By STEPHAN KOZUB
Global Outreach (GO!), one of Fordham’s signature service programs, has had a rocky start to the semester. Interest in domestic projects is down and project leadership positions are unfilled; the Florida trip scheduled for the winter break has been cancelled and the spring break trip to Chicago is now happening in the summer.
Claire Cumberland, assistant director of GO! at Fordham Lincoln Center, said this situation is a “bummer” as she sat at her desk in her office, located in Lowenstein 217.
“So far we’ve had to cancel Florida, which is for me really sad, because we had a leader who was already working hard on his project. He was a really great leader and took it like a champ when we had to cancel,” Cumberland said. “But it’s always kind of sad to see a student work super hard on something and then not be able to see it through to its end result.”
GO! Florida was cancelled because too few students applied to participate, according to Cumberland. Running simultaneously with GO! Camden, the applicant pool was too small between the two projects, forcing the organization to choose one or the other.
GO! Chicago, on the other hand, was postponed because not enough students applied to be project leaders. They needed to fill six positions across the board. They only got three.
As a result, they will do another round of leadership applications for summer projects on Nov. 27.
“With our domestic projects, it’s always a bit more of a struggle to get people to apply.
Particularly this year … [this] is something that I’ve truly never experienced,” said Cumberland, who has been an administrator in GO! since 2015 and actively participated in the program as an undergraduate student at Rose Hill. The lack of interest in domestic projects hits close to home for her—the first project she ever went on as an undergrad was a domestic trip, as was the one she led as a project leader.
The GO! E-board and Cumberland, however, believe that they did everything in their power to promote the domestic projects and encourage people to apply.
“I obviously wish we had more applicants because I believe in the power of the projects, but I truly believe GO! has done a lot of what we could do to try and get applicants,” said Kathleen Stanovick, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’18 and President of GO! at Lincoln Center. “This means extending deadlines, having an info session, lots of advertising and word of mouth.”
Even though there is a lack of interest in domestic projects, numbers remain high for GO!’s international projects. While Cumberland did not want to assume one specific reason for interest in domestic projects being so low, she pointed to several possible causes. Among them were GO! not seeming to be able to “hit the sweet spot” in enticing Fordham Lincoln Center students to apply, a general lack of interest in the offered trips, and what she observed as “a little less of an excitement around domestic projects” at both campuses.
“If you’re the average applicant, what’s going to be enticing to you,” Cumberland asked. “Going to Ghana for two weeks or going to Chicago, where people may live or already have been?”
When I asked her about concerns of voluntourism that may accompany this line of thinking, she noted that such criticisms are “valid” and that GO! is actively working to address them. She also noted that she is trying to steer the program towards framing their projects primarily as social justice and learning programs, rather than travel experiences.
“The idea that it’s voluntourism is not wrong all the time,” Cumberland said. “We do our best and we work really hard here with the leaders and with the participants to talk about that.” Among the ways they try to address the issue is by reading articles on topics such as race, privilege and paternalism, and having group discussions on the privilege that comes with going on service trips to other communities as American college students.
“Without a doubt, those criticisms are valid, but I do wish there were some acknowledgment that there is conversation around that and that we are working to minimize that impact as much as possible, as much as it is in our control,” she added.
Stanovick corroborated Cumberland’s remarks. “I think there’s a misconception about what GO! is, and we are trying to break the idea that GO! is voluntourism or a mission trip, but that is a hard first impression to erase,” she said.
To try and alter these perceptions of the club, the GO! E-board is planning to have more events that “demonstrate the aspects of GO!, like community and service, in a productive, modern way,” Stanovick added. “All in all, we want to revolutionize how people see GO!, what you can get out of it, and how it is something everyone should participate in.”
Even in years when interest in programs is high across the board, however, GO! may be forced to cancel projects due to safety concerns or logistical issues. In 2016, GO! Brazil was cancelled due to concerns with the Zika virus. In Spring 2017, GO! New Orleans was cancelled because no one in the group over the age of 21 was a licensed driver. In most domestic projects, there is an aspect of driving.
But while adjustments have already been made to upcoming projects to accommodate for the lack of interest, Cumberland encourages students to continue applying for programs.
“If you’re looking for an experience that fosters your learning and your growth in social justice, [while] on top of that building a true community of friends and people that you have this really intentional space built with…we have it here waiting for you,” she said. “You have to take that first step into Lowenstein 217.”
Stanovick added that the domestic projects “offer a look [into] the United States’ systems of oppression,” and allows “an introspective look at your own life and the life of your fellow citizens.”
Despite the setbacks, however, Cumberland and the GO! E-board appear to be keeping their hopes and spirits up.
“I think we did everything we could in our power,” she said. “But it was just not our season.”
She paused for a moment, laughing.
“I feel like that’s a locker room postgame talk,” she chipped. “It’s not our season, man. We tried.”