Living in the Fordham Bubble
And How to Break Out
Photography by Spencer Krell and Katie Mays
After graduating high school in 2015, I moved to Los Angeles to work with an AmeriCorps service program called City Year. During my two “gap years,” I worked 50 hours a week in an underprivileged middle school as a tutor and mentor to seventh graders. The school I served in was in a neighborhood that was socioeconomically and culturally similar to the part of the Bronx surrounding Fordham. Not only did I work there, but I lived only a couple blocks away, and I would walk to and from school every day. I would often see my students at the grocery store or laundromat. Although I moved there from Columbus, Ohio and came from a very different background than my students, I felt like a part of the community.
I came to Fordham with high expectations of being involved in the surrounding community, a desire I expected to share with my peers. A prominent factor in my choice to attend Fordham was their commitment to “living the mission,” and creating students who are “men and women for others.” I figured that service and community engagement would be a high priority of a Jesuit institution. However, I was soon confronted by the stark segregation between Fordham and the Bronx neighborhood surrounding us.
At Fordham, we are living in isolation from the Bronx. We are literally fenced in. This barrier creates an “us” and a “them,” mentally and physically dividing Fordham students from our neighbors.
As a result, students at Fordham often have misconceptions of the Bronx. Regana Alicka, a Bronx native and senior at Fordham, believes that these misconceptions start as soon as students set foot on campus. She says that freshmen especially are “taught to be extremely wary of areas around school, besides the places right off Arthur Avenue.” Not only that, but they “think there’s nothing to do in the whole borough, but there’s so many things to do in the Bronx.”
Kat Martucci, a junior at Fordham who volunteers with various service organizations in the Bronx, said that the obvious racial and socioeconomic difference between students and the community is “definitely something that should be talked about and not just overlooked.” She believes it takes “humility and self-awareness” and knowing that although we are only visitors for four years, we can do our best to be good neighbors.
Though there are institutional problems that prevent us from fully bridging the divide between Fordham and the Bronx, there are a plethora of ways students can make an effort on an individual level.
So what can you do?
Get involved in policy, social initiatives, and stay informed on Bronx news
The Bronx is currently facing problems of gentrification and rezoning, and there are many organizations combatting these issues. To stay informed about events and campaigns, check out Take Back the Bronx, who is working on a project to stop the Southern Boulevard rezoning in the South Bronx. You can get involved by following their Facebook page or visiting The Bronx Social Center. Additionally, students can attend Community Board meetings on the second Wednesday of every month. Martucci suggests “going to meetings and attempting to learn more about the challenges of this community.” This is a great way to stay informed about the events happening close to our home. Not to mention, City Councilmember Ritchie Torres’s office is right outside campus (573 E Fordham Rd, Bronx, NY 10458). A great thing students can do is learn about local politics, know when elections are happening, and advocate for policies that would improve people’s lives. For a news source directly on the Bronx, check out News 12 the Bronx.
Support local businesses and explore the Bronx
Alicka pointed out that when students “only spend money at Starbucks and Chipotle, that’s how local businesses die out.” Next time you think about making a Starbucks run, try Prince Coffee House instead, or venture out further than Arthur Avenue with any of these great places to eat: Johnson’s BBQ, Pio Pio (Peruvian), Papaye (Ghanaian), or Com Tam Ninh Kiet (Vietnamese). Don’t forget about the awesome places to visit in the Bronx. Relax and enjoy the family atmosphere at Van Cortlandt Park, check out the beach and great seafood at City Island, and spend a day at the Bronx Zoo with your friends. The community board is hosting some great upcoming events, including a Community Open Mic Night on November 10th, and a Holiday Party and Toy Giveaway on December 15th. Check out an entire list of Fall events here.
Volunteer and find opportunities for community engagement
When looking for service opportunities, your first stop is The Dorothy Day Center. They can match you with an organization to meet your interests. If you want to implement an action civics curriculum with high school students, check out Generation Citizen. If you want to focus on the environmental needs of the Bronx, check out the Bronx is Blooming. If you don’t have a lot of time to commit, you can participate in one-time service events with the Pedro Arrupe program. I personally tutor a 10th grade student once a week at Rosedale Community Center, which is a great fit for someone looking to build a consistent relationship with a mentee. The most important part of service is finding a place to utilize the skills you already have. If you’re interested in science, work in a hospital. If you’re studying accounting, intern somewhere nearby to help people with their finances.
The simplest action you can take is be kind, respectful, and neighborly. Alicka says that an obvious courtesy is to watch how loud people get on weekdays. “There are families who have children going to school. People are tired and have to go to work.” Additionally, you should be conscientious of your language and the way you talk among your peers at Fordham. Both Alicka and Martucci noted the use of the word “locals” to refer to people in the Bronx in a negative way. Avoid this kind of problematic language and challenge others who use it. When you’re walking to the D-train, “don’t be super visible about clutching your purse and avoiding eye contact,” Martucci says. Make eye contact. Smile.
These are some of the ways students can begin to push at the walls separating us from the Bronx, but it’s up to Fordham to fully break them down. “It’s up to the school to give students the tools they need to become good community members,” says Alicka. For Fordham, this could mean not using rhetoric that divides the student body from the community during orientation, or hosting more events like the one by the Sociology Department to discuss gentrification around our school. For now, as students we can be more thoughtful of our neighbors and work towards building a more integrated community.
Special thanks to Ragana Alicka, Kat Martucci, and Christie Klima for info on events and opportunities around the Bronx.
The Community Open Mic Night will be at University of the Streets (2381 Belmont Ave) on November 10th at 7pm. To RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Holiday Party and Toy Giveaway will be at Mount Carmel Church (627 E 187th Street) on December 15th at 6pm. Admission is free, and there will be performances and refreshments. To RSVP, email email@example.com.