Taking A Seat at the Grown-Ups’ Table

By: Andrew Souther
Incubator Participant
Undergraduate Student, FCRH, Class of 2021

Growing up in New Orleans, I am very familiar with “hurricane parties.” When the power first goes out, neighbors gather to share generators and gas stoves. As a little kid, you’re just excited to be out of school. There is an eerie sense that things will be “different” for a while, but the reality may not set in until later.

When Fordham University decided to cancel in-person classes on March 9, I felt a bit of déjà vu. The temperature was in the 70s for the first time in a while, and social-distancing standards were still an abstract idea, so students spread out across the lawns celebrating a few unexpected days off. This “hurricane party” felt a bit different though. It’s odd to look at this kind of situation from the perspective of a “grown-up” for the first time—or at least an “almost-grown-up.” I grew anxious as I felt my plans and responsibilities being thrown off course.

After flying home a week later, I realized I had to cut back and focus on the important things. I emailed a few friends and professors sadly, discussing plans for ongoing projects: “Thanks for all of the help with research on this, but I’ve decided not to submit for that essay contest this year…” Then on March 19, Professor Anne Fernald emailed members of the Incubator, offering us the option to leave if we felt the need to prioritize other matters. I thought about the offer, but it became clear that this group was something I should hold on to.

The ReIMAGINE Higher Ed Leadership Team was clearly putting in so much effort to transition our work online, and I felt compelled to match that effort with whatever I could manage. In fact, only one day after in-person classes were cancelled, the Incubator met online, and I saw all the faces I was familiar with on Tuesday evenings. As other classes and clubs struggled to transition, these meetings became a consistent and comforting presence in my week. Despite life obstacles that may not be visible to me, fellow participants have brought understanding, optimism, and funny costumes to our Zoom calls.

However, that does not mean continuing with the Incubator has been easy. This work was difficult even before moving online. I imagine it’s always challenging—and occasionally frustrating—trying to solve serious problems or building something valuable. My group has designed a first-year course focused on advocacy skills for students from under-represented or disadvantaged populations on campus. In the past few weeks, we have faced deadlines for project proposals and videos, and it has been hectic. In a certain sense, it’s a powerful coincidence that my time in the Incubator has aligned with these stressful few months. Just as I’ve unfortunately realized what it feels like to be a “grown-up” at a “hurricane party” facing an uncertain future, Fordham has given me this opportunity to work as a grown-up with other real grown-ups. I do not feel nearly as experienced as fellow participants from the faculty, staff, graduate schools, or local community, but I am glad I stayed at the table and have a place in the Incubator.