Performative Protesting on Fordham’s Campus


Unless you have been living under a rock, or not reading The Fordham Ram, you know there has been an uptick in discussions of unions within the Fordham community this year. There are three unions at Fordham that have been getting a lot of press lately: Fordham Faculty Union (FFU), Fordham Graduate Student Workers (FGSW) and Fordham Resident Assistants Union (FRA). 

While FFU is not new, it has been the most talked about of Fordham’s three unions over this past school year. This is largely due to the contract that was signed in 2018 being up for renegotiation and the impending threat of a strike should the new terms not be met. FGSW has been largely quiet among this trending debate on campus, and the newest player, the FRA, has been gaining more attention after officially petitioning to be recognized as a union in February. 

Fordham students like to offer their support for these unions verbally or by resharing posts on social media, but when it comes to direct action, they don’t often show up to support the cause. The Ram has attended every protest and rally held by these unions, and we conclude that despite the seemingly high popularity of unionization on campus, these events have been sparsely attended by Fordham students.

While it’s nice to put a sticker of support for the FFU on your laptop cover or reshare a post from the union’s Instagram in your story, it means nothing if it can’t be backed up with direct action — such as actually attending the event you have reshared. And here enters the conversation of performative action. 

Performative action is an increasing phenomenon, especially among Gen Z, in the wake of cancel culture. Cancel culture has instilled this fear in our society that if you don’t reshare a message of support publicly on social media for whatever cause is trending in the media that week then that is the same as not supporting the cause at all, and you will effectively be canceled or shunned. The difference between a showing of actual support and performative support is the intention behind it. Performative support is conducted from a selfish point of view in the hopes of being thought well of, not from the point of view of trying to further the cause or spread awareness. 

It tends to be easy to spot performative action, and is especially easy in this case of student support for Fordham’s unions. Students have been quick to reshare the FRA’s social media posts to their own Instagram story, including posts with dates, times and locations for rallies; however, attendance by Fordham students of these reshared protests have been poor. There is no reinforcement of these reshared ideals through direct action. 

It tends to be more difficult to spot real, direct support for social causes. Real support comes in the form of the donation of time, resources or financial support. Whether this is volunteer work, or donations, unless a person shares publicly that they have done something along these lines then it can seem as though they don’t care or are not tuned into the political and social happenings of the world. Sharing these actions publically also tends to take meaning away from them as it then becomes about casting a positive reflection on the person instead of bringing awareness to the cause. 

This is not necessarily students’ fault for engaging in performative action in relation to showing support for unions on Fordham’s campus. It has become so ingrained in our culture to fear being canceled and labeled as a terrible person for showing a lack of support. What really needs to happen is a reversal of our understanding of what showing up for a cause actually looks like. This is a shift that has to happen not only on Fordham’s campus but in society at large. 

The current trend to show support for on campus is unionization. And while there is plenty of performative support for this cause, there is not much direct support to back that up. Actions speak louder than words and Fordham students are surprisingly quiet in showing support for these Fordham unions.