Members of the Fordham community denounced bigotry on March 21 and 22 and pledged to uphold the campus as a place where all individuals are respected and accepted.

Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, led A Call to Unity services on two campuses for students, administrators, faculty and friends. The services concluded with the recitation and signing of a Community Pledge by participants, who promised not to “commit, condone, or be silenced by acts of hatred or bias.”

The two interfaith, ecumenical services followed discoveries in recent weeks of racist and anti-gay graffiti written on both the Rose Hill and Lincoln Center campus property. (story continues below)

Rose Hill student DeAndre Slade joins a call for unity. (Photos by Bruce Gilbert)
Father McShane, left, leads Rose Hill students in a recitation.

“The mutual love and respect that has always bound the community together has been violated by ignorance, viciousness, and the intention to hurt,” said Father McShane at the University Church service. “We are a community that welcomes, but our welcome ends when it comes to people whose hearts are filled with intolerance and hatred.”

The services featured readings from many faiths, and gave Fordham’s student, administrative, and academic communities a chance to greet one another in an atmosphere of prayer, solidarity, and healing. Rev. Erika Crawford, M. Div., coordinator of ecumenical and interfaith ministries, offered an invocation proclaiming the power of worship to change people. Rose Hill students Rachel Dougherty, Muhammad Sarwar, and Ashley Davis recited passages from the Hebrew scripture, the Holy Qur’an, and the Bible’s Corinthians 13.

At the Lincoln Center service, Peter Vaughan, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Social Service, recollected injustices he faced as a young African American man, and shared how even brief verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities, or “micro aggressions,” could be devastating.

“We do not have time or the inclination to accept that kind of behavior here, and your presence here demonstrates that,” he said in a statement.

In a personal reflection at the Rose Hill service, Mark Chapman, Ph.D., associate professor of African and African American studies, said he knew first-hand how words and graffiti had the power to hurt; as a boy, he’d scribbled with marker on his bed frame, ‘I hate my mommy.’ When his mother discovered the words while changing the sheets, he recalled her saying nothing, but closing the door and crying in solitude. The realization that he’d been a perpetrator of hate, he said, was painful to him, and in later years its recollection opened his eyes to embracing the gospel’s message of love.

“The scripture readings we have heard today challenge us all. Who among us here can claim that we have mastered love? Who can say we have exhausted the characteristics of love described in the passages read here today?” Chapman asked those gathered. “The readings today humble us, and they remind us of how far we have to go.

“I hope that all of us will examine ourselves to see how we can play a deeper role in fostering a sense of community at Fordham University,” he said.

In closing, those attending the service recited the pledge in unison and were invited to sign the pledge upon exiting the church. Rose Hill junior Raul Echavarria was one of many who lined up to add his signature to the pledge placard under a small tent.

“Signing the pledge, and just being here today is a way we can show one another that we want to unite,” he said.

Ashley Davis, a junior who offered a recitation of Christian scripture during the service, said the event showed the University’s seriousness in promoting unity and building a welcoming atmosphere for its community.

“It’s important to show that. It’s a step toward a better place,” she said.

The services were sponsored by the Office of University Mission and Ministry.

In other events, members of Fordham’s faculty held a Voices Against Hate Speech on Campus on March 21 in Keating Auditorium (See VIDEO below).