Beauty and the Beast: The Risk of CharmBY Stephanie Hsu
Last April, I obediently followed a tour guide through the rambling paths of Fordham, listening as she dispensed an equally rambling explanation of the various virtues of the university. As she directed our attention to the aesthetic beauty of the campus, I veritably drooled over the possibility of learning inside the confines of ivy-entwined walls and old brick edifices. Fordham was painted as a haven whose academics would nourish my mind, just as its natural landscape would stimulate my soul.
I anticipated the pristine environment to act as an academic greenhouse where I would flourish alongside peers who, like me, wished to soak in novel experiences. Fordham would be a place to put down our roots and nourish our budding minds, as we attempted to make sense of the chaos of New York City. We would venture there constantly, in hopes of being awed by the daily sight of skyscrapers; of being fascinated by the crowds of people we encountered. And during times when we felt, as we were sure to do, that the crowds were too big and the skyscrapers too overwhelming, Fordham would never fail to welcome us back to stately buildings, picturesque lawns and familiar faces.
On the way to attend my first class in Dealy Hall, I grasped an ornately carved doorknob in the shape of a lion. I stared silently in awe, as it began to finally sink in that Fordham was indeed a school where one could reasonably encounter ivy-blanketed buildings, cobblestone paths, and ornately carved lions on one’s way around campus. I now wake a mere minute’s walk from the solemn beauty of University Church, where I can see the morning light stream through the 19th century stained glass windows in a myriad of colors. Even as I trip down stairs and tread through lawns on my hurried way to classes, I am compelled to stop to soak in the majestic tower of Keating Hall, rising up against a backdrop of autumnal leaves. This faithful sentinel of campus greets the eyes day after day as its background is divinely painted from lush green to burnt orange to a crisp white. Many mornings, I have heaved a sigh of content into my coffee as I observed the towering halls, creeping ivy, and elegant iron gates that I’d only thought possible in movies.
But I found upon my arrival that the elegant gates of Fordham acted as both a physical and mental barrier for the students within. Within the gates lives a crop of the nation’s most fortunate students, blessed with both the financial might and intellectual ability to work toward a top-notch education. Outside lies New York City, arguably the greatest city on the continent and undeniably the greatest cultural feast. A few mere subway stops from Fordham lie the bustling soul food joints of the Bronx, the storied brownstones of Harlem, and the lush foliage of Central Park. The Ram Van sails past them all, shuttling students to and from the Lincoln Center campus in a safe bubble that affords students no glimpse at the wonder of their own city’s streets. And this is to say nothing of the wonders below the Upper West Side. The strange smells and foods of Flushing’s Chinatown, the hip artisan shops of Brooklyn, and culinary treasures scattered throughout the East Village seem to exist only as vague references to some students. While a mere $2.25 can get one to the vibrant arts scene in the Lower East Side via subway, school-generated security reports of stolen iPhones and ghastly attempted assaults keep the trains empty of most Fordham students.
The D-train now acts as my escape from the pristine boat shoes and polo shirts sported by my peers, presumably sported to sail the waves of their self-dictated comfort zones. I spy many students who dress for sailing the open ocean. However, when it comes to their mindsets, they often seem to settle on a rather small pool. The students who limit themselves to the library stacks and hallowed hallways of Fordham cannot be considered the most educated, even if their names decorates every academic list of honor at Fordham and beyond. It is only when one chooses to break through the boundaries of what is comfortable and easy that the most valuable education occurs. Those who confine themselves to lush lawns and iron gates risk the danger of missing out on the lessons found in newly discovered foods, stumbling upon an enlightening observation on the subway, and exploring the streets of a city where the cultures of the world rub shoulders. One could argue that it is merely human nature to desire the familiar and comfortable, but it is the human privilege, too rarely grasped, to ponder and marvel over the complexities of an ever-expanding world. When one rejects the urge to cling to the familiar, letting the Ram Van pull away to vanish into the distance, it is then that one can finally embark on a journey of discovering the lessons that this world has to teach.
I have found that the lush beauty of a lawn can be both a beauty and curse. On one hand, the stunning campus of Fordham issues the call to sit and enjoy its aesthetic pleasures. However, it also sends out a tempting invitation to cloister oneself, and thus enter into the gravest curse of all: ignorance. The brick-and-ivy allure of the campus was revealed as a component of the comfortable cage in which many of my peers have chosen to firmly implant themselves. In my expectation of Fordham to be a place of breathtaking charm, I failed to see that the very condition of beauty set up the reality of the Fordham I now attend. The majestic towers of Keating and the elegant iron gates of Fordham salute me as I walk past them towards the subway, warning against the double-edged quality of perfection.