Behind the Aim for Diversity at Fordham University

Last year on Friday the 13th, Fordham Lincoln Center organized a solidarity event inviting all students to attend the #BLACKOUT on the outdoor plaza at 12:45 pm. Students were asked to wear all black and bring signs. The event was organized to stand in solidarity with students nationwide in response to racially bias incidents thus more specifically, University of Missouri, Yale University, Ithaca College, Claremont-McKenna College, and last but not least, Fordham University.

Fordham Invitation Sent to all Students

Two months before on the same day, all Fordham students were notified of a bias incident at the Rose Hill campus. The email from Public Safety stated; “At 1 p.m. on Sunday, September 13, 2015, an African-American student notified a resident assistant, who in turn notified Fordham Public Safety, that a racial slur had been scratched into the door of his room in Lalande Hall. The room’s residents had not been present for most of the day, and it is unclear when the door was defaced.” The details on the student’s race and the slur used were not later discussed formally until Sept 16, in Adriana Gallina, Fordham Observer’s editor in chief article Fordham Reacts to Slur on Minority Student Door. According to Gallina, all three roommates when to football practice that Sunday morning. Two of the three roommates who are both white returned to their dorm around 12 pm reporting having not seen anything on their door. However, an hour later when the third roommate who is black returned to the room, he found the derogatory term ‘Nigger’ carved into their door. He took a photo of the door and reported it to his resident assistant who then alerted Public Safety.

Photo Courtesy of Hans Lueders and the Fordham Observer

The act was identified by the University as a ‘bias incident’ which upset some of the students on campus stating; “Subsequently, two student groups on campus, the Black Student Alliance (BSA) at Rose Hill and BSA at Lincoln Center, have responded with outrage about what students are largely referring to as a hate crime.” Many students voiced their opinions on Facebook largely agreeing with the presidents of the Black Student Alliance at Lincoln Center and Rosehill finding the term ‘bias incident’ to be insensitive. The BSA executive board at Fordham LC stating; “To begin, words cannot express the disgust felt among the E-Board that someone who dares to call themselves a Fordham Ram would have the audacity to commit such an act of hatred, and let’s call it for what it was — a hate crime against one’s racial identity…To the students of Fordham, we urge you to understand the severity of what has truly happened and to understand that to remain silent on this matter is to insinuate this behavior is acceptable (despite going against the Jesuit tenants we so stand for here ).” The statement summarized their disgust in response to the act itself and their support and solidarity to the victim and other students of color calling for unity and growth for the University. While the University, student groups, and new freshman were coping with the horrors of the ‘bias incident’ at our Jesuit University, another incident transpired.

Only seven days later, all students received another email from Public Safety notifying the student body of a second ‘bias incident’ that stated; “At approximately 2:20 p.m. on Sunday, September 20, 2015, a student notified University officials that he saw what appears to be a crude, backwards swastika approximately two inches across scratched into a stairwell wall in Lalande Hall.” Residential life, Public Safety, the NYPD and Father Mcshane were notified and responded to the scene. Upon further investigation they found that another student had seen the markings earlier that week but presumed it to be merely scratches. The investigation could not determine when exactly the markings were placed but the University found it non-coincidental that it came a week after the N-word was carved into a black student’s door as well as in the midst of Jewish holiday celebration.The University condemned the act labeling the incident racist, anti-semitic and opposite of the Universities behavioral expectations from students and faculty.

Three more bias incidents transpired following those two involving hate speech and or visuals towards Black and Jewish students. A Student sent in a video to the Fordham Ram of one incident in which students were chanting “White Power” at an off campus party.

The university and many student groups worked to create safe spaces for discussion in clubs and campus dialogues. Cultural groups like the Black Student Alliance, the Student Organization of Latinos, the Muslim Student Alliance and the Office of Multicultural Affairs organize cultural events, outings, and parties on campus to unify all students by sharing their culture and promoting diversity awareness. This year, the administration rolled out a new Diversity Task Force Report and Administrative Response. The Diversity Report explores the problem with racism and inclusion at large in the nation as well her at Fordham University. Fordham has a history for aiding in the awareness of culture and diversity stating; “The climate at Fordham is open, welcoming, and well-intentioned, but challenges that include race and diversity components are everywhere, from recruiting and retaining students to diversifying the teaching faculty and administrative offices to responding to racial and bias incidents.” However, the recognized that incidents involving hateful language has been utilized and acknowledged that these concerns needed to be addressed.

As Fordham is not a racist university, they recognized institutionalized racism and bias are still prevalent nonetheless thus, Father McShane and the Task Force wanted to focus on race and the effects of racism in Fordham’s community.

They clearly defined prejudice, discrimination, institutionalized racism, cultural racism, explicit bias, implicit bias, and inclusion to encompass the implication of each terms bias and judgment. A study conducted during a student’s information-gathering session showed students reported explicit and implicit bias, racism amongst students and microaggressions. Some students argued that it’s not fault of the university as they believe students bring their own bias to the University. In their response, Father McShane and the Task Force intends to reshape the procedures and policies, community engagement, the curriculum and the student and faculty to make it more inclusive and focused on overseeing the climate of diversity in each of these sections.

While these efforts are appreciated by students of color on campus and student groups, many feel there needs to be more urgent action involved.

Quiara Capellan, Executive Board Member of SOL

Quiara Capellan, is a latino student and executive board member for SOL, the Student Organization of Latinos. She states; “ We host a lot of cultural events, we have dance lessons, our big parties during the semester and we had an open mic event and we had two Afro-Latina poets come in and perform poetry for us. Just events that promote community and diversity, we invite everyone to our events, so it’s not just for members.” In response to the administrations diversity initiative she finds; “It should be more evident that the campus is diverse and fordham should be taking more part in making that happen, not just student leaders…These issues do affect us in a way that we do need to be having these conversations and fordham is trying but we need to see more happening.” Thus, while students of color are happy about the Universities initiative there is a desire to see more active action on the take shape on campus when it comes to organizing cultural events and dialogues.

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