In the Spring 2021 semester, the University of Notre Dame’s campus remained covered in bright green HERE campaign signage reminding students, staff, faculty, and visitors to remain six feet apart, wear masks, and wash their hands—in other words, continue to follow the protocols of safety necessitated by living during the height of a global pandemic. By semester’s end, after managing the risks of in-person learning while many universities remained online, the University set up a series of on-campus vaccine clinics, and many students returned home to enjoy summer newly vaccinated. When they returned for the Fall semester, over 90% of the campus population had been vaccinated, and mask mandates had, for all but a few exceptions, been lifted. The essays presented in this, the 22nd volume of Fresh Writing, were written by first-year students enrolled in courses during this dramatic time of transition, and, as many of these essays attest, our students have been profoundly shaped by their time on campus. Whatever one’s feelings are about the university’s decision to keep campus open during the acute phases of the pandemic, it is clear that the privilege of gathering together is not a given.
In fact, while most of the essays in Volume 22 do not—perhaps surprisingly—directly address the pandemic, a great many reflect how students have experienced their time on Notre Dame’s campus in their first year of study. In “A Reflection of Our Founding: Installed 150 Years Later,” Aidan Boylan considers the Sesquicentennial Common as a persuasive rhetorical space that highlights the spiritual dimensions of the university’s mission. In “Meditation on Home,” Ruoyao (Lily) Xu provides a window into the experience of living seven thousand miles from home and the unexpected ways in which homesickness can manifest in daily life. In “Poverty Amongst the Rich,” the third place winner of the McPartlin Award, Dulce Daniella Pedraza Gonzalez writes about the challenges low-income students face navigating campuses where high-income students are the majority, and she argues that the university should meaningfully increase the income diversity of the students it admits.
The first place winner of the McPartlin Award, Caitlin Papalia, in her essay “American Sign Language: Why Notre Dame Should Validate My First Language” also proposes ways in which to make the University of Notre Dame more diverse and inclusive, namely by allowing students to fulfill their foreign language requirements with courses in American Sign Language (ASL). Papalia writes with authority and passion about ASL as a language that reflects the value and distinctiveness of Deaf culture.
Even when not directly engaging with their on-campus experiences, our students continue to demonstrate the exceptional caliber of intellectual work that is possible in the first year of study at Notre Dame. Such is the case with the second place winner of the McPartlin Award, Daniel O’Brien, in his essay “That All Shall Agree: On David Bentley Hart’s Interpretation of Romans 5: 18-19,” in which he employs his command of Ancient Greek to incisively analyze a passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans and, in so doing, enters into an ongoing scholarly conversation around the theology of universal salvation. Other students make their own scholarly interventions in academic fields as wide-ranging as Philosophy, Affect Theory, and Greek and Roman literature. Most notably, our students continue to seek to give voice to those suffering social injustices, even as they, with equal courage, continue to look inward and examine their own changing beliefs.
The Snite Museum of Art remains a gathering space on campus that inspires a great deal of thoughtful writing and intellectual work. In “A Boy with Burdens: Analyzing Themes of Colonialism and Environmentalism in the Art of Yinka Shonibare,” Alyssa Muilli, first place winner of the Snite Museum of Art Essay Competition, turns readers’ eyes toward the intersecting legacies of environmental destruction and colonialism in her analysis of Shonibare’s sculpture Earth Kid (Boy). Second place winner, Samantha Francois, in her analysis of Jean-Baptiste Deshays’s Joseph Sold into Bondage by His Brothers, illustrates how an artist’s seemingly “crude” artistry may, in fact, betray a deep humanist philosophy.
We hope that, whether you are a student here at Notre Dame or a virtual visitor to campus via this journal, you will find a gathering place of sorts in this volume. Through their writing, the students featured in this volume engage with diverse points of view, often on contentious topics; they invite us to reflect on the value of lived experience in their narratives; and they imagine a better world in their proposals. We present to you Volume 22 of Fresh Writing.