By Rachel Poe and Declan Murphy
Tensions have been running high throughout Fordham since the attempted sit-in at Cunniffe House on Thursday, April 27th. Members of Fordham Students United (FSU) and Fordham Faculty United (FFU) as well as other members of the Fordham community wanted their voices to be heard regarding the rights of contingent faculty. These protesters hoped to gain an audience with Father McShane to discuss these grievances. The demonstration started outside of Walsh Library and within a few minutes, the protesters were on their way to Cunniffe House. Public Safety was present at Walsh Library, as they are present at all protests, and followed them.
During the protest, the protesters attempted to enter through the two sets of doors by Dealy Hall. Once the protests made their way through the first, which was unlocked by someone from the inside (it is usually locked), Public Safety officials tried to block them from going through the second. This entrance led to a waiting room, beyond which was the administration’s private offices. (The private offices are, according to Public Safety, not open to students.) What resulted was a standoff between Public Safety officials and students. According to University statements, this altercation resulted in two Public Safety officers needing medical attention. In the videos posted on social media, a girl, who was directly in the thick of it, was pressed between a Public Safety officer and the wall. A video that shows part of the incident is on FSU’s Facebook page and now has over 37,000 views. According to both Dean Rodgers and VP of Public Safety, John Carroll, the girl said she was fine and denied medical attention directly after it occurred.
Father McShane was not on-campus that day but was in fact at Lincoln Center.
Once the situation deescalated, the protesters continued to have a peaceful demonstration on the steps outside the entrance.The following day, interim measures against thirteen of the students involved with the protest were sent out, ranging from being denied attendance to Spring Weekend activities to removal from campus housing for the weekend.
Members of the Fordham community were shocked by the measures taken against these students. In response, students and faculty alike attended the Student Life Council meeting this Wednesday, May 3rd, in order to have the opportunity to express their frustrations directly to administrators and to show solidarity with the impacted students.The protests made up the bulk of the agenda for the meeting, with one 30-minute period of discussion in the middle of the meeting and a further 40-minute discussion at the conclusion of all other business. (Most of which can be found steamed on the Fordham Ram’s Facebook page.)
Fordham students and faculty from a number of groups–including Fordham Women’s Empowerment (W.E.), Fordham Students United (FSU), Fordham Faculty United (FFU), among others–were present to voice their concerns. The primary topic of discussion was the “interim measures” enacted against both participants and, crucially, non-participants in Thursday’s protest; namely, the Fordham students who were required to vacate their residence halls for the weekend. However, during the discussion, other aspects of the protest were brought to the floor, including the use of force on Fordham students by Public Safety officers and the alleged violence committed by said students.
Tina McCain, FCRH 18, opened the discussion with the following statement (excerpted here with her permission):
“…I am here to say that I am disappointed in your administrative policy and actions as a student. I am here today because I am tired and I am upset and I am not alone in that. I am here today because I as a student, a queer Latina Catholic female student at that, feel failed by the administration. I feel that you are an administration that does not serve students and academic faculty. I feel ashamed of my administration and what they have done to my peers, and the danger and pressure they have put on our faculty. I am angry that I received phone calls and texts from friends in panic of where to stay over last weekend. That should never happen at a university without due process…”
The meeting reached an impasse as students and faculty debated the university’s rationale and whether or not the Public Safety officers used force against students. At one point, Emma-June Orth brought forward a video of a Public Safety officer restraining a student participant in the protest. VP Carroll was shown the video and maintained that the student in question was not being pushed against the wall despite protests from attendees. At one point, Carroll refuted her claim that she was unable to breathe, to which many in the audience responded “How do you know? Are you her?” VP Carroll maintained that he was not aware of any students being injured or any trauma that occurred after Thursday’s events.
In regards to the student who was pinned by Fordham Public Safety, VP Carroll insisted that he had asked her repeatedly if she was okay or needed medical attention, and she had responded that she did not. Video evidence does indicate that VP Carroll did arrive on the scene, and did inquire as to the state of the student in question. However, as many protestors pointed out, it was unlikely that a student in the midst of such a crisis would be willing to cooperate or ask for help from another agent of Public Safety. They further pointed to the fact that said student was subsequently crying and in emotional distress after the incident, regardless of what she had said to VP Carroll.
In addition, though he did not elaborate fully on the situation, VP Carroll admitted that there was an internal investigation into Public Safety’s handling of what had occurred at Cunniffe House.
Another point of contention was whether or not Fordham acted fairly in regards to the evictions. The Fordham code of conduct says that the Dean of Students can remove students from campus prior to adjudication if “the health and safety of the community or of the accused student is endangered by the student’s presence on campus” [Fordham Code of Conduct]. Dean Rodgers stated that he believed he was well within his power to do so; the students disagreed. In particular, students pointed to actions taken against one student who was not actually present at the protest itself and therefore could not be seen as a potentially violent risk to the safety of the University.
In a statement, from Dean Rodgers to the paper, prior to the Student Life Council in regards to the interim measures, he said:
“In these situations, we often can’t go into the kind of detail that would satisfy understandable concern and curiosity due to the protections in law and regulation that protect student privacy and confidentiality in conduct processes, but we do want to make sure the community has accurate information. Interim measures such as being sent home for the weekend are standard in conduct processes after serious incidents like this– 11 times in the past few years, in fact. They were assigned here after careful collaborative review of available documentation in Student Life. We would never simply send people away: staff were sent to work with the students as they departed the residence halls. While all four students live close enough to campus to sleep at home, should anyone have needed more time, had trouble finding a place to stay or requested the assistance of our staff, we would of course help. None did. Though these measures may not be convenient and are used only in serious cases, care is always taken that they place no student at any risk.”
Students countered with the claim that one Resident Director did not actually assist their resident in finding necessary accommodations. Allegedly, when one of the students who was asked to vacate their residence hall said that they had nowhere to go, the RD did not assist them in resolving this issue as expected by the administration. The student handbook dictates that in case a resident has nowhere to stay, or lives too far from home, the necessary officials, i.e. the RD, has to provide support to them.
It was becoming increasingly clear as the meeting went on that both sides were set in their beliefs and ultimately no resolution was reached. The administration stood by its reasoning that students posed an actual safety risk and thus its actions were justified. The students, in contrast, argued that the interim measures were an abuse of power and that Fordham Public Safety had committed acts of violence against the protestors. This only reaffirmed that there is a high level of disconnect between students and administrators and an increased need for communication and transparency.
Though the purpose of the protest originally was to fight for contingent faculty’s rights on campus, the subject was not addressed during the meeting. The general conscious from faculty and graduate students in attendance was that the focus should remain on the students. Andrew Thompson, a member of FFU and the Sociology Department, said, “I think everyone at Fordham should be proud of the students who stood and drew attention to these issues and the administration’s mishandling of contingent faculty.”
Conduct hearings for the students involved are set to occur this coming Friday and the following Monday.