By Laura Sanicola
The New York Police Department is currently investigating a reported racial “bias crime” that occurred on Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus yesterday afternoon.
An email sent to the Fordham community at 8:16 p.m. Sunday evening stated that at approximately 1 p.m. on Sunday, September 13, “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.” According to the email, it is unclear when exactly the door was defaced, as the the room’s residents had not been present for most of the day.
University officials have said that that the slur in question was the “n-word.” The door has since been painted over and the word is no longer visible. The email regarding the recent incident also states that Residential Life staff and officers from Public Safety were among those that responded to the room, and notified NYPD.
A statement from Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, was issued on Friday evening. “The incident that occurred in our midst on Sunday has affected the entire Fordham family,” the statement read. “It has created an atmosphere in which both the victim of the incident and every African-American student on campus feel both violated and vulnerable. It has also undercut our efforts to create and nurture an inclusive community marked by respect, affection and mutual support.”
“I would be less than honest if I didn’t tell you that the incident that occurred last Sunday has left me frustrated and angry — very angry,” the statement continued. “The reason for my anger is easy to understand: I am angry that one cowardly bigoted person has inflicted such great pain on so many members of a community that I love deeply and that I feel blessed to serve. As for my frustration, I feel frustrated that I was not able to protect people whom I love from the forces of evil and intolerance.”
Christopher Rodgers, Dean of Students at Fordham, provided a statement to The Fordham Ram on the incident.
“Building a culture of civility and respect for the dignity of others requires ongoing and persistent work at all levels from everyone in our community — and there will be some setbacks,” said Dean Rodgers. “Our staffs in residential life, student involvement, multicultural affairs, public safety, campus ministry, counseling center and the dean’s office have been meeting and coordinating response with colleagues from around the University since this report was received.”
“While we share a tremendous sense of revulsion at the weekend’s report from this freshman hall, we are mindful that the campus is not a bubble — we are not isolated from the continuous struggle against racism in our larger communities,” he continued. “We are committed, however, to continuing this work with our students, student governments and student organizations and through bodies like the Bias Incident Resource Group.
For Fordham seniors and staff, this incident brings back memories of 2012, when a series of racial slurs were found on university property. That occurrence, as well as the university’s response, received national media attention.
A statement on the Fordham University website on bias related incidents and/or hate crimes reads as follows:
“After consultation with the alleged victim/complainant and sensitive consideration of the facts of the case, an investigation of the incident will be conducted by the Department of Public Safety and/or the Dean of Students so that appropriate student judicial action may be taken. When an incident involves a University employee as a perpetrator or a victim, the Director of Institutional Equity and Compliance/Title IX Coordinator will be notified and participate in the investigation with other appropriate University officials. Internal proceedings do not supersede, and will not interfere with, an individual’s right to pursue other legal remedies, including criminal prosecution. The Department of Public Safety maintains a cooperative relationship with local police precincts and will assist any victim in every possible way through the process of reporting, investigation, and resolution of any criminal proceedings.”
That sentiment was reiterated in the email sent to students after this week’s incident.
“It goes without saying that such behavior is antithetical to the values of Jesuit education. Such slurs injure not only their intended targets, but the entire Fordham community,” read the email. “If the person who committed the act is identified, he or she will face University disciplinary proceedings in addition to whatever criminal charges are filed.
A resident assistant in Lalande Hall said swift action was being taken by residential life staff.
“The floor that it occurred on had a floor meeting last night to discuss it, and each of us has reached out to our residents as resources ourselves if they want to talk or to direct them to the other resources available on campus,” the RA said. “Our main goals are to find out any information about the person who committed the hate crime, and to be there as support for all the residents in the building to try to build our community back up.”
Since the Fordham community was notified about the incident, social media has seen an outpouring of support for the affected student. Several Fordham students and community members have made posts condemning the slur, as has the FCLC Black Students Alliance Facebook page.
Hans Lueders, FCRH ’16 and president of the Black Student Alliance at Fordham (ASILI), said, “I only hope the student who was targeted knows that there is a safe haven for him in ASILI, and I’d stress to him that he’s not alone.”
“As a black student, I wish I were more surprised that this type of thing was happening in 2015, but I can only say the U.S. has a long way to go if at one of the most respected universities in the supposedly post-racial northeast, a student can be made to feel unwelcome because of the color of his skin, or gender, ethnicity, religion, etc,” Lueders said.
Dr. Mark Chapman, associate professor for African American studies, said he had similar feelings about the situation.
“Unfortunately, these incidents don’t surprise me as they have happened in the past, and I express my concern for the victim in this matter. That the injury done would not leave a lasting impact on his experience at Fordham University,” Chapman said in an email. “And finally, I hope that students will rally behind the individual and wholeheartedly condemn such acts.”
The Office of Public safety is encouraging anyone with any knowledge of the incident to contact the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force at (646) 610-8763, or the Office of Public Safety at (718) 817-2222, and ask to speak to the Duty Supervisor, as well as to contact their resident assistants, commuter assistants, Office of Multicultural Affairs staff, resident ministers, and student life staff “if they have anything to report, or if they simply want to discuss the incident and its effect on them and the community.”