November 17, 2015
I write to you this morning about two troubling incidents at Fordham in the last several days, and about the state of our campus community in general. But first, let me assure you that I have heard and continue to hear your concerns and frank critiques of University culture and our response to incidents of bias and sexual assault (among others). I believe that these are among the most serious issues we face, and so do the University personnel who deal with them on a day-to-day basis. If the processes we must follow sometimes seem cumbersome or too slow, they may be, but do not mistake that for indifference. Everyone here wants to get it right.
That leads me to the first of the incidents to which I referred above. Last night I read the open letter of a Fordham student who alleged she was mistreated by staff from the Department of Public Safety, and by student volunteers of FUEMS. The alleged behavior is deeply troubling, and certainly not consistent with the values Fordham promotes, nor the values that we hold in common. Accordingly, I have asked for a review of the incident by independent professionals. This may not be a short process, but I guarantee you it will be a thorough one. I ask that you have some patience with us in the interim: the absence of announcements is not the absence of progress in these investigations.
The second incident occurred on Friday night, and I was briefed on the preliminary investigation yesterday. Two Fordham students living off campus heard loud, repeated racist language and chants from a party in the apartment below them, also occupied by Fordham students (this is non-University housing, incidentally). The students reported it to Public Safety, and the NYPD was brought in. If the behavior in question is confirmed, the students in question will face University disciplinary proceedings.
I cannot convey to you how disappointing such incidents are, not least because I understand the lasting hurt they cause. Most of you have heard me speak on these issues, or read my previous messages to the Fordham community, and know where I stand: I make no apologies for racism, misogyny, homophobia, nor indeed any kind of bigotry nor act that devalues another person or group. Again, those in the University community who commit such acts will face the appropriate disciplinary proceedings, in addition to whatever criminal charges are brought, when appropriate.
Fordham also devotes significant time, effort, and funds to education around these issues, and we are always looking for ways to improve our efforts and use our resources more effectively. We talk about “building” a better campus community, but that is really the wrong metaphor: what we do is really gardening. We grow, we feed, we nurture. It is a slow and continuous process.
We are, all of us, in the midst of a national conversation about race, gender, sexual identity, the weight of history, and the ways in which we can grow as a community. I understand—I believe we all understand—why voices are raised in anger over these issues. For too many of you, the weight of inequity and oppression has been longstanding and real. You deserve better, not just from Fordham and the University community, but from the larger society; not just soon, but now. Of the many concerns I have as a University president, these are among the most intractable, and give me the most sleepless nights.
I ask, finally, that you believe that people of good will are hearing your voices and are working to make things better. I ask you not to believe this for my sake, or for Fordham’s, but for your own. I am too old and too experienced to believe in the perfectibility of the human family, but I have seen great improvements in my lifetime, and I imagine many more will occur in yours. That is a thought to hold close, and a basis for optimism as you move through your Fordham careers and your lives.
You are all in my thoughts and prayers today and every day.
Joseph M. McShane, SJ