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A Catholic, Jesuit Campus Culture

“The University works to foster within its students, faculty, staff, and administrators a virtuous life characterized by personal responsibility, respect, forgiveness, compassion, a habit of reflection and the integration of body, mind, and soul.”

Fordham University works actively to promote an environment marked by the virtues named in this characteristic, even as it discerns how best to represent a Catholic and Jesuit campus culture that speaks with integrity and sensitivity to the complex culture of New York City in the early 21st century.

University Ministry and Liturgical Life

Fordham’s vibrant Campus Ministry programs offer many opportunities for religious and spiritual care. Between the Rose Hill and Lincoln Center campus there are five daily Masses, and four Sunday Masses. Attendance at the latter is typically between 400 and 500 persons per week. Over the course of the year, there are up to 21 student retreats, in addition to spiritual direction, pastoral counseling, the availability of daily confession, music ministry and community outreach. (See Appendix Six for a more expansive list of programs.) We feel confident that our programs at Fordham are of particularly high quality.

While this traditional aspect of Catholic campus culture remains strong and highly important, it is more difficult to assess the full impact of the University’s ministerial programs on students of the millennial generation who practice other faiths or who are marginally or not religiously affiliated. Moreover, what kind of culture, rooted in the Catholic Church and the apostolic mission of the Society of Jesus, is most appropriate to people who have been raised in contexts where ecclesiastical markers and religious idioms may have grown fainter or less influential?

On virtually all questions in the Characteristics document related to this area, we feel that we can offer particularly strong evidence of our success. But we also ask ourselves other questions, such as: What is the nature of the University’s responsibility to devout Jews or Muslims or to students from a more evangelical background? Does the difference in undergraduate populations between Rose Hill and Lincoln Center lead us to the conclusion that Campus Ministry should operate very differently in those places? How do we attend to the spiritual well-being of students who increasingly do not have a language or framework for discussing their needs in this regard? Such questions are not simply important from a pastoral point of view: they also touch upon more institutional decisions on how to allocate our limited resources.

At various points, we were reminded of the testimony of non-Catholic students (e.g., Muslims), who indicated their happiness in belonging to an institution that treats 18 faiths of all kinds with reverence and respect. At the end of our discussion on this Characteristic, we shall note the potential of such mutually corroborating dynamics of identity and diversity.

Building a Culture Committed to Relationality and Responsibility

Through the Division of Student Affairs, Fordham embraces its role in creating a culture that is responsive to and challenging of many tensions student face. For example, how do they negotiate the emphasis on rights versus responsibility, the self versus others, and superficiality over deep engagement with the human family? The mission of Student Affairs states:

We seek to create, for and with our students, an intentional community that will set the highest standards of academic, social, moral, and spiritual excellence. This community must bring to life, in a meaningful way, the fundamental ideals of Jesuit education. The student, as individual and as a part of the community, will be the center of our efforts, and will be expected to fully participate in the education offered by full participation in the community.

Professional staff work to realize these ambitious goals through a diverse system of connected programs, beginning with the orientation and formation programs, students’ first intensive exposure to Fordham’s values. This process of acculturation continues through required Freshman Core Programs, a soon-to-be universal First Year Formation course, and an array of Integrated Learning Communities, to name just a few (see Appendix Six). Fordham provides sensitive care and education for students to meet the universal challenges of substance abuse and sexual ethics. Once prepared, students are ushered into a rich campus culture in which participation in student organizations, activities, and later internships are the expectation and norm. Programs for students include strong peer education programs, optional substance-free communities in residence halls, and constant assessment through surveys to continuously allow improvement in approach. Students complete their traditional classroom education through participation in community, through common projects with peers, and by taking leadership roles that provide experience educating the next generations of students.

We do this work aware that some of our policies remain counter-cultural and sometimes provoke disagreement and dissent, particularly in areas of gender and sexuality. Recognizing that cultural and political mores change over time, we try to build a culture that respects Catholic teaching while remaining sensitive to those with other points of view. Moreover, the Steering Committee recognizes that, at a developmental level, faculty, academic deans’ staff, and Student Affairs staff must work hard to mentor students, in appropriate ways, so that their own contributions to the educational community are valued. When we are at our best, we foster a 19 culture where students feel respected and valued for their full dignity and emerging capacity for leadership. At our worst, we can patronize and control in ways that do not advance a culture of relationality and responsibility. Institutional awareness of these dynamics need to be part of our ongoing own self-examination.

Athletics

The broad-based intercollegiate athletics program at Fordham provides diverse opportunities for student development and formation, including a robust intramural program, a vibrant array of club sport offerings, and 22 varsity sports. Our focus is on the provision of opportunities for participation on many levels, depending on the skill, interest level and commitment of the individual student. In all endeavors, the mission and values of the institution underscore and emphasize the development of the whole student, intellectually, spiritually and physically. When it comes to the highest level of participation, our varsity athletics program, competing and winning are certainly important areas of emphasis with our coaches, student athletes and administrators. But winning is not the only variable that is important at Fordham. Equal emphasis is placed on 1) competitive outcomes, 2) academic outcomes (persistence and graduation rates), 3) citizenship (proper conduct during competition, good citizenship out on campus and in the community, community service, and leadership development and character formation) and 4) compliance (adherence to and playing within the rules of the institution, conferences of affiliation and NCAA). At Fordham, it is not good enough to satisfy one or a subset of these expectations; metrics in all four areas must be satisfied. We offer a broad array of programs and opportunities for individual and team development in all areas, particularly those that focus on community service, leadership development and character formation.

As in society more generally, athletics at Fordham can bring out both the good and the bad from people. A healthy spirit of competition and school pride can be corrupted by unhealthy ambitions, undue fascination with winning, and a need to see Fordham’s reputation for sports advance as a top University priority. We do not face the kinds of pressures other universities, with bigger athletics programs, may face. But we remain vigilant to ensure that we maintain our institutional priorities and that, above all things, Fordham’s athletic program always serves larger educational goals and never becomes an end in itself. Both students and alumni, families and coaches, friends and donors, sometimes need to be reminded that the goals of athletics must always be subordinated to our mission ideals that focus on Cura Personalis, the development of the whole student, and Women and Men for and with others.

Community Characterized by Diversity of Thought

The Division of Student Affairs works to create a community that approaches the ideal articulated in its mission: one in which the assumptions and biases with which each student arrives are exposed to new knowledge gained inside the classroom, to critical thinking, and to competing ideas. In this way, the community is conceived of as a seamless extension of the classroom. All contacts with students, staff, and faculty—indeed, every experience and activity—is ideally freighted with potential for further education and deeper learning. This process of learning in community and reflecting on that experience advances what our President often calls “bothered excellence.” Moreover, we expect that students develop the first principles that will guide lives in service to others in ways as various as the careers and vocations pursued after Commencement. Simultaneously asking and being asked tough questions about life and how it should be lived, students are exposed to the distinct Jesuit and Catholic values of the University through the companionship of older peers and the staff throughout the University. The diverse and carefully trained professionals charged with creating this uniquely Ignatian co-curricular environment do so along with the compassionate care they provide, through dialogue with students on even the thorniest issues of the day, and with careful attention to the needs of students from historically underrepresented groups. Each staff member is meant to connect even with those who disagree vehemently with the University on policy or procedure, sharpening the analytical skills of students as well as the institution’s own discernment process through ongoing conversation on community, ethics, and moral reasoning.

Vocational Discernment

Fordham University, from a student’s very first encounter, intentionally cultivates a culture of discernment by inviting students to name their gifts and put them in the service of not only themselves, but the world. They are encouraged to ask where, in their pursuits, they have encountered the pull of the Divine.

Through campus addresses, orientations, programs and instruction, this reflective dialogue permeates the University culture, from classroom to volunteer site. An intentional element of the Division of Mission Integration and Planning, discernment programs include volunteer and career discernment sessions, postgraduate career fairs committed to the common good and opportunities for individual conversation with staff, often held in partnership with the Office of Career Services. Student Affairs also offers intentionally integrated programs on vocational discernment such as a First-Year Formation course and a Senior Transitions program, along with similar initiatives in academic life such as discernment-focused Integrated Learning Communities, which it carries out in collaboration with academic deans and the division of Mission Integration and Planning.

In a more specific sense, for Catholics, the University also remains committed to nurturing the growth and development of religious life, offering opportunities for vocational discernment through Campus Ministry, and by intentionally programming with Jesuit scholastics and retired Jesuits at Murray-Weigel Hall, highlighting both the width and depth of Jesuit life, and the powerful witness of a lifelong commitment to Christ.

Campus Events

The University conducts many campus-wide events throughout the year that highlight its role as an institution of academic excellence rooted in its Catholic and Jesuit identity. Many campus events are intentionally celebrated with University liturgies, and great care is taken to mark the seasons of the academic year including fall opening, Mass of the Holy Spirit, the Easter Triduum and the Baccalaureate Mass, Commencement and Jubilee. Also important at Fordham is the celebration of Founder’s Dinner—an evening that supports Presidential scholars and honors their academic achievements, and Dagger John Day, a celebration of faculty and staff and a tribute to Archbishop John Hughes, founder of Fordham. In 2017, Dagger John Day will also mark the closing of our Dodransbicentennial, Fordham’s 175th year.

Church Calendar/Academic Calendar

The University Church, built-in 1845, sits at the center of campus. Similarly, the liturgical seasons and feast days are central to the course of the academic year. In addition to the liturgies mentioned above, the Advent and Lenten seasons play significant roles in the life of the University, both as avenues for Catholic identity and pastoral engagement. Gaudete Sunday has become particularly popular, as the University is able to celebrate the joy of the Christmas season as a church prior to the departure of students for the semester break. The University also celebrates the Easter Triduum, joyfully welcoming students into full communion with the Church each year. Recently, the University also celebrated the Papal visit to New York City and the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, as key moments in the life of the Church.

Race and Diversity

Although not mentioned in the Characteristics document, it is important to comment, if briefly, on an issue that has and continues to be so central to Fordham, especially within the context of New York City. We continue to struggle to be a university that reflects the cosmopolitan nature of our surroundings, both in the Bronx and in Manhattan. In a later section we will discuss the President’s Task Force on Diversity, which was prompted by racially charged incidents in 2015-16. What 22 we need to observe here is that “A Catholic, Jesuit Campus Culture” can often be understood as a predominantly white culture of Irish and Italian immigrants. While that is our history, of which we are duly proud, the Steering Committee is also aware that, as we move forward into the 21st century, we must work very hard so that our notion of “Catholic culture” more effectively communicates our rootedness in a global tradition and that we slowly come to greater understanding and commitment of our need, precisely as reflecting a Jesuit, Catholic culture, to become an institution where all racial and ethnic identities may find a home and inspiration.

Again, when we are at our best, a deep sense of identity fosters, rather than militates against, a sense of inclusion. We are encouraged when we hear that students of other faiths and commitments find a home in Fordham, precisely because they are taken seriously. Although we do not always succeed and have sometimes failed, we must continue to grow in a way that speaks with integrity and sensitivity within the complex culture of 21st century New York City.

Conclusion

Consideration of Characteristic 3 leads the Steering Committee to recommend the following Mission Priority discussed at the end of this Examen.

  • The design/advancement of strategies for linking issues of diversity to mission/identity (Mission Priority #2).