In reaction to The Mirror article published February 23, 2022, regarding the removal of a Black Lives Matter flag from the window of Counseling and Psych Services, the President of the Fairfield Chapter of the American Association of University Professors and Professor of sociology and anthropology, David Crawford released a letter calling for a change within the University and a call for action for faculty to stand “in solidarity with all our BIPOC students, faculty, and employees.”
“When does our tragically white campus grapple with the fact that we admitted thirteen (13) Black students in our biggest ever class of 1,300?” stated Crawford, adding, “Why have the words ‘Black’ and ‘lives’ and ‘matter’ never been spoken in the same sentence from our putative ‘leaders?’ Why do we get hours-long Powerpoint presentations extolling our administrative exertions on ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ when our classrooms remain as etiolated as a Klan rally?”
As reported by The Mirror, though Fairfield’s student body is expanding, with 1,300 students in the class of 2024, less than 1% identified as “Black or African American”- just 12 students.
Crawford continued to call for Fairfield University President Marc Nemec, Ph. D. to say the statement, “Black Lives Matter.”
“Why won’t the president say THOSE WORDS? Why won’t he even pretend that brown and Black lives do, in fact, matter — even if this upsets his donor base? Why are the murders of Floyd and Arbery ‘unfortunate deaths’ and not ‘murders,’ as the Mirror reported? How long will we continue to invoke ‘Jesuit values’ when convenient, and ignore everything salient to recent Jesuit history when it is upsetting to our administration, to fiscal prudence, to our dominant class? Who is this university for?”
He adds that he believes the University is ending its tradition as a Jesuit institution and shifting to a model of “diversity when it’s comfortable” that leads to no true reflection and “much less actual change.”
Crawford continues, “We will no longer be an institution that speaks from a position of humility, that comforts the abused and broken, the poor and powerless. We will only amplify their pain, as we are doing now. We aim not for humility and grace, but to embody power, and its arrogance. That is what we sell. Our promotional materials make it clear.”
He asks if a “sign that humbly reminds us that our fellow humans” is too much for the administration, especially during Black History Month.
Crawford moves on to discuss Mark Celano, Ph.D., assistant director and director of training at C&PS, stating that they were “directed to remove the flag by the school administration out of concern that it may make some people uncomfortable.”
Crawford stated that this “imaginary person should be uncomfortable.”
He continued, “All of us should be uncomfortable. This is not a beach vacation. It is an education. Education requires unlearning some things that are wrong.”
“The Faculty Welfare Committee Executive Council decries the removal of the Black Lives Matter sign from the Office of Counseling and Psychological Services,” Crawford adds, continuing, “We expect President Nemec to explain this action to the faculty. He cannot hide behind minions or push representatives to cover for him. We are not a product to be sold or sheep to be led. Promotional branding and silly videos are no substitute for engagement.”
Crawford ended his letter by linking signs faculty members could print in support of Black Lives Matter. Since then, many faculty have posted signs in their windows or in and around the classroom buildings, showcasing their support.
In a statement to The Mirror, Crawford stated, “I hope our letter inspires our administration to listen, to have a little humility, to pay attention to those who do not have an office in Bellarmine. I hope it inspires them to fundamentally rethink what they think ‘diversity’ is, and how to achieve it. Ultimately, I hope it inspires the Board to consider who they think is qualified to lead a ‘Jesuit’ campus.”
When asked why he felt that the letter was necessary, Crawford stated, “The FWC felt we had to write because of what we read in The Mirror.”
He adds that The Mirror has “really done a fantastic job lately of helping the campus stay informed on real issues of concern.”
Continuing that it’s difficult to know what’s going on within the university and for “… BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] students to feel comfortable and do their work on our campus” and, “The fact that the administration is making it more difficult is hard to bear.”
“It is especially galling [that] they are doing so at the exact moment they’re both pushing a new ‘diversity narrative’” and “announcing a new campus for students in Bridgeport.”
The new campus Crawford mentioned was announced on Sep. 30, 2021. At the time President Nemec stated that he sees this new initiative to represent “a major step toward increased educational access at a critical moment in our society.”
“Our support for BIPOC students has shrunk drastically under this administration.” Crawford adds, “It’s been awful. When he was president, Father von Arx tried really hard to make our campus live up to its Jesuit ideals. His efforts were perhaps imperfect and progress was hard-won, but he tried to help our campus look more like the society in which we live, a society which we are called to serve.”
In the former Fairfield University President, Jeffrey Paul von Arx S.J.’s first First-Year class of students in 2004, nine out of the 856 students were counted as “Afro-American”, around 1%. In von Arx’s last year, 28 students out of the First-Year class of 966 identified themselves as “Black or African American”, almost 3%.
In Nemec’s first year, 2017-2018, 17 out of 994 First-Year students identified as “Black or African American”, around 1.7%. By 2020-2021, 12 students out of 1,256, identified as “Black or African American” in the First-Year class, just under 1%.
Crawford states that the Board of Trustees “got rid of him [von Arx] and installed the current president” and since then, “I don’t see the same support for, or interest in, ‘minority’ students.”
Crawford adds that though the AAUP wishes they could do more, there’s little they can do other than protesting, working through faculty governance and writing letters, as they don’t “control the budget.”
But that the administration is focused on “big, splashy programs that look good on their CVs” over giving support to students that need it.
“I suppose that ultimately this is what the Board wants,” He adds.
“What confuses me is that you, the students, will be the donors in the future. You will be the Board. It seems to me the administration is pleasing a small group of current donors at the expense of many others who might contribute in the future. It’s short-sighted and I think bad for the institution,” he states.
We will update as more information becomes available and what is discussed at the University’s event, “A Community in Action: Sharing Our Work In and Commitment To Diversity and Inclusive Excellence” on Monday, Feb. 28.