Senior Creates Community With Theory and Conversation


Genolio founded Theory & Praxis to spark conversation and action. (Courtesy of Sophie Genolio for The Fordham Ram)

When she transferred to Fordham for her junior year, one of the first things Sophie Genolio, FCRH ’23, knew she wanted to do was find a way to organize the Fordham community in a meaningful, practical way. In doing so, Genolio began the process of organizing the student group Theory & Praxis, which, in her own words, is part-book club with a focus on books “that rewrite history that you learn in school” and part-vehicle for community involvement, “trying to get involved in community survival programs in the Bronx.” 

While she knew that she had always wanted to get involved in helping community organizations and social mobilization, the foundational elements of what would become Theory & Praxis came to Genolio during a gap year before starting at Fordham. In that gap year, Genolio spent a considerable amount of time reading political literature and history books, though she cites one particular book as a major inspiration. 

“When I really started thinking about it, I was reading a book called ‘As Long As Grass Grows,’” Genolio said. The book, written by Dina Gilio-Whitaker, provides a history of North American indigenous resistance and the historical relationship between indigenous peoples and the U.S. government, all through the perspective of Indigenized environmental justice. The book would go on to be the first book selected for Theory & Praxis discussions. 

“In the introduction, [Gilio-Whitaker] says ‘theory and praxis,’ and I started thinking about that phrase a lot,” Genolio said in reflecting how the book formed her relationship to making material change based on text. “Over my gap year, I got more into reading social-justice-oriented books,” Genolio stated before mentioning how, in the conversations she had with leftist groups and organizations, found frustration in the lack of applied praxis to the conversations created from the types of literature she found herself reading. 

The frustrations Genolio cites come from how ineffective pure discussions are when arguments about particular details of how theory should be applied gets in the way of actually applying theory for community change. “I was frustrated with the lack of practice and arguments within theory, I wanted to see if we could get the voices of these really smart authors heard in a meaningful way where people don’t just forget it.” 

The group has focused on one book each semester since its inception in fall 2021, with the current semester reading being “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” by Walter Rodney. The book explores how, historically, European colonial powers have exploited the natural resources and nations of Africa, stripping the continent’s potential for economic and social progress through imperialism. 

Other books Genolio has selected for the club’s readings are “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew   Desmond and “The Jakarta Method” by Vincent Bevins. 

Of those, Genolio’s favorite was “The Jakarta Method,” saying, “that’s when we switched from reading on specific topics and going more into broader leftist movements throughout history.” What made the book so impactful, Genolio argues, is the educational potential in its multifaceted histories. 

“It’s about the genocide in Indonesia in the ’60s and how the U.S. was involved,” Genolio said. She explained how the CIA replicated the methods of genocide exhibited in Indonesia, a strategy dubbed “The Jakarta Method,” and started using the strategy in other countries, including Vietnam. The method, according to Genolio, is “the elimination of any leftist group through mass murder” and, among other acts, kidnapping and torture. She continued, “it was an interesting thing to learn about and see our involvement and how little people know about it.” 

Theory & Praxis’s open discussion format, where anyone can come to the group’s meetings and discuss the readings, lent itself well for discussing the topics that surfaced during the readings.

“We come in with a few starting points and see where it goes. We are often connecting things to seemingly unrelated situations. People bring their own personal experiences into it,” Genolio said. For “The Jakarta Method,” discussions helped people understand topics that could otherwise be fairly confusing, like the differences between “genocide” and “massacre.” The former being targeted against specific populations and the latter being less targeted and more random based on who is in the terrorized space. 

After reading the texts, Theory & Praxis takes the energy generated from group discussions and channels it towards material practices based on the readings. Following “As Long As Grass Grows,” the group’s first praxis project was fundraising for Line 3 Legal Defense Fund, a “fund for those arrested for protesting the building of the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota” and helping water protectors pay legal fees, as written in the student group’s email. The fundraiser, a bake sale, raised over $300. 

As the group transitions into community-building, it’s become more involved with Part Of The Solution (POTS), a local organization in the Bronx dedicated to fighting hunger and poverty, by signing up for volunteer shifts to help distribute food to those in need. 

In all of the passion involved in pushing for community mobilization, Theory & Praxis faces a problem well-known to all student organizations: the challenge of balancing the hectic life of a college student and the desire to dedicate oneself to making a difference. At the same time, as Genolio describes, being a college student also has its benefits:  

“It helps that I’m in a community of people who want to do things,” Genolio said. Transferring into Fordham as a junior, Genolio didn’t already have a social foundation to draw from in putting together an organization. 

“I started it before I knew anyone at Fordham, so I made an Instagram post… but a lot of people started DMing me and I made an application for the other positions and we got a group going.” Being able to find a community that is engaged with political theory and history and is capable of directing that enthusiasm towards praxis is still an exciting opportunity for Genolio.