By Joe Vitale
Following a string of racial and bias incidents at the University of Missouri, protests from students and threats of boycott from student-athletes came to a head this week when two top administrators agreed to step down from their positions at the university.
Students there were calling for administrative action after what they said were inadequate responses to discrimination and racism directed at students of color.
Yielding to the demands of student and faculty organizers, Tim Wolfe, the university president, took responsibility for the simmering tensions on the university’s campus, suggesting his resignation “was something that needed to be done that was immediate and substantial for us to heal.”
The organizing students at Missouri are not alone in their calls for swifter and stronger responses to incidents of discrimination on college campuses.
At other universities across the county, including Yale University, the University of California Los Angeles, the University of Michigan and Arizona State University, students have voiced concerns in recent months that administrators are not taking the problem of racism and discrimination on campus seriously.
Facing a pair of incidents in September, one involving a racial slur and the second involving a backward swastika, Fordham students also have spoken out and have called for more action from university administration.
Following the incidents, several student groups moved to foster conversations and open dialogue in order to begin a campus “healing process.”
ASILI: the Black Student Alliance hosted an open dialogue and the Jewish Student Organization, along with ASILI, Pride Alliance, Muslim Student Association, Office of Student Involvement, Campus Ministry and United Student Government, hosted a vigil on Keating Steps.
The incidents also resulted in the formation of a student group, as Fordham Students United, an “intersectional coalition of student leaders, activists, faculty and alumni.”
While not an official student organization, the group staged protests at various Fordham events, including the Homecoming football game and a pep rally for Fordham’s basketball program, where students held up a banner that read “Black Students Matter.”
FSU, in an open message penned on the back page of the paper, called for changes to the core curriculum, increasing service-learning programs and the expansion of “diversity and privilege” programming at New Student Orientation.
More broadly, their concerns have asked for administrators to expand and hasten their response to racial bias incidents.
FSU, in a statement to The Fordham Ram said the events in Missouri “are a testament to the power students have when they unite and organize.”
“Though our goals are not concerned with merely having an administrator resign, we hope that this encourages Fordham students to recognize the power we have on campus and to be fearless in holding our community — students and admin alike — accountable in addressing racism on campus effectively and proactively,” the group said.
Other student groups, like the College Democrats, are collaborating to press the university on racial incidents on campus.
“What you’re seeing at the University of Missouri is student action and activism that’s having real and immediate effects,” the College Democrats said in a statement.
“Now at Fordham, when those racial incidents happened in September, there was a big outcry from students, but we haven’t seen any substantial, long-term action taken from administration,” the group said. “Now ASILI, as well as several other clubs, including the College Democrats and Fordham Students United, are putting together a task force to try to help spark some change and work with the administration to create a better environment and a better, more accepting and inclusive, campus climate.”
Still, university administrators believe their track record shows the opposite is true, saying that they are acting to combat the incidents, aware that they still persist and negatively impact the community.
“We’ve seen our student groups and staff in various ways over the past few months engaged in inspired efforts to confront incidents of bias in our community, large and small,” said Christopher Rodgers, dean of students, in a statement to The Fordham Ram. “The message has been clear: hate has no place at Fordham, but we won’t be lulled into silence by the false assumption that this common work is complete.”
In addition to the notification of the community of this year’s bias incidents, Public Safety, in its emails to the university community, included messages about the incidents.
“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 stated in response to the first incident.
The first incident also warranted a message from Rev. Joseph McShane, S.J., president of the university. In a lengthy message to the Fordham community, McShane said that the incident “has affected the entire Fordham family” and “has created an atmosphere in which both the victim of the incident and every African-American student on campus feel both violated and vulnerable.”
After condemning the actions of the student, McShane briefed students on the university’s next steps: to crack down on perpetrators of incidents of discrimination and to facilitate student discussion, both in residence halls and in classrooms.
Student Affairs and the Office of Student Involvement also lay claim to other methods of promoting inclusion and diversity on campus. This includes a bias incident protocol, a confidential online reporting system for students and diversity and inclusionary programming during New Student Orientation.
Part of the response also includes the Bias Incident Resource Group (BIRG), which consists of a variety of offices from both Rose Hill and Lincoln Center campuses.
“We will be keeping the reflection, conversation and action going with this week’s film/media series program from the Bias Incident Resource Group, through ongoing education and engagement,” Rodgers said. He recommended students attend the showing of “Dear White People,” a 2014 satirical film that depicts the racial tensions between black students and white students at a predominantly white campus.
The event, on Wednesday, is set to include a discussion and reflection in hopes of provoking student opinion and thought about the topic.