During the recent Christmas break, when my daughter Meghan, FCRH ’15, was home for a few weeks, we caught up on Fordham minutiae: roommates, classes, goals for the coming semester. At one point something she said prompted me to jump in with, “You know, when I was at Fordham…” Before I could finish my thought, she put her hand on my arm and said, “Dad, a lot has changed at Fordham since you went there.”
That exchange was not the first of its kind. Before she set off for the Bronx two-and-a-half years ago, I promised that my memories from the late 1970s-early 1980s would remain separate from her experiences of Fordham today, that I would not bombard her with dusty war stories and fables. In my own defense, I’d like to say that I’ve kept my word. In truth, I’ve not lived up to my promise very well at all, but to Meghan’s credit she remains patient with my regular backsliding down memory lane.
Yes, much has changed, almost too much to take in and process. Her comment, though, made me think about Rose Hill’s evolution over the past 30-plus years. Right now, three areas stand out for me, both as a parent and an alumnus: food, safety, and community.
My alumni pals and I still howl, with almost Pavlovian predictability, whenever the word Automatique finds its way into our reveries. Automatique ran the cafeteria in the McGinley Center back then. Each resident had a laminated card that got punched at every meal and God forbid you lose that card. If you missed Philippe’s cheese omelet at breakfast, or Ida’s “spaghetti and ’balls” at dinner, you were doomed to a bad food day. There was a student deli on campus, and all too often sandwiches and snack foods proved a far more reliable repast than whatever was lurking in the steam bins across campus. But, if you weren’t able to get off campus, that was the end of your dining options.
Today, Fordham’s food scene operates in the 21st century. While not perfect—no college dining program is—it is light years ahead of “then.” Innovative and flexible meal plans, Declining Balance Dollars (DBDs), several spots on campus to eat, a commitment to healthy offerings, respect for students with allergies or restricted diets—all unimaginable in my day. Meghan even tells me that there are off-campus outlets that honor DBDs. I can’t be on campus to see if my daughter is eating well, but knowing that this diverse array exists takes away a good deal of my concern. I have to hand it to Fordham. They saw something that needed fixing and they addressed the problem in a thorough, student-oriented way.
In the late 1970s, campus safety was largely non-existent. And what was in place inspired little confidence. We had some rent-a-cops at the main gates and in the athletic center, but that was it. New York in those days was a wild place, and you didn’t have to wander far from campus to run into danger. Like dining services, that area has undergone vast improvements. New York City is safer now than it’s been in many decades, and the old Fordham might have used that as an excuse to maintain the status quo. Not today. Students at Fordham enjoy the sort of security that only a modern, tech-savvy, and well-organized department can provide. Call boxes on campus, security in the local neighborhoods, rides back to school at all hours, Ram Vans waiting at subway stops, strict sign-in policies in all dormitories, and e-mail and text alerts provide the kind of safety net all college students, and their families, deserve. When Meghan chose Fordham, people asked me if was worried. I was happy to respond, “Not really.” Yes, all parents worry when their children leave home. But, knowing what I know about Fordham now compared to what I lived through, well, let’s just say that I don’t lose sleep wondering if she’s in good hands.
Finally, the greatest change, and certainly the one most visible to this alumnus, is the community landscape at Rose Hill. When I moved to campus in August of 1977, there were four dormitories; the student population was 85 percent commuter. One of the upsides to being part of such a small community was that you got to know many of your fellow residents, regardless of what year they were. That intimacy forged deep bonds, which many of us still enjoy and benefit from today. The student activities we had were good, but there just weren’t that many of them. Still, if a majority of the campus went home on the weekend, and with a student body that hailed mostly from the tri-state area this happened often, you were sunk. Boredom Fordham as we used to say.
Since then, Fordham has built eight dormitories, undertaken broad student activity initiatives, created a system of residential colleges, and boosted, overall, the quality of student life on campus. My daughter will never know what it’s like to wake up on a Saturday and find nobody around. With the boarder-commuter ratio now flipped on its head, there is just no way for that to happen. The on-campus community is vibrant, energized, and loaded with possibilities—for all students.
But for all these positive and impressive developments, not all change has been for the better. My daughter refuses to eat at White Castle, which my classmates and I considered the ultimate off-campus burger joint. I wonder what office at Rose Hill deals with problems like that.
Tom Riley, FCRH ’81, PAR ’15