Finding Similarities: Fordham as a Common Denominator

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Wajiha Khan and Jalen Glenn grew up in different worlds: Khan, a Muslim born in Pakistan, came with her parents to the United States when she was just 9 years old. Glenn, an African-American and a Christian, was raised in a single-parent household after his father died in the 2001 World Trade Center attacks.

The graduating seniors met for the first time recently in Central Park. When they started talking about Fordham, they found they had much in common–like an initial fear of the subway system.

Khan, who is graduating from Fordham College at Rose Hill, said she always took the Ram Van to an anthropology class at Lincoln Center—until her professor assigned the class members to observe behavior on the subway.

“You don’t think about it, but the subway is a culture [in] itself,” said Khan. “Now I take the subway a lot.”

Glenn, who grew up in the New Jersey suburbs and is graduating from Fordham College at Lincoln Center, grew accustomed to the subway when he found himself taking it to the Rose Hill campus for intramural basketball.

“Just being on the train between [Manhattan] and the Bronx, you can see a lot of what’s going on,” he said.

Both students commented on the pockets of poverty that the D train passes through in the South Bronx and said that poor neighborhoods are not simply to be passed through.

Through Fordham’s service groups Khan worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and Concourse House, a transitional home for women. “I like being part of the Bronx community,” she said. “When you step off-campus it’s a different world, but Fordham encourages you to do that.”

Glenn said that Fordham classes and clubs quickly made him aware of the neighbors in need that live across the street from the glamour of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

“Even though Lincoln Center seems like a rich area, there’s poverty just outside our door,” he said. “Fordham encouraged us to wrestle with that and confront it.”

Both students grew up in comfortable circumstances, and both said their parents helped head off difficulties they might have otherwise faced.   

Glenn’s mother raised him on her own after the death on 9/11 of his father, Harry Glenn, a vice president of global communications at Marsh & McLennan. Today, Glenn graduates with a bachelor’s degree in communications and media studies.

He said his mom and dad focused on giving back. His father read to kids in underserved neighborhoods every Saturday. His mother taught him that he, too, should “treat everyone like they are your family by loving and caring for them.”

“Had it not been for the 9/11 scholarship, I would not have received a Fordham education, so I know the importance of scholarship—whatever it looks like, in any shape or form,” he said. “That’s why giving back is such a big thing.”

He joined the student philanthropy committee and is proud to say that the group helps bring “the issue of economic diversity to campus.” He said that the FCLC senior class gift will go toward a Fordham Fund Scholarship.

Khan said she grew up happy, somewhat oblivious to the struggles of her parents. Even though her mother had been a doctor and her father held a doctorate in geology, they found their credentials were useless in the United States and had to start from scratch. For her mother, it meant going back for courses. For her father, it included working at a dry cleaners and as a security guard to support their growing family of six children.

“In my memory my mother was always studying and my father was always working,” she said.

Khan graduates today with a double major in biology and anthropology. She has been accepted into the medical program at SUNY Upstate Medical University.

Today her father works as a laboratory manager and her mother is a certified psychiatrist. She said that “on paper” her family looks well off, but the difficult adjustments affected the family savings. She, too, wouldn’t have been able to attend Fordham without the partial scholarship she received.

Kahn was the recipient of the Paul B. Guenther Scholarship—a restricted scholarship with a significant award for each of her four years at Fordham. She also received an award from the Henry Miller Fellowship for International Education during her junior year.

“I am so grateful for that scholarship because it allowed me to be here and have this city experience that I love,” said Khan, who grew up in Yonkers.

While at Fordham, Glenn and Khan both grew spiritually in unexpected ways.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect in the theology classes,” said Khan. “There were a lot of students who didn’t understand Islam, especially in today’s age with all the Islamophobia. It was very difficult to navigate through that, but my theology professors were very open minded and taught with respect.”

Before she went on an Umrah, a Muslim spiritual pilgrimage, she consulted with John T. Dzieglewicz, SJ, associate dean of Fordham College at Rose Hill.

“I had to take days off and he was so understanding,” Khan said of Father Dzieglewicz. “The Jesuit tradition is about seeking knowledge, so he was very curious and asked me about the Umrah. He encouraged me to have a spiritual journey,and then he blessed me.”

Glenn said his faith grew and his beliefs were challenged.

“Fordham has encouraged me to wrestle with whether I’m a believer or nonbeliever,” he said. “I never had dogma pushed on me.”

Both agreed that their experiences here changed not only their points of view, but the perspective of their classmates as well. 

“I now recognize myself as someone who is economically privileged,” said Glenn. “And I’ve seen a change in the conversation with my classmates that’s not so racially focused but is economically focused as well.”

Glenn took a service trip to Ecuador with Fordham’s Global Outreach (GO) program, which helps a variety of underserved communities, including some in the United States that happen to be primarily white.

“I appreciate that Fordham’s GO spotlights how poverty does not come just in one color,” he said. “I’m really about helping the poor—whatever they look like.”

Khan said her studies revealed bridges that unite people.

“I’m a biology major, and that’s a common denominator because all humans—no matter what their differences—have the same physiological processes,” she said.

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