Jean Pak, assistant director of Fordham’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, began working at the University last summer. Because this is her first stint as a Catholic-university employee, a daylong training session on Catholic higher education presented by the Division of Student Affairs came at the perfect time.
“It was fantastic and educational—especially learning how the University’s mission informs my work,” said Pak, one of more than 100 Student Affairs staffers who attended the Nov. 9 event at the William D. Walsh Family Library on the Rose Hill campus. “Even if you aren’t Catholic, it’s good for us to learn about Catholic education and the four tenets of a Jesuit education, because it’s our mission—it’s what this University is all about.”
The employee training day was designed specifically with that in mind, said Michelle Burris, associate vice president for student affairs. “We wanted to give our staff a better and more thorough understanding of the Catholic and Jesuit traditions that serve as the basis for our work at Fordham,” she said.
Greer Jason, assistant dean of students, director of residential life at the Rose Hill campus and coordinator of the event, said the training session served as a vehicle of discussion, reflection and awareness that education at Fordham goes beyond the four tenets of a Jesuit education, which were listed in 1998 by Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., Superior General of the Society of Jesus.
Throughout the day, staffers heard lectures on topics such as “Catholicism in Higher Education” and “Catholicism 101” and participated in small group discussions on topics including “How to welcome students of all faiths and even no faith to Fordham University” and “I’m not Catholic!”
Jeffrey L. Gray, vice president for student affairs, said the program was among the most well-rounded he had experienced in 26 years working in Catholic education.
“Catholicism and Jesuit education are important topics, but it’s important to note that today is not about conversion,” Gray said. “It’s about education, awareness and appreciation of values that have guided this University for 166 years.”
The staff members who comprise the Division of Student Affairs are the “stewards and custodians” of Fordham’s mission and values, Gray said. “This is not to say there is a litmus test to work at a university or even at Student Affairs,” he added. “Not all of the staff is Catholic nor are the students all Catholic.”
In a small-group discussion about students of non-Catholic faith or no faith, led by Charles J. Beirne, S.J., staff members pondered how they could make non-Catholic students feel welcome at Fordham.
“When I worked at LeMoyne University, the school had a prayer room set aside for Muslim students,” Beirne said.
“Creating common ground helps,” said Amy Harper, a graduate assistant for the Office of Student Leadership and Community Development who identified herself as a non-Catholic. “I find that there are many commonalities of Ignatian Spirituality across many faiths.”
Gil Severiano, who works for Campus Ministry on the Rose Hill campus, said that it’s important to listen to students of all faiths. “We should be able to provide them with the opportunity to deepen their faiths, whatever they may be.”