A Durable Mission For The Twenty-First Century

By: Julie Fissinger
Reading Group Participant
Executive Director of the President’s Council
Development and University Relations

As a member of Fordham’s development team for many years, I have had the privilege of meeting with generations of Fordham alumni, who have told a now familiar story of their lives being transformed by their Jesuit education. Often the first in their family to graduate from college, their Fordham diploma opened the world to them, and in turn, to their children. It is because of these compelling stories and witnessing the power of this same transformative education in the students I encounter today, that I am invested more than ever in Fordham’s enduring mission; a mission that retains relevance, appeal, and imperative.    

Founded in 1841 to educate immigrants who were not welcome elsewhere, Fordham has been committed to access and empowerment of the marginalized since its inception. While access and marginalized may be more modern descriptions, Fordham has, nonetheless, held these values close for 175 years. It is this continued commitment, combined with intellectual rigor grounded in the humanities and an emphasis on service, reflection and justice, that arguably make Fordham a modern-day university ahead of its time. 

Furthermore, Fordham’s location in the Bronx, one of the poorest congressional districts in the country, doesn’t afford an “ivory tower-ish” approach to social justice, but rather it provides opportunity. The poor and oppressed are right outside of our gates. I think we all agree that we can and we should do more to ensure equity, including more outreach to our immediate community, reforming curriculum and teaching, and addressing cost. Whether studying science, business, or the humanities, student formation is at its best and the most powerful when rooted in the cause of the human family. Thankfully, the building blocks, beginning with Catholic social teaching on the dignity of the human person and the paramount of the common good, are in our toolbox.   

This past semester I had the privilege of being a member of the ReIMAGINE Reading Group, which caused me to think more deeply about our mission, how it connects to equity and how we must continue to hold Fordham to its mission. It also made me more observant and mindful of the wider higher education landscape, especially during this most recent and challenging chapter. Would students thrive in online learning? Would faculty and administrators remain focused on their work?

I believe many would agree that if Fordham has a “super power” it is our sense of community; a community that is immediately tangible to visitors and newcomers. However, if community is our super power, how does that strength translate in a pandemic? As it turns out, we learned that community is also our saving grace. Certainly our students missed gathering for class, as well as for senior week and commencement, and faculty and staff missed waving hello to one another on campus, grabbing coffee and having lunch together. Yet, it is the sense of community that sustained us, gave us the will to move on, and find a way forward. Fordham’s community is a product of its mission, a notion that we are companions with a higher purpose. In fact, new mental health research on wellness and happiness reveals the importance of gratitude and generosity, two staples of a Fordham education, leaving other institutions trying to emulate and catch-up to where we’ve always been.

As we look ahead, let’s challenge each other to fortify that Fordham difference, leaning into mission, rather than away from it, and allowing it to propel the University into the future; a future that hungers for a deep and purposeful education infused with Ignatian values, and with a goal of making the world a more just, equal and loving place. At this moment in time, what more could we need and ask for?

The Virus Is Not The Crisis

By: Diane Detournay
Reading Group Participant
Lecturer, English and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies

In a semester marked by the radical unsettling of higher education’s foundational infrastructure, members of the ReIMAGINE Reading Group reflected at the last meeting on how the reading and discussions it shared together, prepared everyone for the immense challenges of this time in unexpected ways. While we could not have anticipated the abrupt closure of our classrooms and the loss of the familiar conditions that structure teaching and learning, our efforts to expansively “reimagine” undergraduate education to better serve our students suddenly and urgently needed to be put into practice. As one member of our group eloquently put it, “all of a sudden the future we were talking and reading about was here.”

Although conversations about the current state of higher education tend to cast the coronavirus as the source of the crisis and as the principal force to contend with, the work of the Reading Group points us towards a different framing, which I also see opening up spaces of possibility. Along these lines, the pandemic is best understood not as a discrete event that precipitates marginalization or as itself the agent of harm, but rather as that which exposes and amplifies a set of already existing crises at the site of the university. For example, we grappled with a range of issues prior to the online transition ranging from the student debt crisis, the inadequate support for universal design, the deprofessionalization of teaching, the casualization of academic labor, the disjuncture between disciplinary training and the demands of the job market, issues pertaining to diversity, and the intensification of inequalities pertaining to college preparedness.

The Reading Group also reflected on how the stories that we share regarding the founding and mission of the university deeply shape the ways in which we apprehend these problems and our potential imagining of the future.  The words of Katheryn Yusoff resonate here: “…nothing that can be found in the end is not already prefigured in the origin. Origins configure and prefigure the possibility of narratives of the present.”

As a result, I return to the collective insights from the Reading Group at this critical juncture when we are working to creatively stretch the potentialities contained within the hybrid flex model as far as they can possibly go. Amidst the ongoing tragedy and its ruins, the pandemic has also provided a clearing to seize these struggles as the defining condition of higher education. The ReIMAGINE Reading Group has compelled me to challenge the predominant framing of the pandemic as a crisis that has disrupted a status quo and as one that primarily demands medical, technological, and scientific management. Rather, perhaps we understand this moment as one that offers us the opening and opportunity to imagine a future world from an origin marked by crisis.