Homecoming weekend typically draws Fordham family and friends to Rose Hill for football every fall, but this year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ram faithful joined virtual festivities from the comfort of their own homes and hometowns.

From Oct. 1 to 4, hundreds of alumni, family, and friends—from as far as Germany—tuned in for an expanded series of virtual events that drew on some of the best-loved Homecoming traditions, like the 5K Ram Run and tailgate parties, and included a “pub” trivia competition, updates on academic and student life amid COVID-19, and a tribute to the 50th anniversary of a Fordham football milestone.

In addition to joining panels and discussions sponsored by the Office of Alumni Relations, Fordham graduates took to social media, where thousands viewed Homecoming Instagram stories and tweets shared via the @fordhamalumni accounts, and others used the #FordhamHomecoming20 hashtag to post their own messages, including pictures of pets and kids decked out in Fordham gear.

A Forum for FCLC

Things kicked off on Thursday evening with a panel discussion featuring two relative newcomers to the Fordham College at Lincoln Center community: Laura Auricchio, Ph.D., who became dean of the college in August 2019, and Tracyann Williams, Ph.D., who joined FCLC as assistant dean for student support and success last February.

Fordham University Alumni Association Advisory Board member Samara Finn Holland, FCLC ’03, moderated the discussion, during which the deans shared their observations about FCLC students.

A screenshot from the FCLC Homecoming panel.

“They are an amazing bunch of people,” Auricchio said. “These are students who are not only intelligent and motivated, but they’re really just decent, kind, wonderful human beings.” She recalled several instances of students greeting her when they saw her around the city.

Auricchio noted that political science, economics, and psychology are the three most popular majors among current FCLC students, and the fashion studies minor is growing particularly quickly. She said her office is focused on four areas: connecting to neighbors, enriching courses, enhancing research, and globalizing the curriculum.

Both she and Williams addressed the unique challenges faculty and students face during the pandemic, and Williams noted that part of her job is to help students acknowledge their feelings of disappointment that it’s not a typical academic year, and doing what she can to assist them.

“I am very much interested in always asking students what their needs are and not deciding for them,” she said.

Having worked at other New York City universities before arriving at FCLC, both Auricchio and Williams shared what they think makes Fordham so special.

“I feel as though it’s a unique place where students can come be part of a deeply caring, close-knit community that will support them and help them as they branch out into the city,” Auricchio said. “And to me, it’s just the best of both worlds.”

Pub Trivia at Home

Alumnus Tim Tubridy, FCRH ’99, and his brother, James Tubridy, co-owners of DJs @ Work, hosted a virtual pub trivia session on Friday night. Attendees were invited to answer 10 Fordham-themed questions, either individually or as teams.

The first question of the night delved into a bit of the University’s architectural history: “For what church were the stained-glass windows in the University church intended?” Father McShane delivered both the question and answer (St. Patrick’s Cathedral, when it was located on Mulberry Street), joking that he’d been imagining Jeopardy! theme music playing as he gave contestants time to respond.

A screenshot of a pub trivia question.

Other fun facts unearthed during the Q&A included how many books are housed in the Fordham libraries (more than 2 million), how many acres the Lincoln Center and Rose Hill campuses encompass (8 and 85, respectively), and how many live ram mascots have lived on campus (28).

At the end of the hour-long session, three teams were tied for first place with a whopping 20,000 points each.

A Virtual 5K Ram Run

While the 5K Ram Run is usually held at Rose Hill during Homecoming weekend, this year, alumni were invited to run, jog, or walk a five-kilometer trek of their own and to share photos on social media. Runners were also encouraged to share their finishing times by taking screenshots of their running apps, and the Office of Alumni Relations will be sending prizes to those who submitted their times.

An Instagram photo posted by Justin LaCoursiere.
Photo courtesy of Justin LaCoursiere

Justin LaCoursiere, FCRH ’12, posted a photo from Central Park and said, “Fordham Homecoming looks a little different this year, but I’m still taking part in some fun [virtual]activities, like the Annual 5K Ram Run.”

Larry DeNino, FCRH '82, on his Ram Run
Photo courtesy of Larry DeNino, FCRH ’82

Academic and Student Life Amid the Pandemic

On Saturday morning, a panel of Fordham administrators and faculty discussed the continued uncertainty of COVID-19, its impact on current and prospective Fordham students, and how they’re working to build and strengthen a sense of community under the circumstances. The conversation was moderated by Michael Griffin, associate vice president for alumni relations.

J. Patrick Hornbeck, professor of theology, secretary of the Faculty Senate, and special faculty advisor to the provost for strategic planning, said that soon after Fordham canceled in-person classes and shifted to a virtual format this past March, faculty began planning to avoid such abrupt disruptions for the fall semester. That’s how Fordham developed its flexible hybrid model, which mixes online and in-person learning.

“We would provide opportunities for students to learn and for faculty to teach in several different modalities,” he said. “The idea was, we did not know how things were going to go week-by-week and month-by-month. How could we deliver [a Fordham education]regardless of the way the pandemic would play out?”

A screenshot from a panel on navigating the pandemic at Fordham.

During the panel, Patricia Peek, Ph.D., dean of undergraduate admission, said that some of the changes implemented this year, such as virtual guided tours and information sessions, could become permanent to help make Fordham more accessible in the long term.

“I think, even when we’re fully on the ground, we will now always have virtual events because they’re providing so many opportunities and access for students,” she said.

Clint Ramos, head of design and production for Fordham Theatre, noted that the shift “was especially challenging for theatre because our education … is really experiential and a lot of our pedagogy is founded on the ability to gather.” But he said the program has met these challenges head-on, pointing to opportunities for creativity, like a collaborative effort he initiated with theater programs at Princeton, Georgetown, SUNY Purchase, and UMass Amherst. The One Flea Spare Project allows students to virtually attend classes at other universities and collaborate with each other on projects on multiple platforms based on themes in One Flea Spare, a 1995 play by Naomi Wallace set in a plague-ravaged London during the 17th century.

Juan Carlos Matos, assistant vice president for student affairs for diversity and inclusion, spoke about creative ways in which students have tried to maintain a sense of community, whether or not they’re studying on campus. This has included hosting socially distanced outdoor events, such as a “silent disco” on the plaza at Lincoln Center or a musical performance from the Coffey Field bleachers at Rose Hill, for an online audience and a limited number of students in person.

He also said that the pandemic has sharpened students’ focus on social justice, in particular the calls for racial equality that were revitalized this summer.

“Energy that usually is exhausted on other things was nailed into Black Lives Matter in a way where folks who have privilege are just realizing, ‘Hey, these things are happening,’ whereas folks on the margins have always experienced these things.”

Matos said this has spurred action at the University, including an anti-racism plan from Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham. And he said the offices of student and multicultural affairs are continuing to offer a variety of programming to keep students engaged. One of the benefits of having virtual or hybrid events is that more students can attend.

“Sometimes it’s difficult for someone to have to choose one campus or the other or we may be offering something on one campus and not the other,” he said. “But virtually, now people can attend in any capacity.”

Shakespeare and Pop Culture

Shakespearean scholar Mary Bly, Ph.D., chair of Fordham’s English department, led a mini-class titled “Pop Romeo & Juliet” on Saturday afternoon. Attendees were encouraged to watch Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film, Romeo + Juliet, prior to the class, during which Bly delved into the afterlife of the teen duo and their famous star-crossed love.

“Sociologists have made a pretty reasonable case for the argument that Romeo and Juliet actually changed the way we think about love in the Western world, which is very interesting,” Bly said.

A screenshot of Mary Bly presenting a mini-class on Romeo and Juliet in pop culture.

Joined by English professor Shoshana Enelow, Bly discussed the idea of cultural capital, looking at how the characters of Romeo and Juliet have survived and how they’ve been transformed in modern adaptations, other films, music, and advertisements. She and Enelow drew parallels to West Side Story, the Beatles, and even a Taylor Swift music video, inviting attendees to write in impressions and examples of their own using Zoom’s Q&A feature.

An Afternoon with Athletics

Fordham sports fans attended two athletics-focused virtual events on Saturday afternoon, including a conversation between Ed Kull, interim director of athletics, and Head Football Coach Joe Conlin.

While the football season, along with those of other fall sports, has been pushed back to spring 2021, winter sports like basketball are planning to get started in late November. Kull highlighted some of the work that has been done to facilities during the pandemic, noting that not having students around for games has allowed several projects to be completed earlier than expected. Among the upgrades that players, coaches, and fans will now find are a new floor for the Frank McLaughlin Family Basketball Court in Rose Hill Gym, renovations to the strength and conditioning and team medicine spaces, and new offices for football staff.

Ed Kull and Joe Conlin

As his team prepares to play in the spring, Conlin discussed the changes to workouts and practices they’ve had to adopt in the time of COVID-19, including health monitoring, socially distanced weight training, and wearing masks under their helmets during practice. Although he and his staff are not allowed to recruit high school players in person this year, they have been talking to recruits over Zoom and reviewing videos to assess their strength and athleticism.

“It’s been challenging at times, but it’s also been a lot of fun,” he said of this new way of doing things on and off the field. “We’ll continue to make it work for as long as we have to.”

Kull noted that out of the 44 seniors across spring sports whose final season was interrupted by cancellations last spring, 19 have decided to come back for a fifth year of eligibility.

Later that afternoon, the Tubridy brothers returned to host a virtual tailgate party that featured a welcome from Father McShane, trivia, performances by the Fordham band from the Coffey Field bleachers, and video updates from departments and groups like the Fordham University Alumni Association, the Center for Community Engaged Learning, and the Mimes and Mummers Alumni Association.

Kull and Conlin also returned for a pre-recorded video from the gravesite of Fordham graduate and NFL coaching legend Vince Lombardi, FCRH ’37, an appropriate lead-in to the tailgate’s final portion: a roundtable discussion with nine players from Fordham’s 1970 football team, which defeated Georgetown 50 years ago during that year’s homecoming game, just weeks after Lombardi’s death.

Moderated by WFUV’s Emmanuel Berbari, a Fordham College at Rose Hill senior, the players recalled the dominant ground game displayed by the Rams in their 39-17 win over the Hoyas, led by Eric Dadd’s 235 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Kevin Sherry, GABELLI ’70, who played offensive tackle, noted that Georgetown had beaten Fordham the previous year, and the Rams were looking for revenge.

A screenshot of a Zoom discussion with members of the 1970 Fordham football team.

Perhaps an even greater motivation for the team was the emotional pregame scene, when Lombardi’s widow, Marie, his brother Joseph, and the remaining members of Fordham’s “Seven Blocks of Granite” offensive line from Lombardi’s playing days honored the Fordham and NFL legend, who had died of colon cancer on September 3. The 1970 season also marked the return of varsity football to Fordham.

Peter “Pino” Carlesimo, FCRH ’71, the team’s starting quarterback, was among the panelists. “I think the importance of the game can be summed up very easily when I when I looked at that film and I saw my uncle Pete [Carlesimo, FCRH ’40, Fordham’s athletic director at the time] escorting Mrs. Lombardi off the field and tears coming down her eyes,” he said. “It was probably the biggest game I played in my career.”

Closing with Centeredness and Prayer

On Sunday morning, Carol Gibney, associate director of campus ministry for spiritual and pastoral ministries and director of spiritual life, leadership, and service, led a session focusing on “integrating Ignatian spirituality with the practice of yoga.” During the 45-minute practice, Gibney used breathwork to break down the word “grace,” infusing the ideas of gratitude, reflection, affirmation, centeredness, and enthusiasm and excitement into the yoga flow.

Carol Gibney leading a yoga class.

The virtual—but still communal—Homecoming weekend came to a close with a livestream of Mass from University Church, concelebrated by Father McShane and Damian O’Connell, S.J., alumni chaplain.

—Additional reporting by Kelly Kultys and Sierra McCleary-Harris