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Fordham Co-Sponsors Appearance by Nobel Laureate Morrison

Toni Morrison
Photo by Angela Radulescu

Fordham University co-hosted an appearance by Toni Morrison, author of nine novels, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and first African-American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize, on March 27 at New York University.

Morrison, the Robert F. Goheen Professor Emerita at Princeton University, was on hand to celebrate the publication of the biography of African-American activist Ida B. Wells, Ida: A Sword Among Lions, Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching (HarperCollins, 2008).

The book’s author, Paula J. Giddings, Ph.D., the Elizabeth A. Woodson 1922 Professor in Afro-American Studies at Smith College and one of the nation’s leading scholars of African-American women’s literature, also was honored.

Morrison paid tribute to Giddings’ work for its insight into both Wells and the era in which she struggled against a multitude of forces seeking to silence her voice and her social causes. Wells, a journalist who was active at the turn of the 20th century, was an outspoken crusader against lynching, racial injustice and women’s inequality. Her acts of civil disobedience made her the center of frequent controversies.

“I have a long and deep affection for outlaw women,” Morrison said. “I don’t think I ever wrote a book which did not have at least one woman always pushing the boundaries of behavior and thought.”
da B. Wells, Morrison said, was such a woman. “She was a little too honest. She really meant what she said. Ida Wells’ life was big,” she said.

Nicola Pitchford, Ph.D., professor and chair of Fordham’s Department of English, said that co-sponsoring the event enabled Fordham to expose its graduate students to some of the day’s most prominent scholars. The event was hosted by the National Council for Research on Women (NCRW).

“Fordham was one of the first, if not the first, colleges to institute a Department of African-American Studies,” Pitchford said. “[We] saw this as a remarkable opportunity.”

— Janet Sassi

GSS Tool Assists in Culturally Competent Practice

On March 24, some 50 members of the Fordham community got a lesson in cultural sensitivity.

Elaine Congress, D.S.W., associate dean of the Graduate School of Social Service (GSS), gave a presentation on the Culturagram, a family assessment tool she developed for understanding and working with families from diverse backgrounds.

The 10-part assessment tool, which Congress developed in the 1994 based upon her work at a mental health clinic, helps members of the social work community gain a deeper understanding of an immigrant’s unique story in order to better understand his or her needs.

“During my practice, I became aware of how different people were, even though they were from the same background,” Congress said. “I could see a Mexican family living here for just two weeks in the morning and a Puerto Rican family who had been here a decade in the afternoon.”

The formula looks at 10 aspects of a family’s cultural experience, including the categories:

• reasons for relocating
• legal immigration status
• time in their community
• health beliefs and access
• languages spoken
• history of trauma and crises events
• values about family structure, power and rules

For example, Congress said, by applying the Culturagram, social workers could uncover situations, such as whether elders or youngers wield decision-making power within a family; whether families can return to their home countries; or whether a family uses herbal or home remedies for illnesses rather than doctors’ prescriptions.

The event, “Immigration, Culturagram and Older People,” was sponsored by the Baccalaureate Experiential Learning Project (BEL), a GSS initiative that partners students with older adults to gather culturally competent oral history interviews.

— Janet Sassi

Legal Scholars Debate Statehood for Puerto Rico

Former New York Gov. George Pataki was instrumental in stopping U.S. military weapons testing in Puerto Rico.
Photo by Janet Sassi

A panel of legal scholars led by former New York Gov. George Pataki debated whether Puerto Rico should choose statehood or independence from the United States at Fordham Law School forum on March 26.

Constitutionally considered a U.S. territory since 1898, the island of four million U.S. citizens remains under the sovereignty of the federal government. It receives some of the benefits endowed upon the 50 sovereign states and is subject to most federal laws.

But Puerto Rico has no voting representative in Congress and its citizens are not allowed to vote in federal elections (although they can vote in presidential primaries).

Constitutional law expert Christina Duffy Burnett, associate professor at Columbia Law School, outlined the options available to Puerto Rico: independence, statehood, or “enhanced commonwealth,” a status somewhere in between the two.

Enhanced Commonwealth (EC) status, she said, would allow Puerto Rico to strengthen its union with the U.S. while still maintaining a sense of self-determination. Proposals for an EC include:

• guaranteed U.S. citizenship and guaranteed federal funding on programs for education, health care, veterans and other areas;
• separate membership in the U.N. for Puerto Rico;
• power to enter into treaties with other nations;
• the right to nullify certain, but not all, U.S. laws within its own territory.

Duffy said that the people of Puerto Rico have voted for commonwealth status on at least two occasions, but that the congress has “basically ignored them.” What must be done, Duffy said, is to decide whether a constitutional basis exists for creating an EC.

Pataki, however, said no such constitutional basis exists; therefore presenting the people of Puerto Rico with such an “invalid option” was misleading.

“The odds of a U.S. Congress ever passing a law—and a president signing a law—that allows a part of this country to form treaties, or to join the U.N., is about zero,” said Pataki, who was instrumental in stopping U.S. military weapons testing on the island.

The true choice is whether you are going to be a territory dependent on those people in Washington who you are not able to vote for, or are you going to become a state?”

The forum was sponsored by the Center for Puerto Rico Equality & Advancement and Fordham Law School.

— Janet Sassi

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