Fordham Continues to Battle Racism


University of Missouri students demanded the President's resignation. Courtesy of flickr.

University of Missouri students demanded the President's resignation. Courtesy of flickr.

University of Missouri students demanded the President’s resignation. Courtesy of flickr.

By Nicole Fiorica

The students of the University of Missouri made headlines this week as they demanded the resignation of the university’s president — and won. This student movement was the response to a number of racial incidents on campus over the past several months, including the student body president and other student groups being the target of racial slurs, as well as a swastika found written in feces in a residence hall. These combined with the removal of Planned Parenthood services from Mizzou’s campus and the elimination of health-care benefits for graduate students, left the student body bursting with anger toward an administration that they felt was not listening to their needs.

Activist group #ConcernedStudent1950 demanded more action from University President Tim Wolfe, but felt as though their requests were not met with appropriate action. Then, graduate student Jonathan Butler started a hunger strike, announcing that he would not eat until the students’ concerns were taken seriously, and his fellow students protested in solidarity. However, it was not until Nov. 7, when Mizzou football players announced that they were boycotting all practices and games until Wolfe resigned as President with their coaches expressing support for their cause, that the campus saw actual change. Two days later, President Wolfe, as well as campus Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, resigned.

This is a win for the students at the University of Missouri, but barely. It escapes no one’s attention that if the University of Missouri’s football team had to cancel its next game against Brigham Young, it would have cost them $1 million. The fact that this was ultimately what forced Wolfe to step down reflects poorly on the administration’s values, although kudos should be extended to the football team for knowing how to press the right buttons to get the administration’s attention.

Even still, the day after Wolfe and Loftin’s resignations, another incident occurred, this time with two threats made against the lives of Mizzou’s black students through Yik Yak. Arrests were made, but the impact of yet another act of racism on Mizzou’s campus has left its mark, and ongoing dialogue between students and administrators is sure to continue — hopefully, with more success this time.

Of course, the University of Missouri is not the only college in America dealing with racism, as Fordham students know full well. Fordham itself has had a number of bias incidents this year, from racial slurs to, most recently, a swastika found inside a bathroom stall. In response, Fordham University President Father Joseph McShane, S.J. sent out an email to students referring to the incident as “a kind of terrorism” and stating that Fordham Public Safety was investigating the matter, and that the NYPD had been notified.

It is important to have a college administration that leads by example, one that makes it clear that racism is never going to be tolerated on campus. Fr. McShane’s statement conveyed that message clearly. At the same time, it is not hard to feel as though little is actually going to come of Public Safety’s investigation. This email may provide some initial comfort, but it does not ultimately solve Fordham’s racism problem.

On Friday, Fordham Lincoln Center hosted a blackout to stand in solidarity with Mizzou. This semester, Fordham student organizations including ASILI, PSJ: Women’s Empowerment and JSO, have already sponsored events from dialogues to sit-ins in order to raise awareness about racism on campus and to discuss ways to make campus safer for all of its students. So while Fordham is not making the same kinds of national headlines as the students at Mizzou, there is a definite feeling on campus that its students care about the kind environment they want to create on campus. This is a good start, but the movement cannot simply end there. There needs to be a more concrete way to demonstrate how little the Fordham community tolerates these kinds of racist and biased incidents. Students need to see some kind of definitive action that goes beyond words or an email, because otherwise, these incidents of hatred and ignorance are going to keep happening.

It is going to take a lot of teamwork between students and the administration to incite some kind of positive change in campus culture, both here at Fordham and at the University of Missouri, although there are plenty of other campuses in America that are dealing with these same issues. What looks like an isolated incident at one or two colleges is actually a reflection of a pervasive problem happening across the country, acts of racism in a country that thinks racism is over.

Racism still exists. The forms of aggression that keep students from feeling safe on their own campuses are unacceptable, but they will continue if schools do not keep fighting for every voice to be heard.

Mizzou got its president to step down, but that will not solve its problems unless it keeps pushing. Here at Fordham, we, too, have to keep pushing.

Nicole Fiorica, FCRH ’17, is a communication and media studies major from Westwood, New Jersey.