Interview with Chiara Lewis, FCRH ‘16
How did you first become involved with the program?
I signed up for Urban Plunge as an incoming freshman because I’m not from the area and I knew it taught you about the neighborhood through service, which I was interested in during high school. They had us read a lot of articles about the Bronx and how Fordham interacts with the surrounding community both at Rose Hill and Lincoln Center. I learned about things I hadn’t ever considered before, and developed a new way of looking at issues.
What inspired you to apply to be a Social Justice Leader (SJL)?
My Urban Plunge Assistants (UPAs) said I should apply, and my experience freshman year definitely encouraged me to pursue it later. We had an initial training day in the spring, where the conversations I had enjoyed and hadn’t had another place to have were starting again. Then in the fall we spent a weekend at this campground where we built community with each other. Training continued on campus, learning how to facilitate difficult discussions.
Can you go through the overall layout of Urban Plunge?
Three leaders were assigned to each team; one of my partner UPAs was from the Bronx, so aside from the educational articles she also spoke from firsthand experience which was very interesting. When the freshmen arrive they get to know each other through icebreakers and other activities. There was a presentation by Gregory Jost about how the Bronx became the Bronx, discussing redlining and tying it all back to systematic racism. We did a few readings on social justice issues, and reflected as a team. Then the night ended with a scavenger hunt around campus.
The second day is a service project where groups work with different community partners. My site was Haffen Park with The Bronx is Blooming, a non-profit devoted to environmental stewardship. They fix up parks around the borough, and so we were raking, planting, and just tidying the area. We learned about the low budget that is given to the Bronx parks, even though for a lot of people this is their main green space to have BBQs and other outdoor activities. That night we did a step in circle about different identities, and reflected on our experiences.
The last day there was a Campus Ministry presentation on faith and justice, and then we did a living wage exercise. I was very moved by this as a freshman, so I was excited to lead it. Everyone is given a scenario with income as well as expenses, and then they make spending decisions, followed by discussion. Next each group visits a Bronx cultural site, including Wave Hill, Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, and Edgar Allan Poe Cottage, just to name a few. Later we have our closing reflection, focusing on what you will take away from the weekend. Then that night we did Manhattan outings like Rockefeller Center, UCB Comedy Club, and The High Line.
How do you feel Urban Plunge affected the freshman?
I forgot how unreal these things seemed as a freshman, and so it was interesting to watch them go through that same thing. The program is short, so at times I felt rushed and that students could have used longer to process heavy issues like race injustices. But it was wonderful overall, and it was clear that some of them were really affected and grew from the experience. You’re not going to change someone’s views in three days, but it serves as an outlet for students to become intrigued, and can light a spark to want to do more and stay involved with the Dorothy Day Center.
What other roles do you have as an SJL throughout the year?
We reach out to our team members about different service opportunities, and there are also three working groups. I am in Community Organizing, which has a different focus each year. We picked displacement and chose to work with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC), joining their fight against this issue in the neighborhood. We participated in a protest at the Bronx Housing Court, helped them hold info sessions, and had a campus teach-in with about 70 students. A married couple that owns a Dominican restaurant catered the event and discussed their experience with displacement from their landlord. The College Access group works with local schools to do SAT prep and give tours around campus, while the Programming group helps with advertising events.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Below is a video by Jeff Coltin, FCRH ’15