Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Originally published by College of Arts and Letters

​Marisel Moreno, an associate professor in Notre Dame’s Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, has been selected to receive the 2016 Sheedy Excellence in Teaching Award.

The highest teaching honor in the College of Arts and Letters, the Sheedy Award was created in 1970 to honor Rev. Charles E. Sheedy, C.S.C., who served as dean of Arts and Letters from 1951 to 1969. A reception honoring her will be held at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 6 in the McKenna Hall Auditorium at the Notre Dame Conference Center.

Moreno, whose research and teaching focus on Latino literature and culture, helped launch a community-based learning program in her department in 2010. Students in her classes enhance traditional literature study by volunteering at La Casa de Amistad, a local Latino community organization.

“Professor Moreno does not approach teaching as an activity that stops at the classroom door,” said Ben Heller, an associate professor of Spanish. “Her teaching is innovative, bridging academia and community, making learning real through engagement with the local Latino environment.

“The experience for her students—and the local community—is transformative.”

Breaking down walls

Teaching her first community-based learning course was such a positive experience that Moreno now ensures that at least one of her courses each semester includes work at La Casa.

“I love teaching literature because it opens up other worlds and allows us to connect with each other. And the kinds of encounters students have through community-based learning make the literature far more powerful,” she said. “Because of these personal experiences, they appreciate the literature more, and because they have a background in literature and history, they can better relate to the community.

“When you connect human to human—forgetting all the labels—these are the moments when the walls are broken down.”

Over the past six years, the community-based learning Spanish program, supported by the Center for Social Concerns and the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, has expanded to include numerous faculty members in the department and courses at several levels of language learning.

Much of that success is due to Moreno’s tireless efforts each semester to build on previous accomplishments and address challenges, said Rachel Rivers Parroquín, director of the program.

“Marisel Moreno is an exemplar who innovates, continually improves, and genuinely impacts students in profound ways,” Parroquín said. “The lessons her students learn are both fully situated within the disciplinary context of Latino/a literature and deeply grounded in life and the community.”

The result is a powerful new perspective that students carry with them, well beyond their time at Notre Dame.

“No professor has had such an impact on my education and discernment,” a senior Spanish and pre-health major wrote in recommending Moreno for the Sheedy Award. “She inspired me to go outside my comfort zone, volunteering at La Casa and abroad, to serve and learn from a community that speaks a different language, and she has empowered me to strive for equality, knowledge, and positive social change in my career.”

[Marisel Moreno outside LaCasa] Moreno outside La Casa de Amistad, where students volunteer as part of her community-based learning courses.

Exploring new perspectives

Engaging with families at La Casa—which offers tutoring for children, parenting classes, English language classes, a citizenship program, and more—also brings current issues to life for Moreno’s students.

“When these families opened up about their struggles with immigration, it transformed distant statistics into personal issues affecting people who had graciously welcomed me into their homes for a weekend,” wrote another student who took Moreno’s Migrant Voices course.

“Unlike classroom learning, which has its own merits, learning from the community in which I serve has created a powerful imprint that will be impossible to negate in my future decisions.”

Moreno, who recently joined La Casa’s board, emphasizes that she and her students work in partnership with the organization.

“At the beginning of each semester, we talk with La Casa about what their needs are, what issues they’re dealing with at the time,” she said. “It’s not about what my students can get out of it or what La Casa can get out of it, but it’s what we both need. We both win in the end.”

The program has not only impacted her students and the community—it has affected Moreno personally as well.

“I feel that it has made me more compassionate toward my students, because I see them struggle and I see their growth. I have gotten to know my students much better than I would in a regular literature class,” she said. “And I’m more in tune, more connected, more passionate about issues that have to do with social justice in our town and our country.”


“As an academic, I know it’s very easy to separate yourself, living in the four  

walls of your office and the four walls of your classroom and just focusing on

your research. But as a society, we’ve gotten to the point where we cannot

afford to do that. We have a responsibility to see how our work can have

a more direct impact in our communities.” 

                                                                                        — Marisel Moreno

Building bridges

Moreno is currently working on her second book project, focused on Caribbean borderlands and representations of undocumented migration in literature and art. She is examining U.S. Latino perspectives and Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Dominican depictions of the same phenomenon.

She brings that research into her classroom this fall in a new undergraduate course, Borders and Bridges.

The course, which explores issues related to the U.S.-Mexico border and movements of people within the Hispanic Caribbean, also draws on her recent visit to the border through an immersion experience offered by the Center for Social Concerns.

“I wanted to integrate some of that experience into the classroom,” Moreno said. “I thought designing a course that focuses on the idea of borderlands and connecting people across borders was a good platform for it. I learned so much there and I wanted to be able to bring some of that to my students.

“There is really no better time in history to be talking about borders and bridges.”

Making an impact

In 2011, Moreno received the Governor’s Award for Service-Learning—Indiana’s most prestigious honor for engaged academic work. She has also won the 2015 Exceptional Teaching Impact and Motivation Student Voice Award for Outstanding Spanish Teacher from the Indiana chapter of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese.

Moreno said she is deeply honored to have won the Sheedy Award, and she sees the recognition as an opportunity to shed light on the importance of integrating community engagement into education.

“As an academic, I know it’s very easy to separate yourself, living in the four walls of your office and the four walls of your classroom and just focusing on your research. But as a society, we’ve gotten to the point where we cannot afford to do that,” she said.

“We have a responsibility to see how our work can have a more direct impact in our communities.”'

Romance languages and literatures associate professor to receive Sheedy Award


Friday, October 28, 2016

When Pope Francis visited Cuba in September, 2015, he described the island as “a key between north and south, east and west,” explaining that its “natural vocation is to be a point of encounter for all peoples to join in friendship.” During the recent fall break, Notre Dame students and scholars proved the validity of the Pope’s metaphor by gathering for a conference and course in Cuba’s capital city, Havana.

The conference, “The Search for God in America: The Journeys of Pope Francis to the Americas in 2015,” was hosted by the University’s Institute for Latino Studies and examined the significance of Pope Francis’ visits to the Americas. The course, “Between God and the Party,” was taught by Rev. Robert Pelton, C.S.C. and Peter Casarella, associate professor of theology and director of the Latin American Church Concerns Project. It gave students the opportunity to talk with Cuban youth and learn about US-Cuban relationships and the global expanse of the Catholic Church.

The course was supported by a course development grant from the University’s Center for Social Concerns, which funds courses designed by faculty and graduate students to incorporate social concerns by using the pedagogy of community-based learning.

The international engagement area of the Center for Social Concerns supported Professors Pelton and Casarella by designing and arranging the community-based learning components of the course during the week in Havana.

For more on course development grants, please contact Connie Snyder Mick at For more on international area initiatives, please contact Rachel Tomas Morgan at

Seminar students spend fall break in Appalachia

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Originally published in The Observer

Over fall break, 245 Notre Dame students traveled to the Appalachia region of the United States as a part of the Appalachia Fall Seminar through the Center for Social Concerns (CSC). These students participated in service immersions across 19 different locations in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, Greg White, the lead coordinator for CSC seminars, said in an email.

Tina Bryson, manager of public relations for the Christian Appalachian Project (CAP), said students are vital to meeting the high demand for housing projects in Appalachia.

“We have a backlog of about 500 substandard housing projects that need to be accomplished, and we just can’t do that without volunteers, without students,” she said. “We could never do that with just staffing alone.”

Bryson said Notre Dame has a long history of helping out in Appalachia, particularly with CAP, which hosted two groups of Notre Dame students last week.

“CAP has been around for a while,” Bryson said. “This is our 51st year. I believe Notre Dame students have been coming for about 40 years.”

Bryson said one goal of the program was to eliminate the stereotype that those in need are lazy and rely solely on others for help.

“Each family that CAP serves is part of that building process, whether they help in the building of the house, or they prepare food for the crew,” she said. “They are part of helping themselves. I think the goal is to show poverty, but also to show that these are just real people at the end of the day, to break down any stereotypes and barriers. Any of us could be in that situation where we need some help.”

Ryan Hergenrother, a sophomore who did his immersion in War, West Virginia with Big Creek People in Action, Inc., said students had to research their region before the group departed in order to fully prepare themselves for the trip.

“We did different readings and watched documentaries on the politics of the region, focusing on the changing demographics over time and the importance of coal there,” he said. “These factors affect their society and have shaped where they are right now.”

Hergenrother said this research allowed his group to keep in mind the region’s larger issues while working on their service project.

“During the day it was all about home repair, so we did sealing, siding and painting,” he said. “At night, we did reflections, saying our highs and lows of the day, what we thought about the different problems in the region and how solutions could be thought of.”

Sophomore Brittany Margritz — who went to Bethlehem Farms in Talcott, West Virginia for her immersion — said she did everything from farm chores to home repair. One of the highlights of the trip was her group, even though she didn’t know any of the members prior to the seminar, she said.

“It was just a reminder that a lot of the best things in life are about community and the people you’re with,” she said.

Margritz said this feeling of community was bolstered by the lack of access to any kind of modern technology or social media.

“One of the best parts of it was that we couldn’t use our phones, so everybody was just with each other, and there were no screens,” she said. “It was like the outside world didn’t exist.”

Hergenrother said his biggest takeaway from the experience was the impact of even the smallest efforts to help.

“Even if you can’t make the biggest or most widespread difference, your drops in a bucket could still add up,” he said. “Just because you can’t change everything doesn’t mean you can’t change some little things.”

The Bard behind bars: Shakespeare acting class aims to show prisoners a path forward

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Scott Jackson, executive director of Shakespeare at Notre Dame, attended the Center for Social Concerns Community Engagement Faculty Institute in 2014 and has returned as a presenter to discuss his teaching at the Westville Correctional Facility and his role in the Shakespeare in Prisons international work.

Photo credit: Becky Malewitz, South Bend Tribune


​WESTVILLE — A student stands on a chair. He points to two other actors, who begin drumming on plastic chairs to imitate rain. He gestures across his body toward another student who flickers the light switch, mimicking a lightning bolt. A wild swing of his arm and another man slaps the metal radiator cover with a thunderous boom.

A handful of others hold scripts and sway or stumble, pretending they are Milanese upper-class citizens on board a sinking ship, thrashed and marooned on a remote island at the hands of a vengeful wizard.

A sergeant enters the classroom.

The students and instructor are momentarily unsettled, jolted from their reverie by her entrance.

What’s going on? Why is someone dancing on a chair near the window, she asks the teacher, Scott Jackson.

Oh, we’re making a storm. It’s “The Tempest,” he says, all smiles on his expressive face. He holds up the script as evidence.

The sergeant, perhaps not completely satisfied and not fully understanding, leaves the classroom. Everyone bursts into laughter, the glee stronger than the overbearing prison atmosphere and summer humidity.

No stage. No costumes. No sets to be had, beyond a few plastic chairs. The men all wear khaki jumpsuits, prison identification badges and aren’t off-book. They take turns with each role. They have no audience but their fellow actors.

But it’s Shakespeare, here at Westville Correctional Facility.

The story is old — more than 400 years old, in fact — but these prisoners are finding contemporary meanings in Prospero’s tale, as well as how acting affects them out of the classroom. The Westville program is part of the larger Shakespeare in Prisons Network, a loose affiliation of programs in prisons across the globe that teach inmates how to act, interpret and learn from the classic works.

Omar Reyes, a former cocaine dealer with tattoos on his hands and arms, now practices deep breathing exercises early in the morning to center himself. In school, he was most likely tagging the walls with graffiti instead of sitting at a desk.

“We had drama and theater in school,” he says. “We hung outside the door and made fun of them.”

But earlier this evening, he played Ariel, prancing and flitting about as a fairy that does Prospero’s bidding. It's a role that requires any actor to have extreme confidence, let alone someone in a hypermasculine prison setting. He embraced the performance and acting with gusto.

Josh Rutledge skipped class in high school. He’s got a record, mostly for burglary charges, and he’s back in prison for possession of a handgun as a convicted felon. Now he frequently plays Prospero.

He’s a stoic, lanky guy who can touch the ceiling when the class does warm-up exercises, something that almost always makes Jackson laugh out loud.

“For two hours, I don’t see, you know, the rest of the inmates,” Rutledge says one day after class. “I see actual actors.”


Going behind bars

It's not an instant change, the shedding of the walls that the students build in prison. If there’s a pervasive theme to Westville, it’s beige. Everything in the building is beige, from the cinder-block walls to the khaki uniforms, even to some of the personalities.

The program by Jackson, who is also executive director for Shakespeare at Notre Dame, seems like one of the few things that brings color to the prison. Each section lasts about 10 weeks, during which he teaches Shakespeare and acting techniques. The primary aim: using the arts to help reduce the number of men who return to prison after they leave.

The inmates don't open up immediately when Jackson walks into the room. The atmosphere can change week to week — on hot days, the men can seem tired, the whole floor heavy with a damp layer of humidity. Sometimes the energy is frenetic, and Jackson finds out the floor lost certain privileges because of bad behavior.

Or they can be downright giddy, like the class after Jackson assigned homework — the viewing the 2010 film adaptation of "The Tempest," starring Helen Mirren as a gender-bent Prospera. The class couldn't wait to talk to Jackson about some of their favorite parts of the film, specifically Russell Brand as the drunkard Trinculo.

A typical two-hour class starts with warm-ups, once Jackson takes attendance. Stretches and deep breathing, adopted from yoga, help center the students before Jackson turns to vocal exercises, where the men seem to enjoy shouting, "Oh yeah!" in their deepest, manliest voices.

After that, it's on to games. Sometimes, they play the game of opposites, where the class receives a series of commands where the words don't match what you're supposed to do. Jackson will say "Jump," and the class squats to the floor. It could be the chair game, where one person attempts to sit down and the rest of the group tries their hardest to keep the open chair away from him by sitting in it just before he sits down.

After warm-ups and games, the students are more cohesive, thinking as an ensemble. For the first few weeks, the students work in pairs on “contentless scenes,” straight dialogue between two people that can be applied to different situations through interpretation. It could be a mom and teenager fighting, a lover's quarrel or two strangers meeting in a park — it’s up to the actors what they present to the class.

Jackson moves to the meat of the course within a few weeks, whether it be running the whole play or working on specific scenes. Shakespeare's last solo-written work, "The Tempest" tells the story of Prospero, a wizard of sorts who is marooned on a speck of an island with his daughter, Miranda.

The play begins with a storm concocted by Prospero to get back at the men who sent him to the island. It's a story of revenge — and, ultimately, redemption — that reverberates well with the students, who know all too well about imprisonment, anger and revenge.

Jackson is electric in the classroom. He bounces, arms wide and passion in his facial expressions. He taps the script, emphasizing a part. He shouts direction during rehearsal — "Give me more!" "That's it, keep digging!" The men are just as invested as Jackson, evidenced by them asking Jackson to return in a few weeks so they can perform the play once more, after rehearsing on their own time, to show him what they are capable of.

The class learns a shortened, "30-minute" version of "The Tempest," one that has removed some of the more superfluous aspects of the play. Jackson treats the actors just like any other class he teaches. He makes them redo scenes, try different approaches and he frequently pauses the play to ask deep questions about what's motivating a character in the scene. He brings the prisoners to a place where they're willing to play a flouncing fairy or curious maiden.

And he calls for action just as he does with any other class:

"Actors, go!"


Why teach in a prison?

“Shakespeare is Shakespeare.” That’s the simple way Jackson explains it.

“There’s something about Shakespeare that ‘holds,’ to quote Hamlet, ‘the mirror up to nature,’” he says. “We all see a reflection of ourselves in his works. That is the universality and timelessness of his works.”

So why does he spend most of his free Friday evenings in a prison classroom?

He sits back in a seat in his office. The walls are covered in Shakespeare posters of play runs from the past. He’s got Shakespeare baubles and books everywhere. He pauses a moment before answering. These men have worked hard to insulate themselves in order to survive in the hard prison setting, he says. They’ve built concrete walls, figuratively, to protect themselves, but that isolation can cause issues later in life.

“There’s something that Shakespeare does, and I equate it to a certain emotional calculus, that you have to open yourself up to engage with these works,” Jackson says. “The other added benefit of this is that it’s within the realm of theater, and when you’re acting and part of a large group, putting on a play and rehearsing together, there’s a certain intimacy that is demanded as being part of an ensemble.”

The class takes place within the Purposeful Living Units Serve, known as the PLUS Unit, a voluntary 16-month program where inmates work toward re-entry through faith-based and character-based initiatives. Consider it the best of the best of those in prison. The men go to classes, do volunteer work around the prison campus and even raise money for charity through Relay for Life. There are usually between 130 to 150 inmates on the unit at any one time, with graduations from the unit taking place every three to four months, according to PLUS Unit Manager Jessica Rain.

The unit focuses on personal responsibility. It seems to be a one-strike policy, and it wasn’t unheard of to walk into Shakespeare class and see one less face from the week before, gone because of some infraction. One week, the men were complaining before class about losing some entertainment privileges on the floor because of one unit member’s behavior.

“We are trying to teach them to be neighbors someday, so the decisions you make affect everyone else,” Rain says.

PLUS Unit members take 13 core classes and need to perform 320 hours of community service while in the program. The Shakespeare and acting class Jackson teaches fills an elective slot, and has about 20 men in it per section. The course costs taxpayers nothing; Jackson volunteers his time, like many others do.

“I’m sure in some ways that Shakespeare is a hard sell, with the fact that they have to do memorization and study,” Rain says. “Here they are, rehearsing these lines in a day room with 50 other offenders around them. They have to be doing it for (Jackson).”


'Be a blank canvas'

The inmates are doing it for themselves, too.

There's Heath Burgess, an enthusiastic member of the class who’s always first to make a joke. He's got a ginger beard and tattoos. He’s in prison for a handgun violation and receiving stolen property, set to be released in 2022. The class lights the world up in Technicolor, he says.

“This class takes you away from every preconceived notion you have before you walk through that door. When you sit down, Scott tells us to be a blank canvas. You’ve got to open yourself up to those words that you’re reading, so you drop all the tough guy stuff, or that you’ve had a bad day, or that it’s hot in here, or that there’s girls in the class,” Burgess says and points to a Tribune reporter and photographer.

“You’ve got to drop all that stuff and get into the character you’re trying to do. And then it’s fun, because you’re interacting with people on a different level. Even guys that you see every day, you’re interacting with them on a different level."

To many of the 20 or so guys in the class, it’s two hours of freedom from their pasts, their obligations and the personae they put on when out on the floor.

Rutledge, for example, was quiet in the early classes. Most of the guys are, especially those who haven’t gone through the course before — the material changes with each session, and the men may take it more than once. But Rutledge slowly opened up over the weeks, first with smiles and sarcastic jokes with Jackson, and then with some stellar practice scenes before tackling the hardest role in the play.

“It really takes you out of this element. You can drop your guard. You don’t have to be that tough guy. You can be someone else for a while, and I think that’s the beauty in the whole thing,” Rutledge says. “When we first started, Scott asked us what we think the biggest part of acting is, and my answer was that you have to be open, you have to be willing to adapt and create a role for yourself to be someone else. I think it takes a lot for someone to do that.”

Omar Reyes says he wanted to take the program "because I want to change everything that’s me."

Reyes wants to distance himself from his past, which includes convictions for dealing cocaine. He’s a barrel-chested man, easily intimidating if he wants to be, but after just a few minutes in class, he's laughing, cracking jokes and throwing himself into the coursework. He takes full advantage of the prison’s offerings through classes and work.

“When they offered this class, I took it. It got me out of myself,” he says. “It got me out of the norm. I’m able to associate myself with more people. It lets me see everything — I open up to talking to more people. I’m being myself, and not questioning it.”

He says people who take the class tell everyone on the unit to sign up, instead of just staring through the windows in the door from the hallway.

“I hate to admit it, but when no one is up at three o’clock in the morning, I do some deep breathing," Reyes says, referring to Jackson's warm-up exercises. "The silent yells.”

Many prisoners outside of the program seem "stuck" in their own minds, Reyes says. They do nothing to improve themselves while in prison.

“When I’m in this class, I’m not here — just like when I do my paintings, I’m not here."


Education reduces recidivism

Jackson had heard the argument that the men don't deserve the time and effort he devotes to the course. He’s wrestled with the idea himself.

“I don’t want the prison system to put a murderer back on the street, or someone who’s sexually assaulted someone,” Jackson says. “I want that person to have a sense of hope that will somehow transcend the crime that happened in the past, so that they can actually transcend that label they place on themselves. They are better than that."

In the most recent section of the class, most of the offenders were incarcerated because of drug, burglary or weapons charges, though one member of the class was in prison for failing to register as a sex offender. Many in the class were not first-time offenders, and recidivism is an issue not just in Indiana but nationwide. According to Indiana Department of Correction statistics, 38 percent of the inmates released in 2012 had returned to prison within three years, half returning because they committed a new crime and half because of a rules violation during post-release supervision.

The Shakespeare class also is unique in that it’s one of the few nonreligious offerings the prisoners can take.

“Right now, there’s a lot of religion in the prison; I respect that and those churches that go in week in and week out,” Jackson says. “There also needs to be something that’s an individual engagement, and I think Shakespeare and theater in general helps them engage and find purpose in the self, in a way that religion can’t do.”

In fact, the prison leadership wants to offer more secular courses, including job readiness and other skills-based learning, says Rod Kitchen, community services director for Westville. The prison intends to tap its current pool of volunteers, which hovers around 400, with about 150 active at any one time. The prison also offers a variety of education tracks, ranging from pre-GED courses all the way through college programs.

According to a study by the Department of Correction and Ball State University in 2005, inmates who had higher education levels and successfully got jobs after leaving prison were far less likely — up to 30 percent less likely — to reoffend and go back to jail.

“A lot of the guys that are here are going through some kind of stressful situation. The reason you need something fun or entertaining is that you need something to take your mind off of it, to stop future problems,” Rutledge explains. “It gives us a chance to relieve our stress. We can take our frustrations out in a character, rather than take our frustrations out on other individuals and put ourselves in a predicament where we both are in trouble now.”

Those frustrations can include disagreements with other inmates, threats of violence, the mind-numbing day-to-day behind bars or the long days spent working at on-campus factories. Burgess talks about chugging coffee before Jackson’s class so that they stay alert. It’s too important to them to slack off, he says.

“Not everyone can go to church, or has someone to talk to," Rutledge says. "Anyone can get into acting, just throw it all into a character, and if you’re bad, or if you suck at it, who cares? There’s no one here to see you, really. It’s just you and the people that are in the classroom. You get to see the people in here that are in prison not be someone. If you know someone is a bully all the time, you see him and he has to play a character like Ariel, you say, ‘Eh, you’re not as tough as you seem all the time. You’ve got a soft side, too. Don’t act like you don’t.’”


'Transformative experience'

When Jackson leaves class on Friday evenings, he doesn't drive away immediately. He pauses in the parking lot and reflects on the class he's just taught.

“This is where I can effect change,” Jackson says, driving home from class late one Friday. “Here is a place I can offer an alternative, transformative experience they won’t get anywhere else. I’m not trying to compromise the penitent nature of prison. This is one of the only times they can be present, and one of the only times they can look to the future, and not constantly look back.

“They can concentrate on the person they want to be, not the person they were when they came in,” he adds. “Theater has this particular ability to transcend barriers. It’s the great neutralizer.”

Rutledge says acting is something he never would've considered back in school. This class gives him new ways to communicate with the world — as an inmate, yes, but also as a man, as a father. He has two new twin daughters. He brings pictures to class one day, showing off his children. He's currently set to be released in 2021. He intends to keep acting.

“I really wish I would’ve got into acting a long time ago,” he says, reflecting on the class session.

He smiles, but then grows serious. “I think it will help me in the long run to be a better person.”

Students share Galapagos Islands diversity with area children

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Days before their Fall Break trip to the Galapagos Islands as part of a course in the Department of Biological Sciences, 14 Notre Dame undergraduates introduced the Darwin-inspiring islands to youngsters at the Robinson Community Learning Center who will be “virtual explorers” with them through the adventure. They urged eager students in 1st through 12th grades to hypothesize about how tortoises reached the islands (maybe they got carried by currents?), how penguins evolved to flourish at the Equator (among other things, they shade their tender feet with their flippers), why finches developed different beak styles (check the seeds they eat), and more. Students examining images wondered why some iguanas were drab and others bright-colored (mating display exceptions to the heat-absorbing dark shades), and learned that marine iguanas sneeze excess salt from their noses after a swim.

The undergraduates will keep in touch with the students through blogs and social media during their visit to six different locations in the islands, where they will conduct observations for their own research projects. Professors Gary Lamberti and Mac Fraser organized the course, a trip embedded in a semester of on-campus study, with support from Notre Dame’s Study Abroad experts.

A grant from the Center for Social Concerns, funded by ND GAIN, enabled the outreach to the students at the Robinson Community Learning Center. The undergraduates will report back to the students when they return from the trip.

Friday, October 7, 2016

In response to the devastation caused in Haiti and elsewhere in the Caribbean by Hurricane Matthew, many international and U.S.-based aid organizations are actively working on rescue and relief for those affected.

Please read below for information on various organizations providing relief in the region and to learn how you might help:

The University of Notre Dame is not formally endorsing any of these organizations listed. You are free to donate to any charity you choose. This listing is a partial listing of the many organizations accepting contributions to relief, development, and assistance with regards to the Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.

InterAction is a coalition of 200 U.S.-based private relief, international development and refugee assistance organizations who work together to coordinate relief efforts and who have agreed to abide by a set of standards to ensure accountability to donors, professional competence and quality of service.  

InterAction has developed guidelines on the most appropriate ways to help those affected by overseas disasters, and published their Standards for Public Volunteering Organizations.

Click here for a listing of InterAction member organizations who are responding to world wide crises.

Catholic Charities USA provides critical disaster services to people of all beliefs. Agencies across the country are constantly monitoring and responding to natural disasters. They are fully prepared to assist families and individuals with shelter, food, and other immediate and long-term needs.

Catholic Relief Services is now responding in some of the most affected areas in southern Haiti. CRS will distribute blankets, kitchen and hygiene kits and other emergency supplies as needed, as well as monitor potential outbreaks of cholera and other diseases.

CARE is responding to this devastating storm with clean drinking water, food assistance and emergency supplies such as tarps for shelter, blankets and hygiene kits. CARE is currently providing meals to hundreds of people in evacuation shelters.

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee DC can work with trusted partners on the ground to deliver medical relief and coordinate the most pressing healthcare needs facing those impacted by the hurricane.  

Heifer International: Heifer Haiti will be deploying assessment teams to affected communities to provide immediate assistance to our project families in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

Oxfam International has rapidly set up an evaluation team to assess damages to infrastructure and the impact on communities.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance will immediately begin working alongside established partners to respond to this latest crisis. Immediate response will help provide essential food, water, and supplies for impacted communities and villages. As long-term recovery needs are determined, PDA will continue to support those in impacted areas to ensure a comprehensive recovery.

Save the Children’s emergency teams, in coordination with the government other aid agencies, will work with staff and partners on the ground to assess the immediate needs and help children and families affected.

UNICEF had prepositioned emergency supplies with national authorities to reach up to 10,000 people. Additional water and sanitation supplies, such as water purification tablets, water bladders and plastic sheeting, have been dispatched to the most affected departments in the westernmost tip of Haiti. Humanitarian needs assessments are under way and additional relief supplies will certainly be needed as the full impact of the hurricane becomes clearer.

The World Food Programme is mobilizing staff and resources to provide humanitarian assistance after Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti on Tuesday (4 October).

World Vision staff in Haiti began distributing blankets, toiletries, and bottled water to Port-au-Prince families displaced by the storm. World Vision had prepositioned relief supplies such as tarps, blankets, water containers, and hygiene kits to quickly assist impacted families.

ND Votes Holds Welcome Weekend Voter Registration Drive

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


When freshman Kyle Hyland walked past the ND Votes table on the second floor of Coleman-Morse on Monday, junior Andrew Pott and sophomore Thomas Krill waved him down, asking if he had registered to vote.

Hyland had. Had he requested an absentee ballot? He had not. Would he like to? Sure. Krill walked him through the necessary steps on an iPad before sending him on his way.

Hyland was one of more than 200 students the ND Votes student task force helped register to vote or request an absentee ballot at its Welcome Weekend drive. The organization, an initiative by the Center for Social Concerns and the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy whose task force partners with more than a dozen student clubs, set up tables near several events over the weekend, targeting first-years and transfer students.

“It seems daunting to a lot of students, but if you think about it, it’s really not that much time to do a very important duty,” Sarah Tomas Morgan, one of the chairs of the task force, said.

During the spring semester, the University began a partnership with TurboVote, an online registration and ballot-request service. ND Votes used TurboVote this weekend to register students in their home states, have prepaid ballot-request envelopes sent to them and sign them up for election-related notifications.

The goal is to simplify an often-confusing process, varying by state and becoming more complicated with the need for absentee ballots.

“They [TurboVote] basically do literally everything possible to make it as easy as possible to vote, so you have no excuse,” sophomore Abby Ferguson, an ND Votes dorm liaison who was at a registration table in Coleman-Morse, said. 

Many of the registrations and requests happened in the Hesburgh Library “fishbowl,” where an ND Votes table was set up next to ID card production.

Tomas Morgan said the organization found an ally in first-years’ parents.

“The parents were really good about saying, ‘Oh, this is something that’s really important, and you should really get in the habit of voting while you’re in college,’ which is huge, because for many people it’s their first time voting and definitely the first time voting in a presidential election,” she said.

The group also set up near freshman advising meetings in Coleman-Morse and at the Center for Social Concerns annual welcome-back picnic Monday night, drawing more than just first years. Sophomore Megan Reilly, like Hyland and several others, happened to see the table at the picnic and requested her Illinois absentee ballot.

“This is perfect,” she said. “I needed to do this.”

Tomas Morgan said ND Votes will sponsor or help with several events this semester, including discussions, a debate watch and the 2016 Notre Dame Forum, as well as continue to help students register to vote. She said it all harkens back to the organization’s goal of encouraging civic engagement, inspired by a 2016 document on faithful citizenship by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Participation in political and civic life is a moral obligation, and that’s really something that we try to emphasize and that we believe,” Tomas Morgan said, “because if you’re part in a society, it’s important to be invested and most of all aware of what’s going on, whether that means consciously abstaining from voting or educating yourself on the candidates and voting for a candidate that you feel really good about supporting.”

So far, she said, students appeared eager to vote and recognized its importance.

“They realize that it’s an important thing,” Tomas Morgan said. “You do have to go out of your way to get registered and get your absentee ballots, and it’s a tricky system because every state is different, so we wanted to streamline that as much as possible to get students who were really interested to own their citizenship a little more.”

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


The 2016 Center for Social Concerns (CSC) Community Engagement Faculty Institute (CEFI) was held May 24–26. Now in its fifth year, the Institute gathers community partners, faculty, and graduate students from around the country and from abroad to explore and deepen their knowledge of community-based teaching and research.

The Institute was first held in 2012, and was created as a response to the growing interest in community-based learning at the University. Each year it has brought around 30 participants for three days of lectures and community partner site visits that address a core theme. For 2016, the overarching theme of "Poverty" was framed by daily topics of "Incarceration & Justice," "Immigration & Rights," and "Work & Dignity"—each respectively focused on community, student, and faculty impact.

This was the first year in which the Faculty Institute was open to participants and presenters from outside the University or the South Bend community. Interest was particularly strong among faculty from universities that participate in the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty, a consortium whose intent is "to prepare students for a lifetime of professional, civic and political activity that will diminish poverty, drawing on a multitude of perspectives and initiatives." Member schools work to integrate rigorous, interdisciplinary poverty studies courses and internships into undergraduate education, and the Faculty Institute provides a very effective and adaptable framework for the kinds of teaching and research that transform students and communities long-term.

More than half of this year's participants were from other institutions, including Indiana University South Bend, Niagara University, Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina, Middlebury College, Bucknell University, Manchester University, Hendrix College, Lynchburg College, Furman University, and Washington and Lee University.

Community partner site visits helped participants witness the positive results of long-standing relationships between the University and the South Bend community. Whether at the Center for the Homeless, Goodwill Industries of Michiana, LOGAN Center, the Juvenile Justice Center, Sister Maura Brannick, C.S.C., Medical Center or the Civil Right Heritage Center, participants heard from community partners about their working relationships with students, faculty, and the University.

Faculty Institute director, Connie Mick explains that the Institute gathers people with a genuine commitment to community revitalization and the reduction of poverty. "This year, our focus on poverty at the local and national level led us to have critical conversations about what works and what doesn't in managing and, ideally, reducing poverty. Our local community partners explained their role in addressing poverty and presented best practices for how faculty can work with the community to do engaged teaching and research in any discipline."   

In 2017, the Faculty institute will consider the Center for Social Concerns annual theme, "Solidarity as Soul of Development."  Faculty interested in considering how their teaching and research can help advocate for impact in local communities worldwide may apply to the 2017 Faculty Institute now.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

On April 16th a powerful earthquake devastated several cities in Ecuador, killing over 400 people and injuring over two thousand. Many international and U.S.-based aid organizations are actively working on rescue and relief for those affected. Please read below for information on various organizations actively providing relief in Ecuador and to learn how you might assist.

The Center for Social Concerns has been a long-time collaborator with Andean Health and Development (AHD), founded by David Gaus, a 1984 Notre Dame alumnus. Gaus spoke in Geddes Hall on Monday, April 18th about the work of AHD and their response to the earthquake. Based in Pedro Vicente Maldonado and Santo Domingo, Andean Health is collaborating with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health, and AHD’s physicians and nurses are working around the clock to care for trauma patients after the earthquake. AHD is expecting to receive two students through the International Summer Service Learning Program this summer. For more on the work of Andean Health and Development please visit their website.

InterAction is a coalition of 200 U.S.-based private relief, international development and refugee assistance organizations who work together to coordinate relief efforts and who have agreed to abide by a set of standards to ensure accountability to donors, professional competence and quality of service

InterAction has also developed guidelines on the most appropriate ways to help those affected by overseas disasters.


InterAction Member Organizations Responding to Crises Worldwide


The University of Notre Dame is not formally endorsing any of these organizations listed.  You are free to donate to any charity you choose.  This listing is a partial listing of the many organizations accepting contributions to relief, development, and assistance with regards to the Ecuadorian earthquake of 16 April 2016.


International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent

More than 800 volunteers and staff from the Ecuadorian Red Cross have been active following the earthquake which has killed over 230 people and left more than 1,500 injured.


Catholic Relief Services

Catholic Relief Services is coordinating with other humanitarian organizations and our partners to determine priorities.  



CARE’s humanitarian workers on the ground in Ecuador are on high alert and are working quickly to assess the situation. CARE has worked in Ecuador since 1962.

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is working in cooperation with both the Jewish community of Ecuador, mainly located in Quito and Guayaquil, and our long-standing partner Heart to Heart International, our efforts will focus on medical care and supplies and water purification.


Heifer International

Heifer Ecuador is adjusting their approach in Muisne after the team learned that Saturday's 7.8-magnitude earthquake forced the evacuation of the entire population and razed the village of Santa Rosa, where Heifer project participants were living.


Oxfam International

Oxfam International will shortly be sending teams to the area to assess the extent of damage and how Oxfam can best assist the Government response. 


Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is organizing a response to help sustain life and restore hope in the coming days.


Save the Children

Save the Children staff will be working in the days and weeks ahead to give support to those most affected by this earthquake, particularly children.



A ShelterBox response team is travelling to Ecuador to carry out assessments following a catastrophic 7.8 magnitude earthquake near the northern town of Muisne.



UNICEF delivered today 20,000 water purification tablets to Pedernales, the area worst affected by the earthquake that hit Ecuador last night. A UNICEF team is on the ground assessing the impact of the quake on children.


World Food Program

World Food Program is coordinating with the Ecuadorian Government and mounting an emergency response to assist the most vulnerable of the people affected.


World Vision Ecuador

World Vision Ecuador launched an immediate response including distribution of relief supplies and shelter to survivors, and is working to establish access to child friendly spaces to help families and children.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Connie Snyder Mick, Ph.D., associate director for Community-Based Learning at the Center for Social Concerns and codirector of the Poverty Studies Interdisciplinary Minor, has just published Poverty/Privilege: A Reader for Writers, with Oxford University Press. Taking a broad definition of poverty as the denial of choices and opportunities to live a decent life, the reader addresses the enduring question, “Why are people poor?” while also asking, “Why are people wealthy?” Poverty/Privilege examines the social, cultural, and political forces that offer—or—deny opportunities to people based on race, gender, age, and geography. By helping students understand how poverty works, this survey makes them aware of the problem and encourages them to become part of the solution. Developed for first-year composition courses, the reader includes an interdisciplinary mix of public, academic, and cultural reading selections, providing students with the rhetorical knowledge and compositional skills required to participate effectively in discussions about poverty and privilege. Information on poverty studies and other subjects compiled by Snyder Mick, along with her professional profile, can be found at

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