By Katie Meyer
This year’s Ram Town celebration went on almost as usual — the Rose Hill gym was filled to its rafters with maroon. The basketball teams showed off skills and drummed up school spirit. Thousands of students streamed in, filling the old building with chatter and cheers. But amid the revelry, one group stood apart.
Dressed in all black, the members of Fordham Students United silently held up a large sign emblazoned with the words “BLACK STUDENTS MATTER.” The rest of the student body largely ignored them, save for a few, often confused, glances in their direction.
But Monica Cruz, FCRH ’16, a member of Fordham Students United (FSU) said from her perspective, the silent demonstration did exactly what it was supposed to.
“A silent protest at an event like Ram Town, which is very loud and rambunctious, with everyone wearing maroon — we figured it would be a really powerful image to just stand there without speaking, dressed in all black, mourning over the fact that all of this B.S. is happening on campus and we really don’t feel like we’re getting any appropriate response,” she said.
That “B.S.” refers to two incidents that took place earlier this semester. In the first, which occurred on Sept. 13, a black freshman student at Rose Hill returned to his dorm room to find that a racial slur had been scratched into the paint on his door. In the second incident, just a week later, a crude swastika was found drawn on a stairwell in the same freshman dorm.
In response to the incidents, the university sent out emails condemning the racist acts. In the door case, the report noted that 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.”
Cruz said that those episodes were the catalysts for FSU, which launched in late September. The group is a self-described “intersectional coalition,” which Cruz says aims to address a wide range of issues on campus.
“We’re a loose coalition of student activists and alumni, and faculty are actually involved in some of what we do too,” she said.
And she says the group’s two major events thus far (the silent protest, and a march for racism awareness during the Homecoming football game) have received an overall very positive response from the student body.
But, she added, there are still many smaller issues at play on campus that FSU aims to address as well — many of which go largely undetected.
“I think racism really isn’t something we talk about on this campus,” Cruz said. “Micro-aggressions happen on a daily basis — I experience them as a person of color, and a lot of other people of color have expressed the same sentiment…they don’t feel completely accepted. It feels really awkward being the only person of color in the room most of the time during our classes.”
Fellow FSU member and protester, I’aliyah Wiggins, FCRH ’18, agreed.
“These protests are necessary,” Wiggins said in an email. “There are students on campus that are hurting from the lack of sensitivity from their peers…I feel like even if most people didn’t care about what we were doing or thought that we were overreacting, as long as one student felt understood and no longer like an outsider on campus then we fulfilled the main purpose for all our goals.”
But, Cruz noted, other students and administrators as well, sometimes don’t seem to understand why the protests are necessary.
“Myself and other students of color, and other allies that we work with, we’ve heard people say, ‘well why are they so upset?’ After these hate crimes happen. People are literally confused as to why students of color are angry, why students of color don’t fee safe…Even if racism doesn’t directly affect you, you should still care about this issue. Especially at a Jesuit school that claims to try to educate men and women for others.”
Neither FSU’s Ram Town protest, nor its Homecoming protest were approved by the university beforehand, a fact that Cruz says is no accident.
Before holding a demonstration on campus, students are technically required by the school to set up a meeting with the Dean of Students, Christopher Rodgers, to coordinate. Rodgers then approves the protest within “as rapidly as two business days,” according to the university website. The process, the website says, is designed to “make sure everyone’s activities and events in the community can happen.”
But Cruz takes issue with that policy.
“This institution was created for us, it’s funded by us,” she said. “This is our campus, and we have the right to do what we want on our own campus…when we’re making demands that aren’t being met, then we’re going to speak up about it.”
As of this printing, Cruz says no administrators have contacted her about the unregistered Ram Town protest.
When reached for comment about the unregistered protests, Rodgers, in an email, maintained that the university’s policy for approving on-campus demonstrations is not designed to silence students.
“We encourage students and groups to express themselves, of course, and it’s easy for any group to coordinate with the University on protests and demonstrations,” he stated. “Coordinating through the Dean’s office allows all viewpoints to be heard on our busy campus and the many other activities that our community has happening on any given day to occur as well.”
Rodgers went on to say that he also sees the policy as a matter of equality.
“It’s clearly not fair to allow any one group to privilege their activities over those of another or interfere with the rights of others- everyone should follow the same rules. When we fail to respect this basic principle, we are failing to respect others in our community as they pursue their goals and activities,” he said, adding that “I would encourage everyone to consider others even when quite passionate about an issue or cause. This is the basic principle behind the expectation that all activities on the campus — demonstrations included— be coordinated.”
He also noted that similar policies are in place in public areas.
“It is very similar to the expectation [in] cities and towns outside the University.” he stated. “No request for protest or demonstration has been denied, so what’s the big problem?”
Cruz, for her part, was quick to point out that the point of the protests is not to disrupt or antagonize.
“This isn’t about anger, this isn’t about stirring up a ruckus, this is about making students feel empowered on campus, and therefore making changes happen,” she said. “We have a lot of power, and a lot of students don’t realize that.”
This article appears differently in its print version. It has been updated to include Dean of Students Christopher Rodgers’ response to a request for comment.