IUSB student Brandi Brown and Bethel student Krystal Kotesky meet for the first time.

Amidst the clinking silverware and aromas of coffee, bacon, and pancakes wafting throughout Golden Corral Restaurant early one February morning, a constant chatter, even laughter, could be heard coming from three family-style tables set up for a meet and greet between Caucasian Bethel College students and African American Indiana University South Bend students.

Joan McClendon, the adjunct instructor of Bethel’s Multi-cultural Youth Ministry class, is having her students interact with the IUSB group this semester in order to begin discussions on race and social class.

“Once they start talking about race, the second part of our curriculum is to talk about how to partner with inner city students, build relationships and to grow from each other through our experiences,” says McClendon.

Ultimately, these experiences and discussions will allow McClendon’s class to construct a potential afterschool mentoring and discipleship curriculum for South Bend high schools. Area leaders will come into class on the final day to hear the proposed curriculum.

“I’m realizing there [are] programs for elementary and middle school, but there’s a need in South Bend high schools,” says McClendon, who became aware of the need for such a program while mentoring students in the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) at John Adams High School.

After a few weeks of corresponding via email, the students had their first of three scheduled meetings with their assigned “pen pals” at the restaurant.

“I was just excited because I’ve never done anything like this before—taking the time to be intentional about getting to know other cultures,” says Lauren Linhart, a sophomore youth ministry major at Bethel. Linhart believes the experience will help her to be aware of how to make people comfortable interracially when it comes to the ministry.

Manjai Zelee, a freshman general studies major at IUSB, wants to teach her Bethel correspondent, Shelby Trusty, a junior youth ministry major, how to make African cuisine. Zelee, an Ivorian Liberian who came to America nine years ago for a better education, says she’s “trying to get a better understanding of the experiences of individuals who live here.”

Further down the table, Lawrence Mitchell-Mathews, a sophomore voice performance major, with an opera emphasis at IUSB, says he wants to go “bowling, hang out, and find out more about youth ministry” from his correspondent.

“The students are engaged,” said McClendon as she surveyed the early-morning interactions. “Just look at them; they’re smiling. I think it’s cool that some of my students are really enjoying it, especially some who were a bit nervous. We want to break down racial walls and build healthy relationships.”