Compassion, Cura Personalis, and COVID-19

By: Tori Mack
Incubator Participant
Academic Skills Administrator
Higher Education Opportunity Program

It’s common to see an outpouring of compassion for one another following a tragedy. Support for those who need it most and acts of kindness made in good faith to strangers, simply because we are united by a common bond. However, what is uncommon is sustained compassion following the passing of tragedy. Where does this widespread unity go when we move on, when loss and struggle are no longer at the forefront of our minds? 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on all aspects of life as we know it, especially higher education. Students and professors have struggled with adapting to this new normal, and asynchronous classes,  Zoom meetings, and last minute syllabus changes, in the wake of processing fear and turmoil, have taken a toll on our community. While the adjustment has been strenuous and the process not ideal, the outcome has been remarkable in many ways. For example, colleges and universities of all sizes have discovered that they can do what once may have seemed impossible. We discovered that in many cases, we can run classes online, and we can increase student access to free educational materials. Perhaps most importantly, we can put students’ needs first. 

In response to the national pandemic, there has been an overwhelming increase in holistic support for students. At Fordham, we know support of the whole being is necessary for students to thrive, which is the true definition of Cura Personalis. Sustainable aid, access, and outreach is, admittedly, easier said than done, but it must not be written off as impossible or unattainable. We have already proven that we can do better. 

This past spring I was fortunate enough to participate in the ReIMAGINE Higher Education Incubator. In my opinion, the most meaningful part of contributing to such a diverse team was navigating our personal interests, along with our ties to Fordham and relationships within the university, in order to forge ahead toward a common goal. Our unique skills, perspectives, and connections inspired and challenged us to think in new ways each time we met, and because of this, we were able to produce five tangible and pilotable projects. However, the major takeaway for me is that accessible spaces where all voices are celebrated and heard, create unity and foster the growth needed for change. 

The future of what higher education will look like after this pandemic is uncertain, but much can be learned from the time and space we presently share. Instead of settling for a temporary new normal that may be forgotten later on, let us work toward creating novel standards for higher education; standards that promote access and support for all who need it and standards that hold onto the compassion we have led with these past few months.

Spirituality, Gratitude, and Love: Potent Healers In Uncertain Times

By: Carol Gibney, LMSW
Reading Group Participant
Associate Director of Campus Ministry for Spiritual and Pastoral Ministries
Director of Spiritual Life, Leadership and Service
Ignatian Yoga Teacher

Deemed once again Ground Zero, New York has experienced tremendous hardship and pain as a result of the pandemic. The effects – mentally, physically and emotionally – have been devastating, as we hear reports from those on the front lines of unimaginable suffering and death. COVID-19 has indiscriminately destroyed and disrupted lives, and the shock and trauma has impacted all of us in so many ways. However, despite the disruption and emotional distress, our Fordham community has continued to move forward, quickly integrating into zoom classrooms, blackboard postings, and other modes of communicating and connecting, that prior to March, we never imagined we would be offering. 

In this time of social distancing caused by COVID-19, I have been re-reading the book, The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times: New Perspectives on the Transformative Wisdom of Ignatius of Loyola, by Dean Brackley, SJ, which has had a tremendous impact on me and the work that I do as a campus minister at Fordham. This book has offered sage and wise offerings throughout the years, and suggests the importance and necessity of daily spiritual practices, while belonging to a community that not only supports us and challenges us to stay faithful, but also nourishes us in our alternative vision and practice.

Since lock down, I have been contributing to a text message chain every morning with a group of women. We call ourselves the Soul Sisters and our friendship has spanned over thirty years. The day begins with messages that include three things that we are grateful for each day, and this simple practice has helped me dive deeper into the attitude of gratitude that I try to integrate into my work as a campus minister.

With that being said, when I joined the ReIMAGINE Reading Group in January, I was grateful for the opportunity and viewed it as a way to collaborate with colleagues from across the university who were dedicated to their work as educators, committed to the mission of our university, and guided by Ignatian values. What I didn’t know at the time was that this initiative would be a gateway and a stepping stone for the entire university to immerse itself in reimagining higher education once the pandemic hit. 

Throughout the spring semester, the Reading Group discussed the history of education, as well as explored the privilege and inequity in higher education. I believe it is our job as a university to open the eyes and hearts of students to the reality of inequity and inequality, and in the world of a pandemic, I think it is even more important to study and reflect on these issues, causes and potential solutions, especially since New York is our campus.

As a result, I intend to continue reimagining my work as a campus minister in the 21st century, in addition to dreaming, brainstorming, and creating meaningful pathways for students, faculty and staff to connect with the Ignatian heritage and principles. I envision the post-quarantine world will crave deeper relationships with community, spirituality, and love, and in spite of the suffering and instability caused by the pandemic, it is an exciting time with many possibilities that were not even on the horizon or possible just a few months ago. New Yorkers are strong. We recognize and value diversity, creativity, and inclusion, and we come together in tough times with an unstoppable sense of hope and community. Us Rams are tough, just look at our Fordham educated Governor.

In the meantime, stay healthy, stay strong, stay in love, stay home and stay grounded. I look forward to connecting in the future. Namaste. 

Disruptive Forces Trigger Productivity

By: Sharif Mowlabocus
Reading Group Participant
Associate Professor, Communication & Media Studies

Health crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, are (to say the least) disruptive forces. The eerie silence of Times Square and Lincoln Center masks the chaos that the virus has brought to daily life in New York. Meanwhile, the human and economic cost of the Coronavirus will not be fully known for months, if not years. But crises of any kind are also productive. They produce new forms of social control; they produce new social norms and cultural practices; and they can even produce new ways of thinking, including how we learn, teach and train.

Set against the human impact of the virus, it might feel wrong to contemplate how we might benefit from this global pandemic. At the same time, requests for things to ‘go back to normal’ ignore what the pandemic has exposed, not to mention the social, economic and health inequities many students and staff face.

For example, when Fordham suspended face-to-face instruction, some students shifted seamlessly to asynchronous learning, Zoom classes and the more atomized educational experience that remote teaching invariably produces. Yet, others struggled to balance their studies with caring for siblings and relatives (some possibly in the healthcare industry), supplementing their household’s income, or even living with abusive or substance-dependent parents. The pandemic did not create student inequality, but it has underscored the emotional, financial and psychological burden some students carry on their shoulders as they attend classes, work on assignments and do the various other things that students are expected to do.

As a member of the ReIMAGINE Reading Group, we spent the first half of the spring semester sharpening our understanding of these burdens, while exploring the latest scholarship on diversity and inequality in higher education. Collectively, this work explored three distinct but interrelated challenges:

  • the economic and social challenges that some students face coming into higher education,
  • the challenges of updating higher education for the 21st century,
  • the challenges that students face upon graduation as they enter the world of work.

In the second half of the semester, the pandemic prompted us to test our learning and to reimagine higher education. Responding to the Provost’s call for ‘creative and resilient approaches to delivering a Fordham education’, the group collaborated on a suite of proposals designed to support learning in a post-COVID environment. Our previous engagement with scholars such as Cathy Davidson, Anthony Abraham Jack and Jeffrey J. Selingo, meant we rejected the ‘return to normal’ mindset. Instead, we saw this as an opportunity to design new modes of learning that challenge normative methods of instruction and advising, which can often be methods that privilege the mainstream at the expense of more vulnerable and marginalized students – and faculty.

From team-teaching and new community-focused core courses, to a re-fashioned advising program and regional Fordham ‘meet-ups’, the ReIMAGINE Reading Group embraced the chaos caused by COVID-19 and used it as a chance to prioritize the kinds of changes Davidson and others have been calling for. In doing so, we were able to re-invest in the Jesuit principle of Cura Personalis and reimagine how Fordham can continue to invest – but also bring the out the best – in its students, its faculty and in its staff in the 21st century.

The ReIMAGINE Reading Group has been a transformative experience for me, irrespective of the global pandemic. This has been my first year at Fordham and the Reading Group has connected me with colleagues from across the university; people who I might otherwise not have met for a long time, if ever. Through my interactions with the rest of the group, I have been able to gain a deeper understanding of the values upon which Fordham is built, its philosophy and its mission. I have also witnessed the genuine commitment many at Fordham have to ensuring that we continue to evolve and challenge ourselves as we work to deliver a meaningful, equitable and ethically-focused educational experience to our diverse body of students.

Finding Community Where You Least Expect It

By: Kaylee Wong
Incubator Participant
Undergraduate Student, FCRH, Class of 2020
United Student Government, Executive President

Community. Nearly every Fordham student I have ever spoken with mentions this word when they are describing why they love Fordham; the community. When I was looking at colleges as a junior in high school, I toured over 35 schools before making my decision. The one thing I remember when I think back to this process was the way in which Fordham students interacted and cared about one another.

The moment I saw hundreds of students sitting on Edward’s Parade during my tour one spring day, was when I experienced that indescribable feeling high school seniors talk about when they believe they have found “their place.” Once I became a student at Fordham, it was this community that got me through the tough times and was also there for me through all the fun times. I found community in my friends, who became like family; I found community in the clubs and organizations I joined, especially in Student Government; I found community in the classroom with my peers and professors. This community remains a vital part of my Fordham experience, as I am now a senior. 

When I joined the ReIMAGINE Incubator earlier this year, I was expecting a group of hardworking individuals who would work together once a week for a semester and then move on. Instead, I found, once again, a community. A community of passionate individuals, with amazing ideas and perspectives to share and a phenomenal ability to make everyone in the group feel heard.

As we moved into our new world filled with online learning, Zoom calls, and lots of uncertainty, many of our communities were tested. Would we be able to maintain the same level of connection even though we were all so far apart? For me, even though we must all remain at home, I have witnessed people coming together in amazing ways during these trying times. Through Zoom calls, shared recipes, blackboard discussions, and more, we are remaining connected, and I think that the Fordham community continues to thrive. 

The ReIMAGINE Higher Education Incubator has been an indescribable experience filled with growth, learning, and experimentation. Zoom calls with the Incubator were actually one of the few things that I would look forward to each week. The Incubator gave me the opportunity to meet a group of phenomenal individuals, who when placed in teams, created inspiring and goal-driven projects. In addition, it allowed me to be a part of a community that has a deep love and passion for Fordham and would do everything it could to enhance and improve it for others. Despite the health crisis, the Incubator pushed forward, and for that, I am incredibly proud and grateful. 

In conclusion, this Incubator is exactly what Fordham needs to be looking at during these uncertain times because it’s initiatives such as this that will push boundaries and make waves. Now more than ever we must keep striving to be the best university we can be, and we must also continue to provide opportunities, like the Incubator, so the Fordham community can come together, because without these connections we will never survive.