Fordham Notes

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sex and the Soul and the College Student

A few years ago, while teaching at St. Michael’s College, religion and sexuality scholar Donna Freitas, Ph.D., asked her students what they did on spring break. She heard story after story about hooking up, until one student stood up and objected to the prevalence and superficiality of casual sex. Other students quickly empathized.

“I was watching their passion for critiquing hookup culture once they figured out they weren’t alone, about how before they pretended it was awesome, but how it’s actually kind of awful,” Freitas told to a gathering of Fordham alumni, students, and faculty in Tognino Hall on Sept. 8. “They felt like they had been abandoned by the Catholic tradition to wallow in college without anything useful or practical to [guide] them. They wanted guidance.”

Curious to know if other students felt the same way, Freitas began crisscrossing the country visiting four types of colleges—Catholic, evangelical Christian, private, and public—to study students’ attitudes about sex and faith. She shared her findings in her book Sex & the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses (Oxford University Press, 2008).

As part of Freitas’ study, more than 2,500 college students at seven campuses participated in an online survey, and she conducted one-on-one interviews with more than 100 students. She found that while students were interested in spirituality, and 80 percent of them identified as “spiritual, or religious to some degree, “even at a non-religious affiliated college, they often felt uncomfortable speaking about it outside the classroom setting.

It was much the same way with dating; students were interested in finding romance, but were hesitant to act upon their desires or even talk about it with friends and peers. “Students would say, ‘I want romance but I can’t admit that.’ Or ‘My parents did that, but that doesn’t really happen in my generation anymore.’ It was an anxiety around a wish for dating, but also this anxiety around [dating],” said Freitas, now a research associate in the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame.

Freitas said 78 percent of the students she surveyed saw romance as “virtually asexual.” “Students very rarely—I can’t tell you how very rarely—talked about sex and love together,” she said. For these students, sex was a casual act, and they thought their peers thought the same thing: 45 percent of students at Catholic colleges and 36 percent at nonreligious private and public schools said their peers are “too casual” about sex; an additional group, 35 percent at Catholic colleges and 42 percent at nonreligious private and public schools, reported that their peers are “simply casual” about sex.

“It’s become a hookup culture,” Freitas said, noting that a hookup, according to students, meets three criteria: It involves some form of sexual intimacy, anything from kissing to sex; it’s a brief experience; and it’s free of emotional attachment. Freitas found that students often described hookups as “efficient,” feel they are too busy in college to develop and maintain relationships, and so they consider hookups “efficient.”

Nevertheless, 41 percent of those students who reported personal experiences with hooking up said they were “profoundly upset about this behavior,” and used words such as “awkward, dirty, miserable, empty, alone, disgusted, ashamed” to describe those occurrences. An additional 23 percent expressed ambivalence about hooking up, saying, “‘Hooking up is whatever; it makes me feel whatever,’” leading Freitas to term that group the “whateverists.” The remaining 36 percent labeled it as “fine.”

Students are not against hooking up, said Freitas, but “they’re unhappy with the culture” that breeds ambivalence and indifference “[Students] today are learning to steel themselves against connection, learning to shut down in order to be sexually intimate,” she said. “They are getting better at hookup culture, but I’m not sure we should be happy about that.”

Freitas raised concern about the relationship of hookup culture to sexual assault. If students are hooking up, “to have ‘efficient’ sexual intimacy, and to not get attached,” communication between the two individuals involved can be limited or even disregarded, “[making] the idea of consent very complicated,” she said.

“What does consent look like in a culture where when we are sexually intimate we are also discouraged from communicating?”

And yet, Freitas said, students who are propagating the hookup culture “want love and they want meaningful sex.” said Freitas.

Many hope to find that connection through spirituality, which they consider “much more forgiving, much more open, much more inclusive than religion.”

She heard over and over from students at Catholic colleges that “sex and religion don’t mix” and “religious teaching on sex are outdated.” In the face of peer pressure and mainstream American cultural attitudes about sex, she said students are struggling to reconcile their sexuality with their faith.

Freitas suggested that Catholic colleges, with their “extraordinarily rich history in spirituality and practices” be more creative and open in offering retreats, spiritual direction, social justice programming, and other resources to encourage students to examine the relationship between sexuality and spirituality—particularly within the campus community.

“When you start asking those questions in your own community, you have to contend with hookup culture, you have to contend with sexual assault,” said Freitas. “The tradition obliges you.”

The event was sponsored by the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education.

—Rachel Buttner

At Work with WFUV's Bob Ahrens

New York’s longest-running sports call-in show has hit another milestone.

Tonight, WFUV is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its successful One on One weekly sports broadcast, a Saturday-afternoon show that has trained hundreds of Fordham students in hosting, producing, engineering, and writing for broadcast media. 

One on One Executive Producer,Bob Ahrens
Photo: Janet Sassi
The celebration, to be held in the Bronx, will also honor the show’s longtime executive producer Bob Ahrens, who, for going on two decades has overseen One on One’s listener growth and transition into the digital age. 


AHRENS: It’s a real talk show. We’ve started the students going to professional games as beat reporters, and immediately they became part of the New York media scene. They got to know the rest of the media, got to speak with players, and upped the opportunity for getting guests on the show. Periodically we will have the guests live on One on One. We’ve had the general managers of the teams live from Yankee Stadium and Citi Field; we’ve had several alumni now in broadcasting, and we’ve had players. The shows have been taken on the road too; we’re in Cooperstown on Hall of Fame weekend, and have access to all the hall-of famers.


AHRENS: There is no question that the good season last year, especially our football and women’s basketball, helped our show’s listenership; it also benefitted our twitter and Facebook accounts.


AHRENS: We have a lot of applications; they don’t all get in. We have 35 students and most of them work on the air and behind the scenes in some form. When new students come in, we give them a full year of training before they can do anything. So when you listen on Saturday, you are usually listening to sophomores, juniors and seniors. 
Most of the students on staff have been sports fans growing up. If you are on the air you have to be able to talk about the sport; if you are a producer, you have to know enough about it to know whether a host is giving correct information; and if you are an engineer and you don’t understand media time outs, you’re not ready to do your part of it. That said, you don’t have to know every sport; you can learn.


AHRENS: I grew up in Brooklyn with the Dodgers, and saw them at Ebbets Field many times, and when they left they took my childhood with them. Here, at One on One, I help others make the transition from student to adulthood. It’s part of WFUV’s mission to train Fordham students. It’s great to see where they start, and where they wind up in four years. And once they graduate, it’s also great to see how far a lot of them go.
We once sent a student for an internship at Inside the NFL. He walked in and had already covered the Yankees, Nets, and Jets while he was here. And he’d produced a 3-hour program on the 100th anniversary of the Yankees.
They didn’t believe him. But he had his media credentials with him, and, of course, he got the job.
He’s now an associate producer with the MLB network.

(Editor’s note: some One on One alumni include: 

Vin Scully, voice of the LA Dodgers

Mike Breen, voice of New York Knicks on MSG; voice of NBA on ABC/ESPN

Michael Kay, play-by-play broadcaster for New York Yankees, host of CenterStage on the YES network; host of the Michael Kay Show, ESPN Radio New York

Bob Papa, voice of New York Giants on WFAN

Charlie Slowes, voice of Washington Nationals

Chris Carrino, voice of Brooklyn Nets on WFAN

Spero Dedes, CBS sportscaster for NFL, former radio voice of Knicks and Lakers

Chris Majkowski, engineer for WOR/Mets Radio Network, owner Majik Productions)

--Janet Sassi

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Volcanic Ash, Philippine Heritage Inspire Artist

Cosmos No. 3 (chalk and volcanic ash on sandpaper) by Katte Geneta 

Like many children of immigrants in New York City, Katte Geneta, FCLC ’06, grew up with her head in two worlds.

“Both of my parents were born in the Philippines, and they’ve been bringing me and my sister back since we were kids,” she says. “I’ve always felt a sense of wonder when I go.”

Geneta recalls one of her first plane trips to her ancestral homeland, when she was about 4 years old.

“I was looking out over the Philippines, looking at the vast ocean, the water,” she says, “and I couldn’t tell if I was seeing islands or clouds.”

That impressionistic memory has inspired her recent work, the Cosmos Series, which can be seen in New York City this month at the 7th Annual Governors Island Art Fair. (The artist-run show closes Sept. 28.) 

Katte Geneta at the Governors Island Art Fair
Using a mix of natural materials, including volcanic ash and lahar, a hardened slurry of volcanic sludge that she grinds down, Geneta has created a series of “drawings from dust.” On her website she notes that she deliberately leaves the images in “an obscured state, somewhere between reality and memory.”

The ash and lahar Geneta uses come from the Philippines, from an aunt who lives in Quezon City, about 90 miles southeast of Mount Pinatubo. Twenty-three years ago, on June 15, 1991, Pinatubo exploded in what the U.S. Geological Survey has described as the second-largest volcanic eruption on Earth in the 20th century.

Geneta says using the volcanic materials in her art helps her get in touch with her Philippine heritage while conveying a sense of the beauty and destructive power of nature—and of the fragility of life.

“I wanted to use something that originated where my family originated,” she says. “And I felt ash would be perfect. I use chalk, volcanic ash, charcoal, things that crumble because they’re so delicate. That delicacy is what I wanted to carry over to the viewer.

“With dust,” she adds, “it’s related in a biblical sense, that we’re made of dust. I really like that.”

Casey Ruble, artist in residence at Fordham, is one of Geneta’s former professors. She says Geneta’s work has matured a great deal since her undergraduate days at Fordham College at Lincoln Center, where she earned a degree in visual art with a minor in philosophy. “But even then it was marked by a certain quietude, subtlety, and attention to the nuances of light, all of which come through strongly in the work she’s making today.”

Ruble adds: “Katte’s inclusion of volcanic dust as a medium … gives an edge to the more dreamy, soft-focus imagery, and also nods to the land art movement of the 1960s and ’70s.”

Geneta says she’s particularly influenced by water. She and her husband lived in Piermont, N.Y., before settling in the Inwood section of Manhattan. “Living next to the Hudson River,” she says, “has been a big thing for my work.”

In November, however, she’s opting for a temporary change of scenery. She’ll be taking part in the visiting artists and scholars program at the American Academy in Rome.

“I’ve never been to Europe, so I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like,” she says. “I’ll be there to absorb a new place and let it influence my work.”

—Ryan Stellabotte

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Lavera Wright: From University Heights to Fordham University

Lavera Wright, CEO and founder of L. Wright Co., LLC
Sitting on her front stoop at 1900 Hennessey in the Bronx, an 8-year-old Lavera Wright told her best friend that she wanted to be an accountant when she grew up.

Some 40 years later, Wright sits at her own desk at the Fordham Foundry, as CEO and founder of L. Wright Co. LLC, a financial advisory firm.

It was not an easy journey from University Heights to Fordham.

In 1999, Wright’s young son was hit by a bus and killed while riding his bike. Two years later her marriage fell apart. Wright said her ex-husband continued to be a good father to their other three children, but the increased duties of raising a family left her little time to go to school.

“To do the right thing, I had to put school to the side,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure that I raised my kids in a nurturing home.”

Wright was able to take online classes with University of Phoenix, however, and gathered credits at Bronx Community College. When her childhood friend from the front stoop asked her to accompany her to Fordham while she applied to a master’s program, Wright had no idea that she would also be recruited.
Wright attended a conference for minority
businesses at the White House last summer.

Having recently been laid off from her job, Wright said she had little to lose when the adviser from the Gabelli School of Business told her to apply. She fretted about her writing skills, but was certain of her love of arithmetic and logic.

“I’ll never forget the call, it was September 2008,” she said. “The man on the phone said ‘Congratulations, welcome to Fordham University.’ The tears just came down from my eyes and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I made it in.’”

The first year proved the toughest, Wright said, but she eventually found her footing, leaving behind work-world habits and adjusting to a life of schoolwork. She even conquered her fear of writing.

“All I could see were the grammar mistakes, but one of my professors said, ‘Lavera you’re going to be a beautiful writer one day.’   He saw the potential in me and knew that one day I’d be in a place where I could accept my voice. I really thank God for my professors, because they didn't give up on me.”

Wright graduated from Gabelli in February 2014 with a bachelor of science in public accounting. A couple months later her daughter graduated from college and her son graduated from high school. Her third son continues to do well in high school.

“When I walked down that aisle at graduation it was like a domino effect,” she said. “I made that first impact, and because of that, it opened up many doors for my children.”

On graduating, she immediately applied to be one the first businesses to be part of the Fordham Foundry’s business incubator. She was accepted on June 4, 2013. She and her partner, Goodnews Mora, spent hours sorting through legal documents to set up the business. On arriving for her first day at the Foundry, her professors saw a professional businesswoman, dressed for success.

“They said, ‘Lavera we know you, why are you so dressed up?’” she recalled. “I told them, ‘You knew me as a student, not as a CEO.’”

Capturing the Essence of Irish Black Humor Through Costume

Fordham College at Lincoln Center senior Siena Zoë Allen hopes to make a living doing theater in New York City. 

So far, she says, things are going her way. Allen, a theatre major concentrating on design production, recently landed a job working on a play for the first annual Festival of Irish Theatre in New York.

She has designed costumes for the production of Seamus Scanlon’s The McGowan Trilogy, a dark comedy about an IRS revolutionary in 1980s Ireland, with the themes of loyalty, revenge, and redemption.

“They pitched the play to me, about this rogue IRA operative who has taken a lot into his own hands,” said Allen, a native of San Francisco. “I was intrigued.”

Allen said she faced a couple of challenges in creating costume designs for the play’s six characters. First, she had to create an accurate representation of each of the characters as the playwright had conceived them. Next, as the play is not a period piece but is very fixed in a modern time and a particular country, she had to get the details just right, even down to the vintage leather jacket.

“[When] doing work on theater that is more contemporary, you have to be very specific because some people in the audience will remember.”

In August and September, Allen designed costumes for a production of Sondheim's Into the Woods at the Fradd Theatre in Fire Island Pines. 

You can catch her work on The McGowan Trilogy through Oct. 5. Fordham students and staff get a ticket discount online using the code FORDHAM. (Photos by Sulei Ly)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Faculty Reads: Neuroplasticity — Rewiring the Brain to Lower Anxiety

A Fordham professor is using pioneering neuroscience research on the brain’s ability to change to help pastoral counselors address clients’ anxiety.

In his latest book, The Power of Neuroplasticity for Pastoral and Spiritual Care (Lexington Books, 2014), Dr. Kirk Bingaman, an associate professor of pastoral care and counseling, explores the impact that an adaptive mechanism known as “the negativity bias” has on our wellbeing. An evolutionary cousin of the “fight or flight” phenomenon, this bias describes the brain’s propensity to experience negative events more intensely in order to alert us to potential danger.

A built-in negativity bias was vital when humans lived as hunter-gatherers ever-at-the-ready to flee from a hungry lion. In today’s world, however, this bias tends to cause excessive negativity and anxiety.

“Today [this] anxiety spills over into our relationships with others and with ourselves,” said Bingaman, who teaches in Fordham’s Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education. “It causes us to assume the worst, to overact to situations in ways such as, ‘Why did you look at me this way? Why did you use that tone?’”

Fortunately, Bingaman says, we are not condemned to primal negativity, thanks to the human brain’s capacity to change across the lifespan. With every new experience — learning new information, creating a memory, or adapting to a new situation — the brain undergoes structural changes, generating new neural pathways and reshaping existing ones. This ability, known as neuroplasticity, forms the crux of Bingaman’s book.

He argues that the most effective way to harness the power of neuroplasticity is through mindfulness meditation and contemplative spiritual practice. Through these therapeutic techniques and spiritual practices, clients learn to become aware of their thoughts and feelings. Rather than reacting to or trying to eliminate them, clients simply observe them as they come and go.

“Thoughts and feelings have a 90-second shelf-life biochemically. So when we experience an anxious thought or feeling, it will dissipate from the blood in 90 seconds — unless we feed the thought or judge ourselves for feeling that way,” he said. “The key to mindfulness-based therapy is to let thoughts and feelings come and go without fighting them. This then reduces the limbic activity in our brains and calms the amygdala.”

Himself a pastoral counselor, Bingaman says that the science of neuroplasticity will “necessitate a paradigm shift” in the way pastoral and spiritual caregivers approach their work with clients and congregants.

“Whether it’s therapy or theology, we need to really look at the frames of reference we are using to help the person in our care to calm their anxious brain. Some of our approaches are going to fire up the limbic region, and others will do the reverse.

“We have to make more use of it in religious and spiritual circles,” he continued. “Finding a regular contemplative practice is not something just for the mystics off in the desert. It’s for you and me and everyone else.”

— Joanna Mercuri

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Stellar Welcome for Fordham's Newest Landmark

Lincoln Center campus' Robert Moses Plaza overflowed with smiling faces yesterday as nearly 1,000 Fordham Law faculty, administrators, students, and alumni joined dignitaries and well-wishers in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the brand new law school. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor,former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Cardinal Edward Egan were on hand. (Photos by Chris Taggart and Dana Maxson)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Realist Acting and the White Tee

Julie Harris’ and Hilary Swank’s costumes for "The Member of the Wedding" and "Million Dollar Baby."  
One of the lasting iconic images in American cinema is of Marlon Brando in a white undershirt in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” With much of nation’s attention focused on domestic violence, the “wife-beater” is a timely reminder of the violence that inheres in some of our most potent cultural images.

The poster for the Sept. 20 "Rethinking Realist Acting" symposium (which will be held Saturday in the 12th-floor Lounge/Corrigan Center in Lowenstein Hall at the Lincoln Center campus), features an image of a man’s tank top, but without anyone wearing it.

“The white undershirt is the most problematic symbol because it’s associated with domestic violence,” said Keri Walsh, who together with Shonni Enelow and Mary Luckhurst organized the conference.

Walsh and Enelow are both assistant professors within Fordham’s English Department and Luckhurst is the Professor of Artistic Research and Creative Practice at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

The poster’s design invites reflection on the status of the object in popular culture and on what the realist acting tradition contains beyond its inflammatory icons, said Walsh. She said many playwrights and actors in the realist tradition, such as Henrik Ibsen and Lorraine Hansberry, have been feminists seeking to challenge violence against women.

Brando in the famous tee.
“What interested us about this photograph was that no one was wearing the shirt; it didn’t make any assumptions,” she said.

The image also captures the conference’s goal of revising the tradition of ‘the Method’ and other forms of realist acting, and to enlarge a sense of the people who contributed to it beyond the kneejerk stereotype of macho and violent men, said Walsh. The play by Tennessee Williams, and Brando’s realistic performance in it, “eroticized labor and fetishized rough trade.” The naturalism of Brando’s performance catapulted the white undershirt and the white t-shirt into popular consciousness and infused them with new meaning.

While Brando’s image may be the most influential, it does not mark the only appearance of the garment in a realistic performance—this symbolic imagery recurs through James Dean’s crew neck tee in "Rebel Without a Cause," and in Julie Harris’ and Hilary Swank’s costumes for "The Member of the Wedding" and "Million Dollar Baby."

How is it that such realistic performances could change the meaning of an everyday garment? Both Dean and Brando studied at the Actors Studio, where director Lee Strasberg taught his own variation of Stanislavsky’s method, which encouraged actors to reduce the seeming distance between art and life. But Walsh said that realistic acting’s roots go far deeper than the 20th century.

“Realism goes back to the 19th century with Ibsen, Chekov, and Zola, and at the conference we’ll try to look even further back than that, to the 18th century,” she said.

 -Tom Stoelker

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Off the Field at Homecoming

Though much of the attention focused on the football field at Homecoming, the University was a hive of activity all weekend—some of it on campus, some way off campus, like the Young Alumni’s Annual Yacht Cruise, which took Rams out into New York Harbor on Friday night.

Closer to home, students donned semi-formal duds for the President’s Ball at the Lombardi Field House. The following morning, those who didn’t party too much at the ball were running the periphery of the campus for the 3rd Annual 5K Ram Run, where Jason Gong and Samantha Andrens were the first to cross the finish line.

Across road at Hughes Hall, Gabelli School of Business Dean Donna Rapacciolli greeted alumni, while, Lerzan Aksoy, professor of marketing, gave a quick snapshot of her course on brand loyalty. She said that the thousands attending homecoming are an example of connection that fosters loyalty. 

At the University Museum, curator Jennifer Udell set for the tone for the rest of the day by introducing alumni to the 4th Century BC Ram's head libation cup. Convinced, alumni headed for the tents on Eddies Parade.

Under the tent, more than 6000 students, alumni, friends, family, and friends tucked into all-American fare of hamburgers and hot dogs. While such celebrations are commonplace on campuses from Michigan to Syracuse, they’re rare in New York City, something that wasn’t lost on several Rams in attendance. 

“They just don’t have the school spirit, they’re there for their education and then they’re outta’ here,” said Terry Burke, whose husband and two children attended Fordham, including Erin Burke, assistant dean at Fordham College Rose Hill. 

Burke wasn’t the only one for whom Fordham is a family affair. Jane Barnett, MC ’76, president of the Marymount College alumni board said many Marymount alumnae married Fordham alumni and sent their sons and daughters here. 

“Fordham had great teams before Vince Lombardi, but he represented something more than just a great ball player,” he said. 

Ray Longobardi, FCRH 54 said the connection is tied to shared memories, some tied to football, some not. 

“There was the idea of the game and the meaning of the word Fordham, which encompassed the world of business, and the arts, and the individual. And that combo is a rare thing… a very rare thing.” 
-Tom Stoelker