By Laura Sanicola
The Rams’ final playoff game against the University of Tennessee Chattanooga did not result in a victory for the team, but for Dr. Mark Naison, associate chair of African American studies at Fordham, it was a personal victory.
On the field, the players wore white stickers with the number “0” on their helmets, made by students in his Affirmative Action class. On tonight, the “0” will turn up again on armbands worn by students, faculty and alumni. They plan to congregate on the steps of the Rose Hill Gym during the men’s basketball game in a silent vigil, according to Naison.
The “0” represents ‘Zero Tolerance For Racism,” a campaign started by his students. “We will not be silent or passive in the face of an attack on our community’s ideals,” Naison said.
The campaign began in a Fordham classroom. A conversation in an Affirmative Action class about the most recent racial bias incidents witnessed by the Fordham community — most recently that a group of athletes on the Fordham Men’s Swim Team chanted racist remarks in an off-campus apartment — resulted in the formation of the Zero Tolerance for Racism Campaign, according to Naison, who taught the class at the time.
From there, the conversation continued in the meeting with Naison, Dr. Mark Chapman, professor of African American studies, and Dr. Marlene Taylor-Ponterotto, FCRH ’79. In the meeting, Naison said that the students involved in the racial bias incidents should face serious consequences.
“I’m not for forgiveness,” Naison said. “My experience is that transforming people’s attitudes about this is an incredibly time consuming, long process.”
One of Naison’s students, football team captain Garrick Mayweather, GSB ’16, is a member of the Affirmative Action class who spearheaded the football team’s participation in the campaign.
“Bringing the campaign to the football team was the easy part,” Mayweather said. “Informing some of the other team leaders instantly led to action.”
“The football coaches were very receptive to the idea and wanted to support the campaign,” he said.
“We rush-ordered the helmet stickers so they would be delivered in time for the game, and every player wore the Zero Tolerance for Racism sticker for our nationally-televised playoff game.”
Since the campaign launched, its presence has extended into the realm of social media. Taylor-Ponterotto started the Progressive Alumni of Fordham University page on Facebook, which has accumulated over 250 likes since. The page features several members of the Fordham community wearing the armbands in solidarity with the campaign, as well as articles from The Fordham Ram and Slant News about racial bias incidents that have occurred on campus, a source of pride for Naison.
“The alumni are really up in arms about what happened and are demanding that the university take a really strong response to it and not try to cover up how bad what happened was,” Naison said.
Taylor-Ponterotto, a physician at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, has stayed active in the Fordham community since her graduation. Though deeply disturbed by the recent events, she is impressed with the response of recent graduates.
“I’m so incredibly excited about the importance of making people aware of what’s happening and the energy of the alumni,” she said.
This semester, Fordham has witnessed four racial bias incidents between the Rose Hill and Lincoln Center campuses, some necessitating police involvement. The first two took place in September in Martyrs’ Court Lalande, where a racial slur was etched into a student’s door and a “crude, backwards swastika” was found drawn on a stairwell. In November, hate speech was found written in a men’s bathroom in the Lowenstein Building of Lincoln Center. The last incident involving the racist chanting at an off-campus apartment, was reported days later. Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, has addressed each of these incidents in university-wide emails.
In November, the Undoing Racism Collective held a full day teach-in to educate the community on how to address racism both on campus and off.
The Fordham Athletics Department and the Fordham Swim Team could not be reached for comment.