by Sarah Lopez
Last Thursday, protesters, including myself, were marching into Cunniffe in order to demand an answer from Father McShane about granting the union a free and fair election—an answer that the school promised but did not live up to. This was not the first action we organized to ask that the administration clarify their stance and respond to our inquiries, but the administration deflected or ignored our requests after each of our past actions. At an earlier demonstration on April 18th, students and faculty demonstrating outside of President McShane’s office were told that administration would give them an answer by the end of the day as to whether the university would allow a free union election for contingent faculty. Those students and faculty waited for an answer for four hours. At the end of the business day, students and faculty were told that the university’s president had more pressing matters to attend to than faculty labor rights.
That is why we decided to enter the building last Thursday—so we could see Father McShane in person and demand answers without being turned away. We were not looking to get involved in any physical altercations, nor to cause a huge commotion inside the building. We just wanted to have a presence there so the president would know that the student body and faculty were together on this issue, and that we were not going to stand by while it was ignored. However, the security blocked the doors as if we were criminals looking to cause harm rather than adults and concerned parties trying to be heard. We were students and faculty going to see our school president, which should be within our rights as he is meant to be the representative of our school. We were able to get inside because the door was unlocked.
However, once we were inside, Public Safety officers charged at us to scare and intimidate us. It was crowded, and we were shoved against the walls. I saw a space by the door, so I approached it. When one officer moved away while arguing with a student (it looked heated, and his movement suggests attempts at force, but that is speculation on my part), I grabbed the door handle. The officer moved back when he noticed this and pinned me against the wall. Half of my body was crushed under his. It was very uncomfortable and I was beginning to panic. The man would not move, and I could not release the door handle. My arm and chest were crushed under his weight. The longer this went on, the more painful it became. My hand, arm, and chest were all pressed between a full grown man and a glass door. The pressure took a toll as it continued. I began to hyperventilate and cry. I could not breathe because of the weight on my chest coupled with what I suspect was a panic attack. No doubt the two are related. I said so clearly, strained as it was through crying and panic. Around this time, I was kicked in the ankle, causing it to collide with the floor. That was also painful but I regained my footing. Then, I felt a leg wrap around mine. It was not a person changing their position. I clearly felt a leg wind around my own, spreading my legs. At this point, I could not rely on my right leg as it was being pulled in one direction. My body slowly began to collapse due to this imbalance. The man was still on top of me, shoving me against the door, and as I dropped, his weight began to shove me onto the floor.
Our only goal was to meet with Fr. McShane, so I held that door handle this entire time. It became my safety even as I felt my hand being crushed into it. It held me up. I was on the floor, my legs splitting apart at an unnatural angle as his other leg wrapped around mine, and my legs were shaking from trying to keep me up (I could not stand or sit in this position). Public Safety forcefully ejected my friends, who were trying to reach me to help me. I was alone in this room, surrounded by public safety, who are supposed to protect students. I never felt more scared or endangered in my entire life. They did not allow my friends to retrieve me. No matter how much my friends demanded it, they were shoved aside, even though I was so scared I could not move (and was in no position to do so). They did not ask why I could not get up. If they did, I would have told them that my legs were too shaky, too spread apart—that I did not think I could move physically or mentally, especially considering how crowded it was. They could have moved out of the way, at least letting me fall to the ground so I could move my legs (as unreliable as they were).
Eventually they forcefully “escorted” me out. I was met by some faculty members and friends who held me and comforted me as I cried. My legs and breathing were shaky. I was too emotionally distraught to speak or even return the hug my friend gave me. Public safety remained an ever vigilant force at the door, creating a wall of bodies. The stood there defensively, as if there was any resistance left in my body, even though I could not even speak or move, let alone try to get past them. As broken as I was, they watched and waited. I was in constant fear of what they might’ve done to us next. Several of them tried to send me away to CPS or FUEMS, but I wanted none of it. Didn’t they get that they were making the experience worse? Dean Rodgers waited until my friend who had been comforting me the entire time had to leave, then tried to speak with me as I sat there alone. But when he did so, I got so scared I began to cry all over again. I could not even speak. I cried and shook my head until he took the hint and left. I feel that there were too many people around me supporting me for public safety to make another move, but I believe that if I had been alone, it would’ve been a different matter, and that thought continues to terrify me. I feel that I can no longer trust Public Safety, who are supposed to protect and care for students. Even walking past Cunniffe House and the Public Safety office makes me scared and uncomfortable now.
I think a misconception about this event is that we were looking for some kind of fight. We were there to get answers about how the school was going to treat its faculty as they requested a free and fair election for a union. We only wanted to be a presence. The administration could ignore our voices, but they could not our faces in that space. However, the assumption by security was clearly something different. They treated us as if we were thugs, which only made the situation worse. Also, there were several times during the event at which security voiced that people were hurting them, even when they were the ones hurting us. I did not see any officers being injured, but I did see students being manhandled, crushed, intimidated, yelled at, and the like—all for trying to speak with our president about concerns over faculty well-being.
All I can ask is, “Is this what attention from administration towards its students and faculty looks like? Do we have to choose between ignored and being treated like this?” One would hope the answer would be a no, but only time will tell, and it doesn’t look good so far.
On Monday, my friends and I were charged with violations of Fordham policy for Thursday’s demonstration. Even though I took no action against anyone as Public Safety personnel attacked and traumatized me, I am the one who is getting charged with physically abusing others. Even though Public Safety personnel were seen laughing at students like me after we were hurt and traumatized, we are the ones who are being punished as the troublemakers, the ones who incited violence.
Media relations also sent a fictitious account of these events to the entire school. For starters, it is a lie that no students were injured during the event. Many of us sustained cuts and bruises. Nobody asked us if we were injured. Medical personnel were not called to the scene to make sure we were alright, even after I had clearly stated that I had trouble breathing. Instead of making sure that I was ok, public safety all but tossed me out the door. That was their only concern, not students’ well-being. I was kicked and bruised, and some of my friends also have cuts, but who but us took note of that? Which one of them cared?
Media relations’ email also defended the ban on students from their housing and the rest of campus. First off, the email, which merely claimed “access to campus” was denied, does not expose the biggest issue: that students were thrown out of their residences. Nobody should have the power to unilaterally decide to throw students out on the street. The email also reads that the administration ensured all the students had a place to stay. This is another blatant lie. Did students have homes to return to? Did they have any way of getting to those homes? Did they have any time to plan? The answer to these questions is not known to administration because they never asked. They barely gave affected students any notice, and only did so through email, before kicking students out.
Fordham’s administration does not care about us. We can tell that by the way we have been treated. But the administration does not care about you either. You can tell by the way they clearly lied to the entire community about the events of last Thursday and about their negotiations with the tenured faculty. I’m sure they will lie to my face as soon as they get the chance, to make me think that I was being violent while it was I who was suffocated and kicked. The videos of the protest are not deceptive. Security did do these things to us. To me. Their actions were uncalled for and inexcusable. There may be two sides to every story, but I refuse to accept their side if it tells me I deserved to be hurt and traumatized for trying to protect faculty rights. I am facing many accusations from Fordham, its administration, and even some fellow students. Not only did they physically and psychologically damage me, but they want to ensure that I am punished for it. But I’ll be damned if the day comes when I accept the atrocious treatment students and staff face at the hands of Fordham University. Whatever they say about me, or do to me, I will not stop fighting the injustices of this institution. I will not stop defending Fordham students and faculty.