By: Grace McLaughlin
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in May, racial tensions have boiled over and exploded this past summer. The Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum quickly as more Americans have recognized the need for change through action and education. Sophomore Peter Wolff’s research pertains to whether or not Fordham University generates people who are anti-racist and racially literate.
Wolff defines anti-racism as “an acknowledgement of the necessity to take action and be non-complicit in systems that promote racism.” Racial literacy is the skill of looking at and understanding situations through a different lens (such as race, gender, and sexuality) than one’s own. “I come from a lot of privilege as a white male,” Wolff recognizes. “It’s important to understand what it might be like to be less privileged.” Wolff is also aware of the fact that he cannot truly understand others’ experiences through academics or research, but it is important to him to try.
Wolff, who majors in humanitarian studies and history and double minors in French and Spanish at Rose Hill, took a class with his advisor, Professor Nana Osei-Opare, in the African History department and understood that racial literacy and anti-racism are concepts that should be unpacked further in order to initiate change through actions. Since Fordham is a Jesuit institution promoting “women and men for others” in a racially diverse area, Wolff seeks the truth in this statement. He and Professor Osei-Opare have worked together over the past year to get the research proposal approved and to begin collecting responses.
After creating a Google Forms survey, Wolff sent it to other Fordham students. The survey included questions regarding clubs, core classes, and other events at Fordham that influence perceptions on race. Additionally, Wolff asked fellow Fordham students how the University could further engage with the Bronx neighborhood. The questionnaire was sent out in October, but at the time of our interview the responses had not all been submitted, and no conclusion could yet be drawn.
Wolff credits the power of social media with spreading the survey to students with a multitude of different experiences to share. The Instagram account that ignited over the summer, @letstalkaboutitfordham, posted Wolff’s study and made it accessible through their account. Throughout the summer, the page had an influx of students, both anonymous and identified, send messages describing instances in which they felt discriminated against or witnessed discrimination at Fordham. Father Joseph McShane, S.J. sent an email to the Fordham community on June 29, 2020, outlining a plan to increase diversity and make people of color feel more welcome within Fordham. However, as the email was sent two months prior to the beginning of the 2020 fall semester, it is important to continue listening to students’ experiences and possibly reform and tweak plans as need be.
The responses must be read thoroughly in order to come to an accurate conclusion that will spark change, as Wolff states. He hopes to publish the findings, further leading to a proposal from students on how Fordham can reform. Wolff emphasizes that the point of his research is in no way to “expose Fordham” or create a “toxic cancel-culture environment.” “The end goal is change,” Wolff explains. In regard to future plans, Wolff hopes to dive deeper and analyze if the teaching of history in a specific way can also simultaneously teach anti-racism. Wolff’s research is relevant and necessary at a time when those who have been silenced can finally be heard.