From March 1st to March 8th, the Fordham University community engaged in a Week of Reflection on Race Relations in America. Invited by Father Joseph McShane, SJ, president of Fordham, faculty, students, and administrators reflected on issues of racial justice in America through a series of events held across the Rose Hill and Lincoln Center campuses. The events, including a special liturgy, community gathering and conversation, and film screening, were grounded in Fordham’s broader and ongoing efforts to intentionally reflect, discuss and address racism both within the university community and in the broader Bronx community.
Fr. McShane opened the week by presiding at a Mass on Sun., March 1, at the University Church with an intentional focus on racial equality. “In the past few months, a series of highly charged events have both shaken our country and called into question our resolve to create and to live as a nation distinguished by racial equality, harmony, and mutual respect,” said Fr. McShane in reflecting on the importance of the week. “Since we are members of a Jesuit university community, we are called to work for justice and national healing in a special way. Indeed we are challenged to examine the causes of racial inequality, to identify remedies, and to engage in transforming acts of mediation and reconciliation.”
One event designed to engage the Fordham community in acts of mediation and reconciliation was the Undoing Racism Collective Community Gathering, held simultaneously via video conference on both Rose Hill and Lincoln Center campuses on March 2. The Fordham Undoing Racism Collective, a group of students, faculty and staff who have attended the Undoing Racism/Community organizing workshop held by The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB), spearheaded the March 2nd conversation, providing a space for people from across the university to discuss and strategize sustainable ongoing racial justice events and to examine issues of racial justice within the university community. The community gathering offered space for small group conversation, where attendees shared with each other aspects of their individual cultural identity and personal experiences of racism.
Since 2006, the Fordham community has been examining the ongoing impact of racism in an extraordinary way through the PISAB Undoing Racism workshop. Offered across the country, the PISAB training offers a systemic approach that - through dialogue, reflection, role-playing, strategic planning and presentations - challenges participants to analyze the structures of power and privilege that hinder social equity. Participants are also shaped to be effective organizers for justice.
The PISAB training has been an important tool to give Fordham staff, faculty and students the social analysis tools to more deeply respond to racism. Kelsey Vizzard, a senior and student presenter during Fordham’s March 2nd community gathering, participated in the two-and-a-half day PISAB workshop in the fall of 2014 and has been attending meetings of the Fordham Collective since.
“It was an amazing eye-opener that gave me the right language to talk about racism,” said Kelsey. “As a Collective, we meet the first Monday of every month,” said Kelsey. “It is such a great experience to have a space where students, faculty and staff come together to discuss racism and ways to start undoing it.”
Sarah Allison and Scarly Rodriguez, Fordham juniors and two of the Dorothy Day Center's Social Justice leaders, demonstrated the impact of the Undoing Racism workshop in a powerful speech they gave at the 2014 Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in Washington D.C. organized by the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN).
The PISAB training format has also been useful to Fordham faculty. “In February 2012 there was an incident on campus that made students aware to the point that they decided to bring the Undoing Racism training on campus,” noted Fordham theology professor and Service-Learning Program director, Dr. Jeannine Hill Fletcher. “From then, many faculty members have taken it as well.”
Fordham’s racial justice work will continue well beyond the week of reflection. The school is in the early planning stages to organize a Fordham Racial Justice Teach-In during the fall 2015 semester. Structured along the lines of ISN’s Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, the Undoing Racism Collective hopes this event will be an opportunity to bring together a larger number of students, faculty, and staff to discuss ways to undo racism on and off campus. When asked what her hope for Fordham University moving forward is, Dr. Hill Fletcher does not hesitate: “I’d like to see Fordham as an anti-racist institution. It’s not enough not to be racist. In light of recent events, it is crucial to actively work together as a University community on how it might look like to start undoing racism.”