By ELIZA PUTNAM
Claire Cumberland has been an integral part of Fordham’s Global Outreach (GO) community for the past seven years. Since her time as an undergraduate, she has gone on two projects, GO! Adirondacks and GO! Bolivia, led a third to Detroit, chaperoned projects in India and New Orleans, and helped coordinate dozens more. Katie Stanovick, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’18, and current President of GO’s e-board, maintains that Cumberland is “what we like to call the 5th pillar of GO.” Today is Cumberland’s last day as Lincoln Center’s Assistant Director of Global Outreach.
During her tenure as Assistant Director, Cumberland has coordinated all aspects of Lincoln Center’s projects, from reviewing project budgets to advising student leaders. Her reach has expanded past Lincoln Center, however. Last year, she chaperoned GO! India, a Rose Hill project in which students travelled to Kolkata to share their experiences with, support and learn from vulnerable individuals in group homes, including a home for the elderly and an orphanage.
Drawing from that experience, Cumberland stressed the idea that GO reinforces Fordham’s Jesuit mission of educating “men and women for others” through “facilitating an understanding of standing in solidarity with people who are marginalized.” In an interview with Fordham News, Cumberland also emphasized that “it’s not just about recognizing that our community is the 12 people on the trip, but recognizing that we’re part of a global community.”
Community is one value that Cumberland has consistently prioritized in the GO office, according to those who have worked with her. She actively encouraged student involvement with social justice issues beyond Fordham, and worked to incorporate those issues into GO’s daily activities. Former GO Co-President Caroline Grondahl, FCLC ’17, fondly remembered that in Jan. 2017, GO members planned to attend the Women’s March together, meeting ahead of time to brainstorm messages and write them on signs. Grondahl said that Cumberland was “committed to working with students to mobilize for wider social change, whether it be fundraising for Standing Rock actions, offering support for fellow student organizations on campus, or attending protests and marches with students.” Miriam Ambrosino, FCLC ’17 and GO e-board member from 2015-2017, similarly recalled that in meetings, if students expressed that they wanted to take action on an issue, Cumberland would immediately “pull out the giant note pad we had in the office, get some markers, and start to help outline what we, as a group, wanted to do.”
Engaging in these local, direct actions is one way that GO counters criticisms that its projects, especially abroad, are inherently paternalist and indistinguishable from other voluntourism trips. For instance, GO explicitly aims to complicate students’ assumptions about service by requiring all project participants to read Ivan Illich’s “To Hell With Good Intentions,” in which he encourages college students to “voluntarily renounce exercising the power which being an American gives you” and “recognize your inability, your powerlessness and your incapacity to do the ‘good’ which you intended to do.”
Project team members confront this distance between their intentions and impact through their work. As Assistant Director, Cumberland has strived to have students understand that project participation is the first step in a lifetime of working toward social justice. According to Grondahl, Cumberland’s intention was to ensure that GO is “a stepping stone for students.”
Cumberland is both professional and relatable to students who participate in GO according to Ambrosino. She relates to students’ experiences in part by virtue of her participation in the program as an undergraduate. After graduation, Cumberland became involved with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, serving at Miriam’s Kitchen in Washington, D.C. for a year. Courtney Romans, FCLC ‘17, and current JVC volunteer felt that Cumberland helped “calm [her] fears about JVC” because they had that experience in common.
Cumberland rejoined GO as a staff member in 2014. Ambrosino remembered that “Claire was exactly what GO needed at the time that she arrived at Lincoln Center.” Current project leader Maya Miller, FCLC ’19, described the GO office as “a little sanctuary at Fordham” in which “Claire’s presence is everything.” Likewise, Ambrosino expressed that Cumberland “helped me carve out a piece of Fordham where I felt like my voice was loud, clear, and powerful.”
Connor Sick, FCLC ’18, added that Cumberland “was able to keep leaders and participants calm and centered during the pre-project process.” Several former and current GO members echo this sentiment, adding that her calm and confident personality, her organization and facilitation strategies, and belief in students’ capacities as leaders kept them dedicated to the work at hand. Coming off of a disappointing fall in which student interest in the program was uncharacteristically low, the GO office has a challenging year ahead.
But Cumberland leaves behind a strong legacy; “she brought community, love, joy and revolution to the program,” Stanovick said, adding, “I’m so thankful to have been a part of what she did.”
When Cumberland was a Rose Hill senior, she told the Fordham Ram that she felt “a lot of indecision right now…I don’t want to leave at all.” As she departs Fordham for a second time, the feeling is mutual for many.