Program introduces incoming students to South Bend with focus on community, justice

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A group of 20 incoming University of Notre Dame students spent the week leading up to the start of the fall semester exploring issues of justice both on campus and in the surrounding community as part of RISE: South Bend, a newly established program within the Center for Social Concerns.

The students, from a diverse array of backgrounds, visited and participated in community projects with local government and nonprofit organizations and attended lectures by Notre Dame faculty on topics such as community engagement, the common good, responsibility and human dignity, and the fundamentals of social change.

Among the places the students visited were the Near Northwest Neighborhood, Civil Rights Heritage Center, Our Lady of the Road, Monterrosa Law Group, La Casa de Amistad, Beacon Community Resource Center and South Bend Sustainability Office.

The students also toured the west side of South Bend, visited Lake Michigan and Howard Park, participated in an Amazing Race-style tour of the city and attended a South Bend Cubs game at Four Winds Field.

An additional 23 students participated in RISE: Hometown, a remote version of the program.

In each case, the goal was the same: develop in students a long-term commitment to “faithful citizenship,” or the responsibility to participate in public life in ways that promote human dignity and contribute to the common good in keeping with Catholic social teaching.

“We want to provide pathways for students to connect their passions to real-world issues and practice,” said Adam Gustine, assistant director of academic affairs at the Center for Social Concerns, “and do so in a way that really sets the tone for them for their entire Notre Dame career.”

Fundamentally, Gustine said, that means moving beyond service to identify and address the root causes of injustice.

“A lot of students come to Notre Dame with some background experience in direct service kinds of opportunities, and at the center, one of the things we’re doing is helping students to gain a wider view of ways they can engage,” he said, “moving toward a deeper solidarity with folks who experience life at the margins.”

That’s what drew Toni Akintola, of Maryland, to the program.

“I signed up for RISE because I knew the program would give me the chance to build a level of trust with those in need in South Bend, and also a chance to form connections with the people and organizations meeting those needs,” Akintola said.

“The RISE program has been an unparalleled experience,” Alex Young, of Kentucky, said. “The opportunities to meet with local leaders, attend lectures with professors on social justice issues and serve the residents have given us insight into the South Bend community. The experience has made me excited to not only enjoy campus opportunities while at Notre Dame, but also to get out into South Bend and appreciate all it has to offer.”

In addition to exploring issues of justice in the South Bend community, Mary Jordan, of New York, enjoyed meeting and interacting with like-minded peers.

“I appreciate the relationships I made during my week with RISE,” Jordan said. “The 20 of us have been able to create such an awesome community by living in one house together.”

All three said they would recommend the program to others.

“I would definitely recommend this program to future students,” Akintola said. “I already have a lot of ideas for how I’m going to spend my time serving in South Bend this upcoming school year, I got to meet a lot of great people, and now I feel even more motivated to make the most out of my time at Notre Dame.”

The Center for Social Concerns is an interdisciplinary institute responding to the complex demands of justice through a combination of justice education and research for the common good. It convenes academics, artists, community partners and students to think carefully about the world’s most pressing social concerns in order to develop creative and effective approaches to addressing them.

For more information, visit

Contact: Erin Blasko, assistant director of media relations, 574-631-4127,

Originally published by Erin Blasko at on August 23, 2022.