The halls of Martyrs’ Court Lalande have been the focus of the Fordham community’s attention over the past weeks following two separate incidents in the freshman hall.
The first occurred on Sunday, Sept. 13, when an African-American student notified a resident assistant that a racial slur had been scratched into the door of his room. The NYPD and the Department of Public Safety both responded, according to a university-wide email.
The door writing was preserved until the NYPD responded and conducted a preliminary investigation. In addition, the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force assigned detectives to follow up any leads in the case and have been seen in the building by students.
The second incident occurred on Sunday, Sept. 20, when, according to Public Safety, a student notified university officials that he saw “a crude, backwards swastika approximately two inches across” scratched into a stairwell wall in the same residence hall.
Adminstrators were notified, as were Public Safety and the NYPD, and the vandalism was classified as a “suspected bias crime.” An update to all students that same day reported that the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force deemed the vandalism “to be a non-bias criminal mischief case, pending any new information.”
In response, the community has, in many ways, leaped into action.
Public Safety, the Office of Residential Life and university administrators, for example, have been releasing statements about the efforts to investigate the two incidents. Students and student groups have been active as well.
Fordham University, like many college campuses, is no stranger to these types of incidents. Within this decade, there have been similar incidents involving racial and homophobic slurs.
On Feb. 7, 2012, Melissa Wright, a resident assistant in Walsh Hall, came home to her dorm to find the n-word written on her door in black permanent marker. Wright reported the incident to Residential Life staff and Public Safety, and her door was covered.
On Wednesday, Feb. 15, Kimberly Russell, assistant dean of students and director of residential life, wrote in an official statement that “all Fordham students know…our community does not tolerate this kind of language.”
Two days later, a university wide-statement was emailed by Office of Student Life Vice President Jeffrey Gray. “We expect the members of the University community to continue displaying the same decency and respect they have always shown [emphasis mine] to one another,” the email stated.
That Tuesday, Walsh Hall held a non-mandatory hall meeting in response to the incident, which was attended by only two students who were not RAs, according to the paper.
On Feb. 27, a homophobic slur was sighted in the hallway of Fordham Lincoln Center’s McMahon Hall. A second statement was released from the Office of Student Life, which read: “There is no room at Fordham University for bigotry of any kind.”
Christopher Rodgers, dean of students at Fordham, issued a statement regarding a recent incident.
On March 2, the n-word was found carved into concrete in Martyrs’ Court Goupil, which was the third incident of its kind in under a month.
Floor meetings about the incident in Martyrs’ Court were made mandatory, and the Office of Student Life promoted a Concerned Students of Color and Anti-Racist Allies Vigil, which took place on Thursday, March 8.
Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, issued a statement regarding the incident.
“Each of these despicable slurs is a stain on the Fordham community, and on each of its members,” McShane said. “I hold out the greatest contempt for anyone who would intentionally inflict that pain on another human being. Disgust, in fact, is what I feel in contemplating these attacks.”
Student responses to each incident varied, though the incidents were publicized by media covrage in New York City. Nearly 1,500 students signed a petition online calling for an end to the bigotry, and many said these incidents did not reflect the tone on campus.
A campus dialogue ensued, and a Healing Vigil, publicized by university spokesman Bob Howe, was held at Rose Hill in March of 2012.
More than a year later, in Nov. 2013, another incident involving a potential hate symbol (a “crude, backwards swastika” as seen etched on Martyrs’ Lawn) prompted a similar response from McShane.
“If indeed this turns out to be a deliberate act, it is both saddening and repugnant that anyone would sink to the use of that symbol,” McShane said. “Such behavior would be even more shocking at a Jesuit university, and stands against every ideal we hold dear.”
The incident was publicized, but the student response was mild. Students Respond to
Rose Hill students have wasted no time responding to the recent pair of incidents in Lalande Hall.
On Tuesday, Sept. 15, the Black Students Alliance (ASILI) held an open dialogue in response to the racial slur, though the turn out did not please all students.
“I’m really saddened by recent events but more so by the lack of reaction from a majority of the student body,” said Nish Baig, FCRH ’17, who attended the event. “I really wish more students showed up to the open dialogue hosted by Asili last week. We need administration to listen and institute change, but the students need to care about it and cause change.”
Throughout the week, ASILI, USG and other student groups have posted their own responses and statements on social media.
Individual students have also used social media as a platform to voice their responses to the Sept. 20 incident.
Hans Lueders, FCRH ’16 and president of ASILI, wrote an article for Slant News entitled “At Fordham University, Racism 101 is in session.”
A student participates in a dialogue hosted by ASILI.
“If I am hated, abhorred, or marginalized by color, my skin tone, no one has ever been brave enough, or cruel enough, to come to my face and challenge my existence in this broken world at Fordham University,” Leuders wrote. “To the human being who defaced that door with your sharpened chisel to say what you said, to brand your fellow student [as the n-word,] I only say this: Regardless of your motivations, your actions have rippled in ways you cannot imagine. If your intention was to intimidate your victim, or state your disgust for him and all like him, you have failed.”
At Lalande Hall, one resident observed a change in culture in the building.
“As of late, people [in the hall] start looking at each other and try to figure out people’s qualities to wonder if they’re related in the crimes,” Robert Strazzeri, GSB ’19 said. “In essence, people have become slightly less friendly and more closed off.”
At the Fordham Homecoming game on Saturday, Sept. 19, a group of about 30 students rallied in protest, while holding a sign that read “We Belong Here Too!” and chanting “black students matter.”
Students created a Facebook page entitled “Fordham Students United” on Sept. 20 in response to the incident that occurred a week earlier in Lalande Hall.
A description of the page reads: “Fordham Students United is an intersectional coalition of student leaders, activists, faculty & alumni. We are united to bring social justice on campus by empowering our communities.”
“Right now we are working on the issue of race on campus because many students feel unsafe and silenced because of the recent hate crimes on campus and administration’s ineffective responses to them,” said Monica Cruz, FCRH ’16. “We aim to inspire long lasting policy and institutional changes in how issues of race and privilege are handled on campus.”
So far, the posts on the page have concerned both the racial bias incident and the criminal mischief incident.
“A week after the N-word was written on a black student’s door, a swastika was discovered written on a stairwell wall in Lalande. Fordham, we are so much better than this. Let’s speak out and be active in ending racist hate on our campus,” the page administrators posted on Sunday evening.
For Hannah Buckley, FCRH ’16 and president of Fordham University’s Jewish Student Organization (JSO), this is the second time in two years she has had to respond to a swastika symbol on Martyrs’ Lawn.
“With regards to the NYPD changing the status of the alleged hate crime, we have to respect the NYPD’s decision because they’re the experts,” Buckley said.
“But it doesn’t change the fact that we, Fordham’s Jewish community, were confronted with an alleged hate crime,” she said. “And it doesn’t change the fact that for the second time in a week, this school has had to confront the ugly truth that things like this happen at Fordham and are much more common than we care to admit. The conversation has been sparked. “
On Sept. 22, students packed a lecture hall in Freeman for “Race and Privilege On Campus: A Dialogue,” sponsored by Women’s Empowerment, Progressive Students for Justice, ASILI and JSO.
The students then relocated to Edward’s Parade for a “Peaceful Conglomeration of Students Against Hatred.” For almost four hours, students voiced their concerns and wishes for community response to the incidents.
“My hope for the future is that Fordham extends its resources to the community outside the gates so that there is less of a division,” said Matthew Vazquez, FCRH ’18.
Others, such as Edilenia Rojas, FCRH ’16, used the event to critique university “dismissive response” of the administration.
“Although they did send out an email to the students, it showed a language that encouraged their faculty and students to think about the events and discuss issues like racism, but it didn’t do anything to promote permanent change,” Rojas said. “One of the biggest things that Father McShane put in my heart was to go set the world on fire…that fire that’s within me is really pushing me to want to make changes in the world, but more importantly at this school.”
Admin Responds to Recent Events
The first response to the Sept. 13 vandalism incident came after the incident was described to students in an email.
“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,” Public Safety said in its university-wide email sent on Sunday, Sept. 13. “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.”
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 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.”
McShane addressed the student body on the evening of Friday, Sept. 18.
“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,” McShane said in the email. “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.”
On Sept. 20, Public Safety described in another email the second incident of vandalism at Lalande Hall, stating, “It is impossible to ignore the fact that its discovery comes just a week after a racial slur was found carved into a student’s door in the same residence hall, and comes in the midst of the Jewish high holy days, compounding the hurt offered to the University community. Such racist and anti-Semitic actions, freighted with a history of violence, are repellent to any civilized person, and certainly the opposite of what Fordham University expects of the members of its community.”
— Cate Carrejo and Caillin McKenna contributed reporting.