by Meghan Townsend
From the beginning of my time at Fordham I have been encouraged to participate in community and reflect on its meaning. Fordham has given me many creative, supportive communities, but I have also learned to ask this question: how full, natural, and life-giving can a community be if it is limited to members of a certain social class, or if it is fenced in by an iron gate?
At Fordham, we are transplant students and temporary fixtures in the Bronx community. It does not have to be this way; many Fordham students will become so absorbed and dedicated to the Bronx that they will stay, and be accepted, and work for its liberation. But I have also heard white students call the area of the Bronx we occupy (for we cannot call it ours) ‘hood’, ‘the ghetto’, ‘a dump’, ‘dangerous’, ‘terrifying’. Parents act like we are a gift to the neighborhood, like I, or their children, or our fellow students, are brave and selfless for choosing to give our four years to such a poor area. Do any of them think to consider the Fordham area a home? A home for families, with children and parks and artworks? I have heard students with off-campus apartments proudly claim to ‘live in the hood’. Is this not a strange situation? To what extent do they live there? They pay rent, or their parents pay rent; they return there each night, wake up there each morning; is there a duty, an obligation, that one has to the place that they live? What makes it a community? What would this neighborhood of the Bronx look like if Fordham students referred to it as a community, in thought, word, and action?
We are faced with a difficult dichotomy here: we could face problems being too uninvolved and being too involved in the community. If we only keep to ourselves and never care to ally with the Bronx community or consider ourselves a part of it, we are ignoring the Bronx’s problems and ignoring our role in them. If we become too involved, we risk gentrifying and overrunning a community that really does not belong to us. We must recognize that the liberation of the Bronx will not be brought about by Fordham students, and the question of how to help the Bronx is simply not the right question to ask.
At first I felt paralyzed by the discomfort of the questions I was forcing myself to ask about the Bronx and my relationship with it. I say I love the Bronx, but I also recognize that it does not need me. I was forced to contemplate the ways in which the community might be better if Fordham were not there: for we continue on without consent. We did not ask to be here, and we behave and operate largely without asking our neighbors what they think, want, or need.
We are here, nonetheless, and therefore must ask the hard questions, and think of how we can reverse the harmful effects of affluence and exploitation on the Bronx.
Fordham students are capable, spiritual, intelligent, energetic, thoughtful, compassionate; we have resources within us and around us that can be used for goodness and justice. We can look at how our talents and experiences can be used to support our neighbors in the Bronx, to work together for the horizontal progress of this city. I think - and I know many other Fordham students agree with me - that the Bronx is a beautiful, special place. I think it is the best borough, and on any given day, there is nowhere in New York (or the world, really) that I would rather be. There are plenty of things we can do if we keep a sustained dialogue with Bronx community members, always thinking critically about what is best for the community over our own interests.
We can look into where we spend our money and support Bronx local businesses; we can question the history of our apartments, and refuse to support “luxury housing” for students; we can let it be known that what hurts the Bronx, and its people, hurts us too.
Too much of the land in the United States has been designated as belonging to whoever can pay for it; we must actively resist this idea regarding the situation of Fordham University and the Bronx. We must balance the identity that we have wrought for ourselves with our gated community: separate from the Bronx and also a part of it, in that we respect and love its land and its people, enough to call them our neighbors and mean it. I cannot help but think that if we truly strived to live according to the Jesuit idea of solidarity, the Bronx would not be suffering as it is while we thrive as we are.