In the midst of all the hubbub of the fall semester, members of the Fordham community came together on Oct. 4 to reflect on matters deeper than the daily grind.
“What Matters to Me (and Why),” a series of lunch-time discussions held at the Lincoln Center, Rose Hill, and Westchester campuses, was part of the programming tied to Ignatian Heritage Week.
For Anne Fernald, Ph.D., special advisor to the provost for faculty development, and Debra McPhee, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Social Service, their talk at the Lincoln Center Campus centered on three Cs: contribution, community, and change.
The Three Cs
They kicked off the afternoon by asking the audience how they contribute to their community. McPhee noted that recent studies show that the feeling of making a tangible contribution to society has a greater effect on people’s happiness than any other variable.
“It’s kind of a shocking thing, right? You’d think it’d be health or money, or something like family. But it’s really contribution that was the most significant element, whether the person is in the workplace or out of the workplace,” she said.
“It resonates with both me and Anne in terms of what drives us to be in the profession we’re in, and the work we do at Fordham.”
Of course, the concept of the community that one might contribute to has changed radically in recent years. Fernald recounted how she’d reunited this summer with a friend she hadn’t seen in 20 years. The meeting only happened because they realized, via Facebook, that they were going to be visiting the same upstate New York region at the same time.
Her friend was dropping her son off at a camp for trampoline enthusiasts. He had developed a passion for the activity, and bonded over it with other campers, via videos of their exploits shared on Instagram. Up until that point, though, he’d never met them person.
“When he got out of the car, she said it was amazing. There were a dozen other 14-year-old boys who saw him, and said ‘Emmitt’s here!’ And they all enveloped him in this giant hug, and then went over the trampoline to show each other their flips in person.” Fernald said.
“So, when we think about community for our students, it’s not the same kind of community that’s anything like what any of us grew up in.”
Beware the Temptation to Restrict Your Circle
McPhee said a major challenge for older generations is appreciating the positive aspects of online life while acknowledging the pitfalls. Older generations’ conceptions of community were constrained by geography, and were therefore more limited, whereas young people can be pickier and limit their circle to say, only fellow teenage male trampoline enthusiasts. There is a potential downside to this, she said.
“When you can pick from the whole world, most are going to pick those that are like you, as opposed to those that are different. So do we navigate that difference better because we have a more global perspective, or do we actually restrict ourselves because we just sing to the choir and go to the people who are interested in what we’re interested in? I don’t know that we have an answer to that,” she said.
All of this leads to the third C, which is change. Long gone are the days when educators are the keepers of information, said McPhee.
“My students can Google anything I’m going to tell them before they walk into a classroom, so what does that do to the nature of what we’re doing? That “sage on the stage” bit gets challenged quite a bit in terms of what it means for the entire institution, how we react to teach other, how we see our own jobs, and how we see change.”
That, said Fernald, is why the class environment is more important than ever: She challenged everyone to imagine ways to make the classroom an occasion for students to imagine themselves as each other’s colleagues in learning. Both acknowledged how easy it is to accept the narrative that says that anyone under 30 is not engaged in the world, is not a critical thinker, and is not engaged in community. It’s a narrative that should be rejected.
“Those in charge of the education need to bring their whole self to it, and say ‘This is hard for me, it doesn’t resonate with me, but I need to look at the gap. I need to look at the difference,” McPhee said.
“The current challenge in front of us is, how we engage that narrative, and how we engage the change that’s right in front of us.”
It was a day of reflection for staff, faculty and students throughout the Fordham community. Dorothy Marinucci, associate vice president for presidential operations, and John Kezel, Ph.D., director of the Office of Prestigious Fellowships, hosted a What Matters to Me luncheon at the Rose Hill campus. Stephen McGowan, recruiter and admissions associate at the Graduate School of Social Service, and Joan Cavanagh, Ph.D., director of spiritual and pastoral ministries in the Office of Campus Ministry, hosted one at the Westchester campus.