Faculty Senate to Admin: Open Letters Are Not Enough


The university sent students the above picture of a mask reported by a student. (Courtesy of The Office of the President).

The university sent students the above picture of a mask reported by a student. (Courtesy of Father McShane).
The university sent students the above picture of a mask reported by a student. (Courtesy of The Office of the President).

By Laura Sanicola

The Fordham Faculty Senate admonished the practice of writing open letters with no further action after potential bias incidents in a widely disseminated email. The Senate’s email sent to “faculty, students and the Fordham community” on Tuesday afternoon was prompted by an hate crime allegation in McMahon Hall at Lincoln Center.

A student reported to campus authorities a fake corpse with a dark face, apparently a Halloween decoration, in the window of an international student’s dorm room, appearing to be lynched. The New York Police Department investigated the incident and found that it was not a hate crime and Fordham Public Safety is continuing its investigation. In an email addressing the student body, Rev. Joseph M. McShane S.J., president of the university, wrote on Tuesday morning that up close the mask to be that of a white person and provided an attached image for the student body.

“As you can see from the attached/embedded image however, if the mask can be said to represent any race, it would be Caucasian,” McShane wrote.

Still, he urged the Fordham community to be more sensitive to these issues.

“I understand fully the shock and anger felt by members of the University community at seeing the display and believing that it represented a lynching,” McShane wrote. “Had that been the case, the display would have been even more repugnant, hurtful and disturbing than it is.”

“Be kind, in other words, to your classmates, and to yourself,” he added.

However, Dr. Anne Fernald, Faculty Senate president, writing behalf of the Senate Task Force on Gender and Race Equity and Faculty Diversity wrote in an email that “public letters are not enough.”

“A series of so-called isolated incidents’ comes to look more and more like a culture urgently in need of some serious and painful interrogation of its persistent structures of racism,” Fernald wrote. “Open letters including the President’s and ours do not do enough to effect meaningful change.”

McShane did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

Fernald referred to a series of racial bias and harassment incidents that occurred in the past 18 months at Fordham. The incidents ranged from students drawing swastikas on university property, to carving a racial slur in another student’s door, to chanting “white power” in off-campus housing and to writing incendiary remarks about a students’ sexuality on their dorm room’s white board. For several of these incidents, McShane wrote an open letter admonishing the actions of the guilty culprits and calling for increased awareness and sensitivity to these issues.

Last year, the president created a Diversity Task Force to investigate matters of diversity on campus. The Diversity Task Force delivered its report to McShane this month, but he has yet to publicly respond or reveal its findings. The Faculty Senate has now urged administration to respond to the report.

“We write today to urge the administration to immediately release the Report from the President’s Task Force on Diversity, to take public and meaningful steps toward change and to provide systematic race training for all members of the Fordham community including students, faculty and administration,” Fernald wrote.