A Queer History of Fordham

By: Woods Prewitt

Tyler Raciti is a senior at Fordham College at Rose Hill majoring in international political economy. He currently sits as the editor-in-chief of the Fordham Undergraduate Law Review. Raciti is gay and considers himself an activist for the LGBTQIA community at Fordham. After graduating from Fordham, Raciti will pursue a J.D. with the intention of practicing law. In the 2019–2020 school year, he conducted research in pursuit of compiling a history of queer presence and activism on both the Lincoln Center and Rose Hill campuses. 

After transferring to Fordham, Raciti became interested in the experience of being gay on the Rose Hill campus. He expressed his thoughts to professor of sociology Dr. Orti Avishai, who worked with him as his mentor. They came to the question that Raciti says underlies his research: “What does it mean to be gay on God’s campus?” he asks. To answer the question, Raciti decided to compile and analyze a 100-year history (1918-2018) of queer activity on campus. 

He used records from the Fordham Ram and the Fordham Observer as his primary sources, aiming to compile students’ and professors’ thoughts in addition to those of the administration. Due to the thousands of editions of the Ram and the Observer and time limitations, Raciti used keyword searches to find content for analysis. Most queer students were not overtly queer before 1970, which manifested in the covert descriptions of queer students in the Ram. As a result, he had to use queer cant such as “sissy” in his keyword searches. After 1970, the descriptions were hardly covert and often documented heated contention between gay and anti-gay activists. 

Raciti observed an example of a gay student’s covert description in a poem written by John W. Waynes. The poem told the story of “Krazy Kinky Khan,” who was labeled a “sissy” after a classmate saw him enter The Metropolitan Museum of Art. After seeing Khan enter The MET, Waynes wrote: 

Poor Kinky soon felt the heavy hand

Of Heaven’s retribution,

His classmates put him ‘neath the sod

to Guard against pollution.

(Waynes, Recquiscat in Pace, 4/13-16)

Although the poem never explicitly stated that Khan was gay, the description used the word “sissy,” a term at the time commonly used to describe effeminate and gay men. Wayne’s poem not only shows how a gay student would be discriminated against by their classmates but also demonstrates the religious traditionalist culture that condemned homosexuality. Until about 1970, accounts of LGBTQIA students on campus were either overtly homophobic or used similar covert descriptions. 

Around 1970, gay activists at Fordham started openly advertising their causes, which sparked a heated cultural war on both campuses. A group of students and faculty formed the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), which faced student and administrative backlash. The Dean of Students at the time, Joseph Crowley, canceled the GLF’s first meeting. Crowley justified his action, stating, “The recognition of any homosexual group is completely inconsistent with the history and tradition of Fordham as an educational and social institution.” Later, in 1972, the United Student Government (USG) voted to approve the GLF as an official student organization. However, a Fordham Ram correspondent wrote that John Buckey, the USG president, urged for a reconsideration of approving the GLF and said it was not a club he “would care to have USG associated with.” 

One of Raciti’s most shocking findings was that Dean Crowley could have led a gay purge on the campus. To clarify, a gay purge would remove gay students from campus based on their sexuality. Gaysweek Magazine reported in 1978 that Crowley went as far as “suspending and expelling student activists, and, in one case, putting on probation students who distributed flyers when William Buckley Jr. spoke at the University.” If it is true that Crowley attempted to lead a gay purge, Raciti finds it essential that Fordham recognizes that it happened. 

Another finding that Raciti hopes Fordham will formally recognize is the activism and passing of Bradley Ball, a Fordham alumnus and AIDS activist. Ball was the first and only Fordham student to openly state to a Fordham newspaper that they had HIV/AIDS. Although Ball participated in many activist groups on and off campus, he was most notably a founding member of the non-profit organization Act Up. Raciti found that the University has never once honored or acknowledged the life or death of Bradley Ball. 

Raciti hopes that his research will motivate the University to acknowledge the past LGBTQIA movements and activists. This would require the administration to condemn the problematic past of students and faculty suppressing the self-expression and activism of gender and sexual minorities. Equally important would be to recognize activists like Bradley Ball or John DiMino, who acted as a liaison between gay students and the administration during the late ’70s. Raciti believes that such acknowledgment will help LGBTQIA students feel more comfortable on Fordham’s campuses and increase the student retention rate of the University.

Waynes, John. “Requiscat in Pace.” ​The Fordham Ram, ​February 1937. Accessed November 20th, 2020. https://www.library.fordham.edu/digital/item/collection/RAM/id/3436 

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