Students Study the History of IU South Bend

Students Study the History of IU South Bend

As IU South Bend celebrates its Jubilee Year and Indiana University approaches its Bicentennial, these historical milestones became research topics for a group of students. Associate Professor of History Lisa Featheringill Zwicker chose the history of the campus as the theme for her capstone class for seniors. “This is the first time the history of IU South Bend will be laid out,” explained Zwicker. “It’s my hope we will have articles from students we can submit to Wolfson Press.”

The class read the book A Campus Becoming, published in 2010 by Wolfson Press, the only publication written about the campus. It focuses on the leadership of IU South Bend’s first chancellor, Lester Wolfson, and his vision and plan for the campus. With few other secondary resources available, students were challenged to piece together information gathered from newspaper articles, photos, personal notes, and building blueprints.

“It has not been easy,” commented Zwicker. “I’ve been interested in what they have been able to come up with in their research.” Students confirmed that there are plenty of articles about IU South Bend but very few with specific dates, times, or reasons behind course offerings or student organizations and campus activities.

Nevertheless, their research led to new discoveries. They were surprised to learn that before 1967, students were required to transfer to the Bloomington campus to complete their bachelor's degrees. They also acknowledged that their findings have led to a deeper appreciation for the campus as it exists today. Most were surprised to learn that at one time a city street ran through the middle of the campus and a Coca-Cola bottling facility stood where campus buildings are now located. “The campus grew from bare bones,” said Joseph Rzepnicki, whose research is focused on the events of the campus during the Vietnam War era. “The main mall is not that old.”

Students also enjoyed searching for information in new places. “I never used the archives and special collections in the Schurz Library before,” said Philip Melin, who researched the history of the campus' Afro-American Society. “It’s kind of addicting. I’m fascinated with the research. It’s hard to stop searching for sources and discovering new connections.”

Recent history degree graduate Deb Parcel, who works for the Historic Preservation Commission in South Bend, said the class taught her more about scholarly research in her field, especially the relationship of people to buildings. “I love buildings,” she remarked. “The class helped me learn more about doing historical research. It’s surprising the university did not use eminent domain to expand, but instead incorporated the homes surrounding the campus as they became available and used them for offices.”

The class offered some eye-opening revelations for Zwicker too. “I was hired in 2005,” she explained. “I did not realize that the liberal arts have been at the center of the IU South Bend since the beginning of the institution. That was a choice made by Chancellor Wolfson.”

The research topics students chose reflect the many facets of IU South Bend’s historical significance to the community—from its rise as an environmental leader to its emergence as a degree-granting institution to the physical growth of the campus. “One thing is very evident,” said Zwicker. "As early as 1943, IU South Bend has played a prominent role in reaching out to the community with education.”