For the first time, incoming students at Fordham College at Rose Hill and Fordham College at Lincoln Center are reading the same summer book. Fordham deans say the “shared read” can help strengthen and heal the campus community.
“There’s a shared collective experience that they’ve had of having lost a lot this spring. They experienced high school endings that are very different than what they probably imagined. And whether or not they are directly impacted by issues of racism or police brutality, they have been witnessing them,” said Tracyann Williams, Ph.D., assistant dean for student support and success at the Lincoln Center campus. “One way to deal with trauma is to come together in meaningful ways, and I believe that literature has the power to bring people together.”
This year, the incoming class is reading The Colossus of New York by Colson Whitehead, the first fiction writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for back-to-back novels. In the third week of July, first-year students received free electronic copies of the book. Over the next few weeks, students will be able to join four hour-long, open-ended discussions about the book with juniors and seniors, faculty, staff, and alumni from both campuses over Zoom; opting in to as many as they like. The first session will be held on July 29, followed by three more in August.
Whitehead’s 2004 book explores the many ways people experience New York City, from the moment of their arrival to the classic morning commute.
“Navigating a chapter is a bit like walking through six blocks of Midtown at lunchtime: everything conspires to slow you down, but you will have taken in more sensations than you could reasonably expect from such a distance anywhere else,” read a book review from The New York Times. The Colossus of New York also gives readers a chance to dream, said Williams.
“It really tried to articulate the feeling of loss, uncertainty, renewal, beauty, love for the city, and sadness, and have a collective experience,” Williams said. “It’s presented in a bunch of vignettes that you can dip into and dip out of, but it also allows you the opportunity to dream yourself.”
The summer reading tradition started at the Lincoln Center campus is not new. In 2018, first-year students at Fordham College at Lincoln Center read The Magicians by Lev Grossman, a novel that inspired a television series on the SyFy network and explored the practice of “magic” in the real world. The following year, first-year students read a collection of essays by New York Times and T Magazine columnist Ligaya Mishan.
While reading The Colossus of New York, students should consider the classic Fordham phrase “New York is my campus, Fordham is my school” and think about the lived experiences that belong to them and their peers, said Christie-Belle Garcia, Ph.D., assistant dean for student support and success at the Lincoln Center campus.
“I grew up in New York, but if you ask me, I’m looking for the 1 train. What happens if you get above 168th?” said Garcia, who grew up in the Bronx. “It’s different for all of our students who are coming with different dreams and aspirations.”
“We want to sit and chat about our human experience—our lived experience,” said Garcia.
Perhaps more importantly, they want to introduce incoming students to a network of Fordham individuals who will be there for them when they arrive, and facilitate conversations where they can share their concerns and stories, said Garcia.
She said students have talked about COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the experiences of Black and other Fordham students of color that have been published on social media, and the reality is that there’s been a rupture in the community.
“We can’t pretend our incoming freshmen aren’t reading about it, right?” said Garcia. “Fordham is not perfect. It has a long way to go. But there are people at Fordham who want to be a part of working to make our experience there together better.”
This fall, undergraduate classes will begin on August 26 in a flexible hybrid learning environment. But if the pandemic resurges in New York and students are no longer able to study on campus, said Williams, the city will await their return.
“New York is still here. We’re all here,” she said. “The New York they were hoping for, the New York that was going to remake them … It’s still going to be here, waiting for them.”