Having been at Fordham University for two months, I have noticed that there is a clear division between the students of the university and the people who live in the area surrounding the campus. I feel like many of the students seem to hold a certain disdain for the Bronx “locals.” We students appear to hold ourselves above the Bronxites as evinced by students’ words and actions against the locals. This superiority may stem from the fact that many of the students come from a much more privileged background than many of those that inhabit Fordham Road and the surrounding area. Before new Fordham students like myself, take their first steps on campus, we are warned by our parents, peers, and every college guide book in the country of how terrible the neighborhood surrounding the campus is, possibly stemming from the lingering reputation of the area in the 1970’s. As a result, students are primed to fear anything and everything off campus. My entire first week at Fordham I was warned by other students of all the “bad” people who lived in the neighborhoods around Fordham. They talked as if every person who lived in the Bronx were out to get us because we are Fordham students, and as embarrassing as it is, I believed them. I was afraid to leave the gates, at least for the first few days. The world beyond campus is nowhere near as bad as I made it out to be, but to know that I had to experience it first.
As I said, I am a relative novice to Bronx life, so my perception might not be an accurate representation of the feelings of my fellow Fordham students towards the Bronxites. However, some of my experiences do support my claim. One incident in particular took place when I went to the White Castle on Fordham Road with a few of my new friends my first weekend on campus. It was very late at night and many of the customers at the restaurant were Fordham students who were grabbing a bite to eat after a night of drinking. One student in particular appeared to be incredibly intoxicated while ordering his food. A verbal altercation broke out. The young man began yelling expletives sparked at the woman working at the register. Apparently, he felt that his order was wrong. He was screaming at her as if she was not even human. He was yelling as if he was scared of her. One of the student’s friends soon pulled him away from the counter. The whole altercation lasted no more than thirty seconds, but it shocked me. I could not believe how that individual acted toward this woman who was simply doing her job. The student was so incredibly intoxicated that he probably does not even remember the event occurring, but I do.
Only a week after the incident at White Castle, I was witness to another event that left me wondering if there was something more to the tension between students and local residents. There was an organized trip into Manhattan for some of the freshmen so that we could get acquainted with the city. A group of about forty of us walked about five blocks down to the Fordham Road subway station. On our walk down Fordham Road one of the kids in our group muttered, “I’m glad I don’t live here.” A few people nodded in agreement to his statement. I was taken aback. I grew ashamed to be walking next to these people. I did not saying anything to him or the rest of the group after that, but I wanted to. I wanted to tell him that he is living “here,” in the Bronx, for the next four years. There are people living outside of the gates of Fordham, too. They are people who have friends and family like we do. They are constantly striving to better their lives and the lives of their families, just as we are. I was disappointed he made that comment, but even more disappointed that he lacked the ability or desire to see this. Being wary of leaving campus is one thing, but outright insulting the community is an entirely different problem. After this incident, I really thought about the person I was becoming. Did I sound and act as ignorant as my classmate? I realized as a student here at Fordham, I should attempt to live my life in this Jesuit University with the Jesuit values that Saint Ignatius based his teachings on. I should better this community I am part of. I should not degrade it.
We students are ultimately responsible for this “fear-culture,” but the University does not always help to dissuade this fear. The University issues a security alert via email to the students when a crime is reported to campus security. The alerts include details of the incident and the people involved. While these incidents should be made known to public, I do not think students put into perspective just how infrequent these events are. Only a handful of these alerts have been sent out since the start of the school year. Now that does not mean only a handful of these events occurred. It just means that only a handful have been reported to Fordham’s public safety. Low-level panic sweeps over campus the days these emails go out. Some students, especially at the start of the year when panic was the highest, said that they are not going to leave campus for the next couple of days for their own safety. These alerts and students’ reactions to them simply fuel the “us versus them” mentality that prevents students from discovering the community around them.
According to an article published in the Fordham Ram by Connor Ryan, the University tried to increase off-campus security by getting the help of the New York Police Department. In the fall of last year, the vice president of Fordham’s security office, John Carroll, responded to students’ fears by getting the NYPD to deploy fifty officers in the area surrounding Fordham. Carroll was quoted saying that the head of the NYPD’s Bronx division has “thrown the entire borough of the Bronx to protecting Fordham students.” This move seems excessive. According to the same article, this came after fifteen security alerts that were issued in September of 2013. Most of these incidents were related to iPhone theft. Aren’t fifty police officers a bit unwarranted for a dozen stolen phones? I am all for protecting the safety and security of my fellow students at Fordham, but I worry how the influx of the officers in the area adds to the Fordham students’ fear of the people outside of the University’s gates. The fact that students need to have police officers nearby to feel safe whenever they leave campus, and that the university would go to such extents to assuage those fears, suggests that the problem does not just lie in the area surrounding Fordham. The problem lies in the students of the Fordham and their fear of those around them who are different.
What I hope for is that Fordham students realize everyone they meet is also human. I know I am guilty of not always realizing this and I am not going to pretend otherwise, but it is important to remember. Everyone we ever see leads a life just as complex as our own. It does not matter that person’s background, age, sex, race, sexual identity or religion, because their life holds just as much value and meaning as anyone else’s life. No one should feel that his or her life is more important than someone else’s because he or she has more money or believes that they are a better person. This change in attitude may take some time. My words of admonishment are rather empty if we, collectively as the student body of Fordham University, do not take action against any injustice we see perpetrated by Fordham students toward a member or members of the surrounding community. More than anything, we need to change our whole way of thinking when it comes to our attitudes of the people in the Bronx.
I hope Fordham students get involved with local residents through organizations like Service-Learning, in which students volunteer their time and talents to those in need. Service-Learning is “aligned with Fordham’s mission as a Jesuit university, aims to form students in a well-educated solidarity.” I talked to Doctor Jeannine Hill Fletcher, director of the Service-Learning program here at Fordham, about what the program has to offer. She said the program “gives faculty and students the opportunity to connect the work done as academics with a wider world” as well as “the opportunity to see amazing things, and meet people doing amazing work.” These groups are vital to breaking down that metaphorical barrier separating us and bringing us together as a community because at the end of day, it does not matter where we come from or where we are going. We are all human, and living in fear of one another does not help. Fear drives us apart. It limits our human experience. It keeps us, as Fordham students, from the people and places in the Bronx. Robin Sharma’s book, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, argues that developing a fulfilling, disciplined, and loving life begins with the understanding of oneself and one another. One passage of his that I love says, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” These words ring incredibly true for our Fordham community. It is not okay for us students to live afraid of the light outside the gates. We are all young adults trying to make sense of the world, including, I hope the life that lies outside our 85 acre oasis.
These are entirely different surroundings for me. This is not the middle-class suburban neighborhood I grew up in. We all hold a certain fear of the unknown and the other but in order for us to lose that fear we must encounter the new and unknown so it becomes known. I am not saying it is a good idea to wander off campus alone at one o’clock in morning to immerse ourselves in new experiences. However, I am saying we should take the time to get to know the surrounding area and our neighbors. We should volunteer at local schools, eat at local restaurants, meet local people because that is what life is about when we are young. We need to broaden our worldview. This is not the same Bronx of the ’70’s that our parents warned us about. My view is skewed, however. I have had an overall good experience off-campus. Those who are a victims of a crime described in one of the security alerts are perhaps understandably fearful of the surrounding community. However, we must understand that those incidents are the exception, not the rule. We should live our years here as Saint Ignatius and the Jesuits would hope as men and women for others. Again, not every student at Fordham is a terrible human being, and I cannot stress that enough. This past weekend, I again was at White Castle with my friends late at night. Another student drunkenly stumbled in alone creating a scene. He staggered up to the register in an oddly reminiscent fashion of the belligerent student I saw my first weekend. This time, however, the student apologized profusely to the workers for being intoxicated and after some difficulty expressing his order, he received his food. He was so thankful. He exclaimed to the cashier that she was the best for getting his food so fast. It made the woman smile. It made me smile and think that maybe we are not so far apart after all.
Fordham University Mission and Ministry. Service-Learning: Experiential Learning with a Social Justice Emphasis. Fordham University. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.
Ryan, Connor. “50 Cops Deployed Near Rose Hill; Additional University Security To Be Hired.” The Fordham Ram. 11 Oct. 2013. Print.
“Service Learning-Jeannine Hill Fletcher.” Telephone interview. 22 Jan. 2015.
Sharma, Robin S. The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: A Fable About Fulfilling Your Dreams and Reaching Your Destiny. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1998. Print.