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Friday, April 19, 2024
The Observer

Stop South Bend slander

Corn, soy, cows, semi-trucks. Corn, soy… oh, and occasionally, more corn. 

This describes the grey and unstimulating drive across America’s heartlands that I took this weekend as I made the trek from South Bend down to Urbana-Champaign to visit a friend. Flat, dry and littered with the occasional gas-station-McDonald’s crossover, the drive made me reaffirm every negative stereotype I’d come across about the Midwest. 

“Notre Dame, right? All I know is that it’s a good school in a crappy area,” said a random (and very bold) Urbana-Champaign boy from California. 

With a string of awkward laughter, I could only agree. Because, what was there really to defend about South Bend? What did it have other than brutally cold winters, constant construction and an ever-present permacloud? Even in Urbana-Champaign, there seemed to be infinitely more diversity and things to do. 

I left my trip feeling somewhat depressed about having to return to a colorless spring in Indiana. The three-hour drive was an exact replica of the same journey I might take from my hometown of St. Louis to any other city in any direction. Everywhere in the Midwest seemed to look the same, smell the same and even taste the same. I found myself wondering why I didn’t pick any place other than Indiana to spend what are supposed to be four of the most exciting years of my life.

The longer I drove, the more I reflected upon the Midwest. Fueled by the tunes of Genesis and Buffalo Springfield, I waded through an endless sea of corn. I thought of many of my hometown friends who had chosen much more glamorous locations to spend their college years and the judgment they passed on South Bend. I am often jealous of their college experiences, where they can hop in the ocean after finishing an assignment or take a subway downtown to grab a meal from any cuisine they desired.

And then I thought of my Notre Dame friends, many of which had selected Indiana over these more alluring options. One had even chosen ND over Colombia, and while she admits that she likes New York much better than South Bend, she also argued that our campus and city have so much to offer. 

Still zooming through fields of farmland, I thought of the South Bend citizens I meet with every Thursday at La Casa de Amistad, eager to learn about America so they can grasp their citizenship. Their colorful stories remind me that being here is a freedom to many.  

I must remember — as I’m sure many of us here at Notre Dame do — to be cautious with my vocabulary when speaking about this city. We toss around deprecating jokes and complain about the “lack of culture” all too quickly without remembering the thousands of people that live here. Our judgment comes from a place of privilege. We are allowed to make fun of Indiana and complain about the dull area surrounding our campus because (for most of us) we only need to endure it for four short years. And then, we can return back to our bustling cities and expensive homes. 

When Fr. Sorin first arrived here after months of travel and crossing a vast ocean, he exclaimed with much fervor in his journal that “Everything was frozen, and yet it all appeared so beautiful.” A quiet lake, tall, sheltering trees with icicles that dripped down like teardrops — the new world was to Fr. Sorin a “new Eden.” He knew the land to be blessed. He knew what he was building was going to be a great “force for good.”

To pass judgment on our location, we must first explore what it has to offer. South Bend is more than just Notre Dame. In choosing to come here, we have dedicated ourselves to four years in a community full of rich history. Many of us will complain about our geography without first ever exploring it. 

I stopped in Portage, Indiana, to fill up my tank before finishing up the last leg of my journey across America’s heartlands. Reflecting upon all this, I was filled with a great disdain for the bold Californian boy who had shared his opinion so freely, assuming I would agree. I was equally annoyed at myself for allowing him to make this statement, for laughing it off instead of defending my school and my area. The Midwest may not be glamorous, alluring or glittering, but it is important. The waves of grain I’d driven through fuel America’s economy and give way to many meals that people from across the nation will enjoy. 

While I continue my brief stay in South Bend, I promise to explore more of what it has to offer. And, I encourage any readers to stop the South Bend slander and instead work towards appreciating this “new Eden.”

Gracie Eppler is a sophomore Business Analytics and English major from St. Louis, Missouri. Her three top three things ever to exist are 70’s music, Nutella and Smith Studio 3, where she can be found dancing. Reach her at geppler@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.