By Aislinn Keely
The Dorothy Day Center has suspended the Social Justice Leaders program. The center has begun strategic planning for a new direction based in service learning and deeper relationships with community partners, according to Michael McCarthy, SJ, vice president for mission integration and planning. This planning led to the decision to halt the program at the conclusion of this semester.
“The hope really is that as the Dorothy Day Center begins to have a much more strategic focus that we can involve many more students in projects of service learning, community engagement and social justice,” said McCarthy.
Though the Dorothy Day Center has not officially discontinued the program, it is considered suspended as the center plans for a new direction focused on service learning and community partnerships accessible to more members of the Fordham community, according to McCarthy. At this time in past years, the application process for the following year’s leaders had been active.
“We are not in the process of calling a new cohort for next year,” he said.
Various Social Justice Leaders (SJL) said they were saddened and worried by the change.
“The SJL community has always been a supportive and safe space for a lot of marginalized students and I’m worried that if this program is discontinued what’s going to happen to that safe space for students,” said Haley Hauge, FCRH ’18, a current Social Justice Leader.
The program will function in its current form until the close of this semester. This includes the College Access, Social Justice Awareness, Community Organizing and Senior Council working groups. In the coming year, College Access and Urban Plunge, which functioned under the program, will continue to function despite the suspension of the Social Justice Leaders program.
“Before there were SJLs, historically, there were Urban Plunge leaders, and we will continue to have those,” said McCarthy. “And the College Access program is a program that is engaged in the community.”
Jamie Connors, FCRH ’18, a current Social Justice Leader involved herself with the Social Justice Leaders after her involvement with Urban Plunge as a freshman.
“It just changes you completely. It changes the way you look at the Bronx. It changes the way you look at service,” said Connors, “I don’t think that I would be doing anything in service if I hadn’t been introduced to the SJL program. It’s something that’s very near and dear to my heart.”
McCarthy said the program occupies a lot of the Dorothy Day Center’s time and effort.
“In the beginning of the year it takes a huge amount of time on the part of the Dorothy Day Center,” said McCarthy on the need to suspend the program pending the new direction.
Roxanne De La Torre, director of the Dorothy Day Center for Service and Justice, said the decision to suspend the program was not an easy one to make.
“This is a decision that was not made lightly, but one that has been thoughtfully and prayerfully discerned in full appreciation of the many different ways our students have had an impact on our campuses and in the community at large,” said De La Torre.
The Division of Mission Integration and Planning and the Provost Division have created a faculty task force of faculty to study service learning as the first steps of strategic planning. Comparisons between Fordham and other Jesuit and New York City universities will provide a basis to see which community engagement strategies are most effective.
The Dorothy Day Center plans to put out a request for proposals when the university returns from spring break, according to McCarthy. This opportunity will be afforded to all students. There will be criteria for proposals, such as numbers of students involved, significant engagement with community partners and components of reflection, discernment and analysis. McCarthy said these are “activities that will help us, maybe even pilot kind of programs, that will help us towards building a more robust relationship with community partners.”
“As always, the Dorothy Day Center remains fully committed to both the community and the University family, and most especially to the furthering of social justice — that has not and will not change,” said De La Torre.