violent extremism, and Tomas Morgan worked specifically on engaging civil society actors in the project. The experience was her first encounter with a long-term research project, which she values as she develops her senior thesis on the philosophical grounding of human development projects.

“I felt well prepared in terms of the subjects I was researching,” Tomas Morgan said. “I had the basic knowledge of international relations and of countering violent extremism — which was the topic of my research over the summer — through projects I had done in my classes.”

Ultimately, Tomas Morgan’s time in D.C. helped shape her vision of her future.

“It made me realize that I really enjoy research, and I could see myself doing more of it in the future,” Tomas Morgan said. “I like the work of NGOs and the outside-of-government influence that we were able to have.

“But I also discovered that I would prefer to work in peace studies, rather than the field of countering violent extremism. I think my Notre Dame education has definitely fostered my peace-building interest.”

Looking ahead, Tomas Morgan hopes to continue her work on policy relating to refugees and immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa. Before applying for graduate school, she hopes to gain more experience in the field by applying to the Peace Corps or other domestic service programs, or by taking advantage of the connections she made in Washington.

“The Global Center and the Prevention Project have a very strong mission that I wholeheartedly agree with,” Tomas Morgan said. “It made a huge difference going to work every day and really believing in the work that I was doing and knowing that the people around me were truly passionate about it, too. This really showed me the different aspects that I would like to search for in a potential future career.”

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Five University of Notre Dame faculty members and 12 current students and recent graduates will participate in a Vatican conference titled “Perspectives for a world free from nuclear weapons and for integral disarmament,” which is convened by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development in Rome Nov. 10-11.

The gathering will be led by Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and aims to affirm and develop the position of the Holy See on the grave threat of nuclear proliferation and the urgent need for disarmament.

Working to advance the mission of the Church in service of development, peace and disarmament, attendees will address such topics as the July 2017 United Nations treaty banning nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons and the environment and the role of Church and civil society in promoting disarmament. The speakers and panelists include Nobel Prize winners, senior diplomats and leaders from the United Nations and NATO, as well as academic experts and religious leaders.

“It is a privilege for Notre Dame to collaborate with the Holy See on this timely event and for so many of our faculty and students to be invited to participate,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., president of the University of Notre Dame. “We urgently need interdisciplinary, intercultural and interfaith cooperation to address this grave threat to human life and dignity.”

Gerard Powers, director of Catholic peacebuilding studies in Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, will moderate a session that envisions a world free from nuclear weapons.

“This high-profile conference seeks to build on the disarmament momentum generated by the nuclear ban treaty and to counter moves in the opposite direction by nuclear powers,” said Powers. “It shows that the moral imperative of nuclear disarmament is at the center of the Church’s international agenda for peace.”  

Other Notre Dame faculty attending include David Cortright, director of policy studies for the Kroc Institute; Michael Desch, professor of political science and director of the Notre Dame International Security Center (NDISC); George A. Lopez, Hesburgh professor emeritus of peace studies; and Margaret Pfeil, a joint faculty member in the Department of Theology and the Center for Social Concerns.

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development invited several entities to cooperate with it on this conference, including the University of Notre Dame Office of the President; the Kroc Institute, an integral part of the new Keough School of Global Affairs; and the Catholic Peacebuilding Network, whose secretariat is at the Kroc Institute.

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