Club Feature: Outside ND

Author: Lilly Ashworth

OutisdeND's infographic"

Both Notre Dame and South Bend have rich histories to explore, but students often choose to spend their time strictly on campus. In an effort to bring the city of South Bend and the students of Notre Dame together, senior Ava Downey created an Instagram account, @outside.nd, sharing the places she’s traveled to off-campus. Whether going to the South Bend Farmer’s Market or taking a day trip to the beach in New Buffalo, Michigan, Downey and her friends use the Outside ND account to feature unique places outside of Notre Dame.

“Outside ND really started out as an idea because of lived experiences at Notre Dame,” Downey said. She said that she created the account “to really show people there’s so much more [to] South Bend.”

As an economics and history major with a minor in real estate, Downey was drawn to South Bend’s history with deindustrialization and how the city gained a more negative reputation around campus. After taking a class titled “Labor in South Bend” through the Center for Social Concerns, Downey worked to understand “how the negative downturn in South Bend still paints a narrative over the city.” She observed this on campus by students who only viewed South Bend as a community in need of their help or a place where they could enjoy the nightlife.

To Downey, South Bend is full of unique small businesses, art installations, music venues and many other places that would entice Notre Dame students. One reason Downey believes people are hesitant to explore South Bend is that they do not see other students doing the same. After bringing her car to campus her sophomore year, Downey would venture off campus and photograph her experience, posting it on Outside ND for other students to see.

“There’s all these cool places [in South Bend,] that you could try, [especially] if you’ve had someone who’s been there before,” Downey said. “I think Outside ND was the showcase [that] a Notre Dame student had been there before [and] enjoyed it.”

While a motive behind creating Outside ND was to capture the spirit of South Bend, Downey has also used it as a virtual memory box for her experience the past two years on campus. The account now has almost 150 posts and over 2,000 followers, but Downey has never been focused on the numbers.

“This has always just been a passion project,” Downey said. “I never wanted to make money, I just like doing this. I like showing people these cool places that I’ve been to.”

In recent years, Downey’s passion project has become more than just an Instagram account. After attending an event hosted by Heatcheck Studios, a music and art studio that focuses on highlighting black voices, Downey met founder Meech Kennedy and the two decided to work on a collaborative event. Heatcheck and Outside ND hosted Outside.AF, a party and art show centered on Notre Dame and South Bend artists alike. Downey has hosted a few other events, such as the “Back in the Bend” rooftop party at the beginning of the fall 2023 semester.

“One of the most pivotal moments for Outside ND was going to [Heatcheck],” Downey said. “I think there’s just such a need for Notre Dame students getting involved in other places.”

The events that Downey has hosted through the help of Kennedy and other friends have allowed Outside ND to act as more of a club, rather than just an Instagram account or memory book. By bringing Notre Dame students into South Bend through these events, Downey has not only shared what the city has to offer but also what Notre Dame students can offer each other.

“I feel like a big part of it has been connecting not only with people outside of Notre Dame but with your own friends here,” lead content creator Mary Musselman, class of 2024 said. “A lot of it has been finding people who will go off campus with you.”

Musselman has been with Outside ND since the beginning. After Downey went abroad during her junior year, Musselman took over the account and has since held a larger role with the page. Like many other Notre Dame students, however, Musselman’s schedule is quite busy with classes and other work. Two large barriers that prevent Notre Dame students from venturing into South Bend are the time commitment and the accessibility. Not every student has access to a car, and although Outside ND features places that are accessible by the city bus, a lack of transportation can force students to stick to campus.

“I think that the biggest thing was [that] Ava had a car,” Musselman said. “I would have never been able to get off campus either if I didn’t have access to her rides. It’s easy for students to be fearful of South Bend or not appreciate it because they don’t always have the opportunity to get off campus.”

By taking the extra step to explore the city students choose to live in, Downey and Musselman agree that there are so many advantages that come from it. In recent months, Notre Dame has included South Bend in its strategic plans to create a better relationship between the university and the city it resides in.

“Being able to be a part of this upward movement to reimagine Notre Dame’s relationship with South Bend … has been cool,” Downey said. “I’ve been able to have so many new and interesting conversations.”