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Last week, I had the utmost pleasure of sitting down with the two Fordham seniors that conceived, planned, and executed the Fordham art exhibit, Watch the Gap: Annie Legnini and Shane Yelicanin. Prior to getting to know each visionary, I had planned on simply covering the event. It seemed like a cool new Fordham event that students should know about. Then, within a matter of five minutes, I realized our conversation’s weight surpassed anything I had previously anticipated.
On Sunday April 24, the second floor ballroom of McGinley housed over 40 pieces of art for the student-organized show. Some submissions were from Fordham students (commuters and residents alike), and others were from Bronx community members. Fliers for the show were distributed on and off campus, in both English and Spanish.
The goal of the show was to spark a dialogue regarding the social divide between Fordham and its neighbors. Proceeds went to The Dreamyard Project, an organization that travels and delivers art supplies to Bronx schools that have had their art programs cut.
The event truly displayed that the term “art” is fluid; it can manifest in all different mediums. Poets recited their work in the midst of raw visual art like paintings and sculptures. A projector revealed every submission on a loop, thereby elucidating one of the many themes of the event: inclusivity.
It addressed the relationship between the communities of Fordham and the Bronx in a way that fostered conversation and open-mindedness, as opposed to fear and argument.
With vociferous passion, both Annie and Shane clearly communicated their hopes for Watch the Gap. In conversing with these artists I found two very grounded, optimistic people that have decided to take on this pervasive social issue with humility.
Their main point went something like this: members of the Fordham community need to acknowledge and appreciate the Bronx community, for we use space off campus as if it is inherently ours.
Watch the Gap is a call to action, to literally “acknowledge the gap between Fordham and its neighbors,” because any change starts with awareness.
There is no doubt that their goal is admirable, but it’s hard to avoid skepticism. After all, how does one solve a social issue as complex as this?
Shane replied confidently, “You have go into it knowing that you’re not going to fix everything. The best starting point for anyone is to find like-minded individuals in order to start a dialogue.”
Annie advised that “we need to meet people where they are in their life: be patient, be respectful, and hear each other out.” Her point was well-taken, especially because college students are often relentless in defending their opinions. Annie’s call to action targets the strong-willed. Listen to the ignorance and educate accordingly.
I proceeded to ask them why they thought an art exhibit was the preferred method of communicating this social issue.
“It’s the rawest, most honest form of communication. Some things can’t be articulated. Art makes the mind elastic. It brings people together,” Annie replied.
The vehicle of art seems to mirror the divide between the respective communities of the Bronx and Fordham. It’s hard to talk about, and everyone has a unique opinion.
“Everyone sees something different. It’s a microcosm for the whole human experience,” added Shane. “But above all, we wanted to celebrate people’s talents.”
This year was Watch the Gap’s inaugural show, and there is no doubt that it will be a Fordham staple for decades to come.
In the last year, there have been multiple “bias incidents” on Fordham’s campus. They are better described as hate crimes. Chants of white power off campus. Offensive symbols inscribed onto campus property. You probably saw the emails. You may have even deleted it without a second thought. These events prompted Annie and Shane to act, and Watch the Gap was born.
Shane and Annie thought the event went very smoothly and are both ecstatic with the results. However, one moment stuck out to them. A poet recited his work, thanked the Fordham community for hosting the event, and then criticized Fordham Security’s abrasiveness in dealing with Bronx community members attempting to get to Watch the Gap. This was a speed bump that could potentially be solved by student volunteers waiting at the gates with Watch the Gap t-shirts, or something similar.
Dr. Mark Naison, Professor of History and African American Studies at Fordham, has been fighting the university on issues similar to the security debacle for years. In the aftermath of my talk with Annie and Shane, I deemed it necessary to reach out to Dr. Naison, who was advertised to have quite an arsenal of Bronx-related knowledge.
Dr. Naison has been a professor at Fordham since the 1970’s and considers himself the “all-purpose Bronx teacher and activist.” Living now in Park Slope, he has witnessed the gentrification of New York’s boroughs first hand (he even rapped about it under the pseudonym “Notorious PhD”). He sang Annie and Shane’s praises with their work on Watch the Gap, for he believes that Fordham students need to address the community divide through student activities and education.
“This campus is boring,” he asserted during one of his wildly fascinating rants. Mark reminisced of the inception of Hip-Hop in the Bronx starting with Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa. He sulked at the fact that most Fordham students don’t know Romeo Santos, a Bronx-born Bachata/R&B artist that has sold out Yankee Stadium twice. He shared with me cost-effective Bronx eateries like Johnson’s BBQ, where you can get six pounds of food for $12.
Above all else, Dr. Naison wants to educate Fordham students on what lies beyond the gates. He suggests inserting an hour-long presentation on the Bronx during New Student Orientation.
“Oh well [the Fordham administration] doesn’t want me to do that because I can’t be controlled,” he remarked with a smirk. Nevertheless, Dr. Naison urges the school to consider his proposal. “It will benefit the students.”
Even though the orientation presentation is non-existent right now, Dr. Naison offers a Bronx Immigration, Race & Culture class in the fall. The class for Fall 2016 is full right now, but keep an eye out for it in the future. If it were up to Dr. Naison, his Bronx history class would be part of the core curriculum.
Annie and Shane will graduate Fordham next week, but they want to make sure their Watch the Gap legacy continues. While they will be involved with future events, they understand that they need to hand off the reigns. For that reason, if you are interested in helping out the production of Watch the Gap next year, please send an email to Shane and Annie at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
In addition, Annie and Shane wanted to use this article as a platform to thank everyone that made the event possible. Watch the Gap would not have happened without the contributions of Dean of Undergraduate Research Maura Mast along with the Departments of Communications, African American Studies, and Women’s Studies.
It seems as if student projects on college campuses struggle with longevity. When it comes to projects like Watch the Gap, it is especially important to ensure that the transition from class to class goes smoothly.