person standing alone on mossy ground
person standing alone on mossy ground Photo by Jakub Kriz on Unsplash Note from the Editors

With the release of this current issue, Fresh Writing turns 20. For twenty years, it has served as an outlet for the exemplary writing and thinking of Notre Dame’s first-year students, a compelling reminder of their intellectual commitments and a testament to the exciting things happening in our writing classrooms. In this way, the journal has, we hope, remained encouragingly consistent.

But, at 20, Fresh Writing also reflects the developments in our culture since the turn of the century—it is a window onto the millenium. And there’s no denying, much has changed in that time. Volume 20 comes to life in an moment of deep uncertainty, as a global pandemic has taken hold, political divisions become increasingly entrenched, and debates over racial violence and socioeconomic inequities force us to reckon with our collective past. We certainly sense a degree of unrest in this volume: our student authors shake the foundations of long-accepted assumptions, daring to ask difficult questions and refusing to accept easy answers. Several essays ponder the sometimes power-hungry and plunderous relationship humans have with their environment, from research-based essays that probe the ways the legal and criminal justice systems regulate access to nature, to a narrative essay that captures a turning point in a child’s understanding of his responsibilities to his fellow inhabitants of the planet. Another essay warns of the ways urban design, if poorly considered, can hamper human community and spiritual relationship. With equal sense of urgency, several authors have continued a strand of thinking already evident in Volume 19, examining the ethics of argumentation and dialogue, especially as they manifest in social media and techno-advocacy. Further, this volume’s research-based essays—chosen from among an unprecedentedly strong field—not only deepen our understanding of issues like food allergies, solar power, and minimum wage debates; they demonstrate the cost of band-aid solutions and offer glimpses of the shape that forward-thinking policy and meaningful social change can take.

Many of our writers use the personal as a lens onto the social and political. When they share their experiences being outed, dealing with profound loss, and suffering from imposter syndrome, these authors illustrate the necessity for radical honesty in the face of a society that often expects the opposite. When they probe their spirituality and their disability, they push us to think more deeply about our own operational definitions, what they gloss over, and whom they exclude. Several essays in this volume adopt a similar critical lens when examining writers’ experiences with service and community-engaged learning, pushing the Notre Dame community to confront the power dynamics and assumptions that undergird this longstanding campus tradition. These writers’ willingness to look honestly and thoughtfully at their own experiences is worthy of study and imitation.

In its twentieth year, Fresh Writing continues to chart new directions not only through the kinds of arguments our students are producing but also in the modes of argumentation they implement. Several impressive examples of video argument provide compelling illustrations of the power of multi-modality as a tool for persuasion, reflection, and advocacy. “(Not) All Asians Look the Same” and “Color” deftly wield the rhythms of language and visual editing to make, in a compact sixty seconds, powerful statements about, stereotype and artistic inspiration; and “Deep Fakes: Real Problems” and “May the Force (of Williams) Be With You” reinforce their claims by unsettling the senses (and our trust in them) through their visual and sonic manipulations.

Finally, Volume 20 branches out not only in modality, but also in disciplinary genre. Among its contents are examples of outstanding student work in Philosophy, Theology, Political Science, Literature, and Classics. We are thrilled to be able to draw from an increasingly wide array of academic disciplines to depict what good writing looks like at Notre Dame.

Of course, we’ve only touched on the exciting contents of Volume 20, but we hope we’ve enticed you to explore further. We believe that students and instructors will find much herein to discuss, ruminate on, and springboard from as they chart their own intellectual paths. More broadly, we hope that readers will find here a source of hope—a genuine and well-founded hope that grows from engaging with young thinkers as they face, ponder, and speak the truth.

With excitement and pride, we introduce to you Volume 20 of Fresh Writing.

Nicole MacLaughlin and Nathaniel Myers, Co-Editors, Fresh Writing