A Major Step Forward, But Always Looking Back


Courtesy of Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram

By Isha Khawaja

Courtesy of Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram

When I look back at my time at Fordham, I see that the classes I took for my major truly defined and guided my experience.

In the beginning, however, like many other freshmen, I was confused. I was confused about what I wanted to major in, my career after college and, most importantly, my identity. I’m an American-Pakistani Muslim who was raised on the predominantly Italian and Irish southern shores of Long Island. I was caught between two drastically polar worlds; one world where my family and I sipped on chai and planned trip to visit family in Pakistan, and the other where my culture was met with confusion by friends and teachers. My friends unintentionally let slip the most painful microaggressions.
My confusion lead me towards books, classes and professors that shook the core of my reality. Caught in between the culture gap, I decided to take anthropology electives during my sophomore year.

My anthropology classes allowed me to reflect on powerful literature and the experiences that led me to this university.
One of my favorite classes was Race, Identity and Politics, instructed by Dr. Oswaldo Hugo Benavides. Our syllabus was guided by the work of James Baldwin, a Harlem based novelist who explored the intricacies of racial, sexual and class distinctions in America. We read and analyzed works like “Notes of a Native Son,” “I am Not Your Negro” and “The Fire Next Time.” We also watched and analyzed a Baldwin’s debate with William F. Buckley, an American conservative author and commentator, on the question, “Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?” at Cambridge University.

Both Baldwin’s works, in conjunction with Dr. Benavides’ poetic lectures, forced me to face the uncomfortable truth about my standing in the U.S. Growing up as the only Pakistani-American in my school district during the most formative years of my life was extremely difficult, and at times dehumanizing.

However, they allowed me to see privilege in my father coming to America where I typically only saw pain for immigrants climbing the socio-economic ladder.

Unlike Baldwin, I am not black, gay or even a male, but his work and Dr. Benavides’ class had a profound effect on my life. After discovering that Baldwin wrote in his high school newspaper, I thought participating in my University newspaper would be a great outlet to pursue writing.
With no journalism experience, I applied to be the Culture Editor of The Fordham Ram during my junior year.

Through The Ram, I was able to cover a private premiere of The Lost Tapes: Malcolm X, hosted by the Smithsonian Museum at the National Black Theatre in Harlem. Ilyasah Shabazz, Malcolm X’s daughter and Fordham alumnae, spoke about her father’s legacy. Tom Jennings, executive producer of the film, explained the process of recovering tapes, news interviews and still images that had not been broadcasted since 1965.

Another one of my favorite events to cover was the Gurls Talk festival, sponsored by Coach and Teen Vogue in Brooklyn. The event was directed by British fashion model and activist Adwoa Aboah, who founded a platform for young women to reveal their most intimate stories after years of struggling with drug abuse, bipolar disorder and depression.

The festival was a social justice incubator that hosted a series of panels which opened a dialogue about body positivity, mental health and institutional racism.

Besides writing for The Ram, one of the things I will miss the most when I graduate in May is sassing my lovely co-editor Ryan di Corpo and singing Justin Timberlake’s ‘Sexy Back’ in the print shop until the late hours of Tuesday nights.