Fordham Notes: December 2014

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fordham Welcomes in the Christmas Season

Photo by Chris Taggart

A crowd of more than 700 gathered at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts on Dec. 1 to once again ring in the Christmas season at Fordham University.

With the Fordham choir singing and lights twinkling from every corner of the Koch Theater Promenade, the annual President’s Club Christmas Reception appeared to be joining the city in gearing up for a “megawatt” Christmas, said Fordham President Joseph M. McShane, S.J.

And yet, Father McShane said, a far smaller display captures the true sentiment of the season.

“Our eye more than anywhere else is drawn to the most unassuming, most understated of Christmas lights—the candle in the window,” he told alumni, parents, staff, and other members of the Fordham community.

However, there is more to the seemingly innocent Christmas candle than meets the eye, Father McShane said. During the time of British persecution against the Catholic Church in Ireland, Irish Catholics would place candles in their windows as a secret welcome to priests, to whom they would offer hospitality in exchange for a celebration of the Eucharist.

With this subversive-yet-sacred history in mind, the image of Christmas candle was chosen to adorn the 2014 Fordham Christmas ornament, Father McShane said, because “it is a symbol that speaks volumes about who we are, what we believe in, and what we do.”

“Fordham has been about the sacred work of being ‘subversive’ for nearly 175 years, providing a different kind of education,” he said. “At the heart of Fordham is a passionate conviction that the core of a transformative and liberating education must be the encounter between the human heart and God.”

Father McShane thanked those gathered for the generosity that has helped sustain this mission.

“Your generosity is making a Fordham education affordable and accessible,” he said. “You have made it possible for Fordham to keep the candle in the window.”

— Joanna Mercuri

Photos by Chris Taggart:

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

"Autistic Like Me" Gets Its NYC Premiere at Fordham

Like father like son. Right? Well, what if the son is autistic?

“When you have a son it’s like, ‘Finally, I get to make a better version of me,’” said Charles Jones, producer and director of a new documentary, Autistic Like Me, that takes a paternal perspective on parenting kids with autism.

The film will have its New York City premiere at the Lincoln Center campus' Pope Auditorium this Thurs., Dec. 4 at 6:45 p.m. The event is free for Fordham students and faculty and, for everyone else, tickets are available here.

“We’re supposed to be the torch carriers, the protectors, the providers, and there are a lot of women who are uncomfortable when men can’t be that,” he said.

While a child’s autism affects everyone in the family, the father’s struggle often gets overlooked, said Jones, whose son has autism. His film explores a group of fathers as they open up to one another about the fear, disappointment, and ultimately the acceptance of a very different parenting experience than they had envisioned.

Jones, who is a Navy veteran, knows about being tough. He said that when faced with the reality of raising a child with autism, most of the men he interviewed tried to hide their feelings.

“Men typically hold it in and that does nothing but hurt the family,” he said. “But it takes a lot of strength to show how you’re feeling.”

Jones noted that most of the caretakers for autistic children are women, whether in the home or in the health care system. He added that current research has shown that autistic children benefit by interacting equally with men, but gender imbalances remain. Some men even shirk the responsibility of taking their kids to therapy because the rewards are barely perceptible.

“I hate to say it, but sometimes you’re going from below zero to just below zero—and there’s no carrot at the end,” he said. “But you have to do it. This is your child and there’s love there.”

The screening is being sponsored by Fordham's Autism Speaks and Circle K, the college student arm of Kiwanis International.

The Official Trailer 2014 for "Autistic Like Me: A Father's Perspective" from Seajay5 on Vimeo.

Tackling the 21st-Century Proliferation of Disagreement

Picture this: You believe capital punishment deters crime, but when you make your argument to a smart and well-informed friend whose opinion you respect, she disagrees. In fact, she presents an equally strong argument to the contrary. 

Where might the conversation go from here, if anywhere? 

Bryan Frances tackles this type of conundrum in Disagreement (Polity, 2014), which he describes as an introductory book on a subject that’s drawing heightened interest from philosophers in the Internet age. When everyone has access to the wealth of arguments and counterarguments that can easily be found online, deciding whether, and how, to disagree can be daunting. 

“It is one thing if you can say ‘they don’t have this key piece of evidence I have,’ but that doesn’t happen too often anymore,” said Frances, professor of philosophy. “No matter what you think, yo
u can go onto the Internet and find a whole lot of really smart people who disagree with you and have some evidence that goes against yours.

“So how do you conduct your intellectual life? It’s more pressing now than ever.”

Among philosophy scholars there hasn’t been much written on disagreement, says Frances, who was approached by the publisher to write the introductory book. The interest in the topic has its roots in philosophers’ increased focus on religious disagreement—most notably in English-speaking countries where mass communication has made global religions, such as Islam, more visible to westerners.

And while the book offers no hard-and-fast advice, it does come to a conclusion on how to approach highly controversial issues such as capital punishment or the morality of abortion. 

“In many of these instances, we probably would do well to suspend judgment and dig deeper,” said Frances, “even on those issues near and dear to our heart.” 

Frances did not come gently into his philosophical scholarship. Before turning to the humanities, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics with emphasis on quantum theory and relativity theory. 

“Eventually I realized that the questions I wanted to ask about those topics were more philosophical than scientific,” he said.

Even though disagreement has been around since the beginning of time, Frances said, philosophers have only recently written about it in a “rigorous and thorough way.”  In fact, the void of scholarship made writing Disagreement difficult.

“I’d write an article about this topic and, because there was so little to go on, I’d end up disagreeing with my former self a few years later.”

--Janet Sassi