FORDHAM — After a racial slur was found scrawled on a black student’s door and a swastika was found scratched into the wall of a dorm at Fordham University, junior Madelyn Murphy started thinking more about what these actions said about her school’s relationship to The Bronx.
She described them as indicative of a lack of respect and appreciation for the borough on campus.
“We’re a gated institution. That sends a message. We have guards at the gates. That sends a message,” she said. “And while safety is important, we are keeping our Bronx neighbors out.”
One sign of this attitude that Murphy said she found particularly egregious was the school’s lack of courses about The Bronx, something she and a group of other students quickly set out to remedy.
The result is a new class taught by African-American Studies Professor Mark Naison that will be offered at Fordham next fall called The Bronx: Immigration, Race and Culture.
"Normally, it takes me two or three months to prepare a course," Naison said, "and I prepared this in a week and a half because a group of the student activists on campus persuaded me it was really important to get this on the books."
The course will study The Bronx from the 1930s up to the present day and examine the migration of African-Americans, Puerto Ricans and West Indians into the borough in the context of its changing economy, according to Naison.
"It looks at moments of accomplishment and moments of tragedy," Naison said. "But I think the difference is that, whereas the average person’s perception of The Bronx is probably 90 percent tragedy and 10 percent accomplishment, mine would probably be about 60 percent accomplishment and 40 percent tragedy."
Naison said he got great suggestions for what to include in the course on Facebook, a sign of how interactive he hopes the class becomes.
"I'm going to have people from the community sit in on the class," he said. "I want people in the class to get out, and I want Bronx residents to come in."
The curriculum also directly reflects what Fordham's students want to learn about The Bronx, as Naison told Murphy to go talk to them and see what they were interested in after she approached him about creating the course, she said.
"Predominantly, it was about the music and the immigration and the different cultures that are here," she said.
Students in the course will have to write one short paper on a memoir, novel or travelogue about The Bronx, as well as a research paper that will require them to go out into the borough and look into a topic like the development of African-American businesses in the community, according to Naison.
Murphy said she was very excited about the course but maintained that Fordham still needed to offer more classes on the borough to help students gain a better understanding of it.
"I’m incredibly excited, but at the same time, one course on The Bronx I don’t think is enough," she said.
"I don’t understand why there’s not a class that you have to take on our community or on white privilege or on anything like that," she continued. "These are things that happen a lot, and people just don’t know."
Murphy said people are excited about the course, and she hopes to be one of the students enrolled in it when it launches next fall.
"The only thing that would keep me from taking it would be if my major class—thesis class—conflicts with it," she said, "but I hopefully will be taking it considering I argued for its creation."