Category Archives: News

A Bioethical Exploration of Conscience Clauses

The world is full of controversies, and Emily Sayegh loves to talk about them. A pre-med junior at Fordham College Rose Hill majoring in biology and minoring in bioethics, this future neonatologist has used her bioethics research to sharpen her argumentation skills when it comes to discussing controversial topics such as abortion and euthanasia.

Last fall, Emily assisted Dr. Bryan Pilkington of the bioethics department with his research regarding conscience clauses. “Conscience clauses,” according to Emily,  “are legislations that allow physicians to determine procedures and treatments they are comfortable administering to patients.” They look to protect the physician’s autonomy and the patient’s interests. The aim of their research was to uncover and understand the controversy surrounding these clauses from a bioethical perspective. Specifically, they examined at what point it is no longer about protecting a physicians right to decide how to treat a patient and becomes more about patient discrimination.

Throughout the process, Emily was charged with compiling the research for the academic paper. She gathered publications from databases and peer reviewed journals that provided the substantive base of examples for the argument. For example, some of the research Emily found dealt with OB GYNs and their autonomy over deciding to perform an abortion or not. This example, among others, explores whether or not these clauses that are meant to help physicians could simultaneously be harmful to their patients’ wellbeing. She also collected information regarding alternative measures physicians could take to allow them to follow their personal ethics while also providing patients care. For example, in the case with an OB GYN refusing to perform an abortion, Emily examined research that questioned if it would be ethical for them to provide a referral to a physician who would be willing to perform the procedure.

This type of work allowed Emily to explore a different side of research than what she was used to. For example, she previously conducted clinical research with an organization in Mahopac, New York that examined the availability for preventative care for females in impoverished areas. During that time, the research included more patient interaction and statistical analysis. Researching with Dr. Pilkington was more theoretical- concerned with constructing arguments rather than finding the answer to a problem through numbers.

This initial research about conscience clauses with the bioethics department has provided Emily with the foundational skills to conduct a similar type of research project on her own. She hopes to begin researching the impacts of concierge medical practices in impoverished neighborhoods. She plans to explore the ethical implications for physicians who have full autonomy over their practices and charge high fees that the populations surrounding them are unable to afford. She wants to know the effects it has these populations as they are forced into larger, inefficient but affordable healthcare networks.

Emily hopes to present this research at the Undergraduate Research Symposium this April. But in the meantime, she is happy that she received the opportunity to conduct bioethics research as an undergrad. Asked if she would recommend doing undergraduate research, she responded emphatically, “Absolutely.”

Not only has this type of research allowed her to strengthen her academic skills, it has provided her with the opportunity to strengthen her desire to help patients. “Doing this and being involved in the bioethics department has given me more of a love for medicine and a desire to become a physician.” She notes that people have different experiences and emotions and these are equally as important as the science behind medicine when it comes to treating patients. “I see bioethics as taking the more intimate side of medicine, not just formulas, equations and biological pathways. It’s seeing patients as actual people with human rights and applying [that fact] to ethical issues.”


The Fourth Century and a Parting of Ways between Christianity and Judaism

In many ways, it’s fair to view the history of Christianity as a history of debates. From the Iconoclastic Controversies of the Byzantine Empire to the Protestant Reformation of post-Renaissance Europe, any student of theology is likely familiar with at least a few such debates. Dr. Emanuel Fiano, a member of the Theology department at Fordham, specializes in the earlier debates of the fourth century. Dr. Fiano explains that historians tend to neglect the controversies of this time period due to the dense, abstruse nature of the disputes.  Fourth-century Christian authors employed a wide variety of puzzling vocabulary to settle their debates, spelling out –for example— the precise differences between the “essence,” the “substance,” and the “nature” of something. In addition, disagreements about Christ’s role in the trinity relied on daunting distinctions between what it means to be “born,” “created,” or “begotten.” While such intimidating terminology might scare away most scholars, the puzzling quality of these early Christian discourses lies at the core of Dr. Fiano’s research.

Until the fourth century, the religions of Judaism and Christianity were largely not two separate entities; instead, they were still one vague continuum of traditions. Dr. Fiano argues that these abstruse fourth-century Christian debates mark the point in history in which Christianity and Judaism began to diverge for the first time–but not for the reasons one may expect. According to Dr. Fiano, the divergence of Christianity and Judaism had little to do with the actual theological content of each faith’s doctrine. For example, some historians believe that the split occurred when Jewish scholars simply refused to accept the idea of a “second entity” that exists in addition to God (Christians, of course, thought that Christ was such an entity). Despite what one might expect, records show that Jewish communities would have been willing to accept such a belief at the time.

Dr. Fiano argues that Christianity and Judaism diverged simply as a result of different intellectual practices. According to Dr. Fiano, “It’s not that they were saying different things about the same problem, they were just dealing with different problems.” Groups that would develop into Christianity tended to focus on abstract logical problems and the development of highly-technical terminology to solve them. Groups that would develop into Judaism started asking different kinds of questions; they tended to focus their writings on what the norms and the laws of communities should be or how to interpret Biblical narratives. Then after this initial intellectual divergence, Judaism and Christianity would have developed into the two notably distinct traditions that we are familiar with today.

In addition to research on the Jewish-Christian continuum, Dr. Emanuel Fiano also conducts work on Christian texts in ancient Middle Eastern languages like Syriac and Coptic. He offers courses on both of these languages at Fordham, and he particularly recommends that students interested in Middle Eastern Studies or the history of Islam spend some time getting to know the interesting field of Eastern Christianity. Moreover, he expresses that he is always open to help undergraduate students interested in research similar to his own.


A History of the Intersection between Music and Science

Eric Bianchi, PhD, is an associate professor of music history at Fordham University. His main area of study is the intersection of music and science, mostly in the 17th and 18th centuries. According to Bianchi, music in the 17th century was considered to be a type of math, instead of art. While this connection between music and the sciences is thousands of years old, in Western history the idea has its roots in the teachings of Pythagoras. Pythagoras and his followers were some of the first discoverers of the basics of music theory. Specifically, they discovered that it was possible to make musical intervals using the sounds that were produced by plucking on a string. The beauty they found in these intervals, however, were not just in their sound but also in their mathematical precision. For example, for every octave there is a perfect two-to-one frequency ratio. Thus, throughout most of human history, educated people have generally thought that the study of music fell under the umbrella of the sciences as opposed to in today’s world where it most often is considered to be a type of art.

Bianchi is currently working on a monograph about music and alchemy in the 17th century that will eventually become part of a line of experimental online digital editions of scholarly work. His primary source for this research is an alchemy book written in the 17th century that is composed of a various illustrations, accompanied by German and Latin poems and musical canons for three voices. What fascinates Bianchi about this source is how it includes music in a book about alchemy, a chemical subject. He finds that the answer to why this occurred requires an in-depth study of 17th century thought.

Today, we do not typically think of chemists as incorporating musical composition into their work. But there is evidence this idea was more common a few hundred years ago. At that time, the fields of alchemy and chemistry had not yet separated. It was widely believed that the kinds of processes that worked in music were ultimately rooted in the structure of the universe and therefore could be applied to the same kinds of processes that compose physical and chemical change. For example, if a 17th century alchemist were trying to turn lead into gold, he might consider it appropriate in his experimenting to use the musical composition of a canon as an analogy for the chemical processes used in alchemy.

Throughout the 17th century, however, ideas about music and science began to change. Following Galileo’s discovery about planetary revolution, people began to question the way they thought about science in general. The bigger argument, in a certain sense, was whether one could describe the natural world through theology or through mathematics. Thus, as people started changing their ideas about the natural world and the principles that govern it, they also began to rethink their ideas about art. The idea began to evolve that perhaps art is not governed by the same proportions that govern astronomy, but that instead taste may play a more prominent role.

It is important to note that this transition of thought happened slowly, and may still be happening today. Bianchi points out that the intersection of music and science is still very much alive today in the modern music industry. The fact that it is possible to listen to something online means that someone has found a way to turn sound into binary code information. Furthermore, music copyright today has been increasingly represented by color spectrums. While the idea of music as a form of poetic art and creativity has gained the upper hand in today’s culture, the idea of music being some sort of equation is still around today, particularly in the world of music production.

No Child Left Behind: A Comparative Study of Child Refugee Education Policies in Europe

Last spring, Monica Olveira, a senior majoring in International Political Economy, received a grant through Fordham’s Tobin Travel Fellowship to do research abroad. Having worked with the United Nations and UNICEF, as well as having interests in refugees and children, she decided to focus her research on the education of child refugees in European countries. In May, Monica embarked on a three-week comparative study through England, France, and Germany to discover what educational resources are provided by the government for child refugees in each country.

The European Commission’s Criteria, released by the European Union, provides guidelines that schools with refugee children should strive to observe. These include offering welcome classes and providing language courses. This checklist gave Monica a benchmark to use when evaluating each country’s investment in support programs.

Qualitative data was gathered through interviews with academic experts, teachers, and government representatives. These individuals offered historical, personal, and policy perspectives on the refugee educational system in each country. Monica compiled the information she gathered so that she would be able to look for differences in each nation’s approach to refugee education and determine why there might be trends or gaps. Her hypothesis is that “immigration politics are the force behind these differences”.

Monica is still analyzing the results, but so far her hypothesis has been upheld. Germany, which has an open door immigration policy and the largest number of refugees, boasts the strongest programs across the board. She found that German government programs adhered to the European Commission’s Criteria and the nation has a very structured system.

France, on the other hand, has a smaller influx of refugees and takes a less individualized approach to welcoming refugee children and their families into the education system. The French strategy is to offer everyone the same resources, which Monica says is “not as effective because each child has different needs”.

England’s system is found to be much more regionalist and falls somewhat in between that of France and Germany. Programs are strong in more liberal urban areas such as London, where 160 languages are spoken in a single school. On the other hand, schools in conservative, less metropolitan areas do not facilitate as many cross-cultural connections.

Not only do the results reflect Monica’s original hypothesis that there is a correlation between a nation’s political stance on immigration and the educational resources they provide for refugees, but the results seem to parallel the quantity of refugees entering each nation as well. France’s long-time struggle with identity coupled with a rising populist ideology has led them to accept a smaller number of refugees, and the nation is apparently hesitant to invest in refugee programs. Germany, perhaps wanting to make amends with its history, has accepted a much greater number of refugees, many of whom seek safety from the Arab Spring movement. Lastly, England’s experience with taking in migrants since the 1980s and 1990s has driven them to craft a well-structured resource system.

Though her work is original, Monica remarks that there is much more data out there than what she could gather in three weeks. Ultimately, she suggests that the information gathered through her research could be used to show the pros and cons of different refugee educational resource methods and help political leaders determine how their nation’s efforts are both efficient and inadequate.

Fordham Theology: A Look at the Unexpected

Initially, it is hard to see the connection between the literary and visual arts representation of the HIV/AIDS crisis in contemporary French film and the rigid and highly organized life that Benedictine monks developed in the middle ages. For Dr. Kris Trujillo it is easy. It is all a part of his natural educational progression to examine the connections between religious studies and queer theory. This spring, Dr. Kris Trujillo completed his Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Critical Theory from UC Berkeley before coming to Fordham, where he is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Theology department teaching courses such as Medieval Religious Texts.

Trujillo is interested in examining the relationship between religion and subjects that are considered to be overtly secular. In his most recent untitled research project, Trujillo examines how the medieval Christian mystical concept of self dissolution is represented in queer art and literature during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 1990s.

Dr. Trujillo’s research pays particular attention to artists and writers who turned to mysticism. Mysticism is the belief that direct knowledge of God can be reached through personal experiences with God. Mystics experience dissolution or disintegration of their distinct corpus as they join God in order to gain ultimate knowledge. Trujillo found that many queer artists affected by the HIV/AIDS crisis were turning to the mystical trope of dissolution of the self into God to demonstrate the literal disintegration of the body as caused by HIV/AIDS.

Usually, this trope attracts the attention of white queers and plays into the embodiment of privilege of white queers. Trujillo says “praising the trope requires privilege that you already have a full body to disintegrate” once contracting HIV. But if you come from a marginalized community where violence and destruction is prevalent, chances are the body has already been destroyed partially by the effects of this violence.

The research concludes by demonstrating that mystical tropes of dissolutions and disintegrations of the body is not the same for all artists. In regards to the word mysticism Trujillo claims, “Mysticism is complicated term. It is heterogenous,” and has multiple meanings. Forms of disintegration and dissolution can be dangerous when an actual community is facing the literal disintegration of bodies because of this health crisis.

Trujillo’s work also shows that there are particular theological stances that were weaponized during the HIV/AIDS pandemic of the late 20th century. Trujillo describes this “plague” as being thought as “retribution for the sins of homosexuality” in many Christian theologies. This lead many to turn to other types of religious practices or spiritualities that did not lead to the conclusion that “homosexuality is a sin being paid for by death” during this health pandemic.

In the future, Trujillo plans to examine the archives of Latinx artists to demonstrate the role mysticism and spiritual exercise has played in the early modern colonization period of indigenous people by the Spanish. He hopes to demonstrate how the move to mysticism by Latinx communities demonstrates what he calls the “reappropriation” and “decolonizing act of the practices that converted these people to christianity in the first place.”

“There is a creative aspect of doing research that is very appealing.” After speaking with Trujillo, the importance of synthesis to his research project is clear. Coming from a background of language, literature, critical theory, and rhetoric, there is a devotion to diction and communication that characterizes his research and interests. The ability to comprehend information is reliant on the the way it is presented. Trujillo hopes the medieval religious histories and concepts of the past can explain the present phenomenon of self disillusionment experienced by white queers today and shape the world of queers of color in the future.

Dr. Monk-Payton: Blackness and Televisual Reparations

Professor Brandy Monk-Payton, PhD. was watching news coverage of the 2014 Ferguson protests when she came to an interesting realization. She was in the midst of viewing the third season of the popular FX series American Horror Story. On the surface, Season Three’s events—which revolve around a group of Salem witch descendants—seemed to have little in common with the actions following Michael Brown’s fatal shooting. However, as she watched, Monk-Payton was startled to find parallels between the horror she witnessed in the show and the violence she saw broadcasted from Ferguson.

The moment was the impetus for months of research and hours of hard work, culminating in Monk-Payton’s upcoming research project: “Blackness and Televisual Reparations.” The piece is part of what will likely be a larger project, and it investigates how television today challenges violence—specifically violence mediated through race.

In the paper, Monk-Payton delves into what it means to be a witness, comparing depictions of racial representation and violence in popular television, news media, and real life. Through her studies, she was surprised to discover how explicit discussions about race have become in many shows. Popular programs like ABC’s Blackish and Scandal have tackled issues of race and violence head-on, in ways that would have been impossible decades ago. In her work, Monk-Payton hopes to address how different genres approach topics of race and violence, and how television simultaneously reflects and owes motifs to blackness, as well as to the larger history of civil rights in America.

Professor Monk-Payton specializes in the history and theory of African American media representation and cultural production. She currently teaches in the communications and media department at Fordham, and expects her piece “Blackness and Televisual Reparations” to be published this winter.

Fordham Community Prepares for the 10th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium

At the close of each academic year, Fordham University recognizes the hard work, originality, and collaboration of its students at the Undergraduate Research Symposium. This year marks the 10th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium, which will be presented on Wednesday, April 26.

Consisting of over forty oral presentations and over one hundred poster presentations, the 2017 Undergraduate Research Symposium will be a chance for students to showcase the work they have completed over the course of the year. A diverse set of disciplines will be represented, with students exhibiting scholarship across a wide array of interests, majors, and class years. The various presentations showcase original research conducted by students under the mentorship of a faculty member.

The events of the symposium will take place on the second floor of the McGinley Center with oral presentations occurring from 12-3pm and a poster session from 3-5pm. All are welcome to attend and learn about the ongoing scholarship being conducted on campus.

Also during the Research Symposium, the Fordham Undergraduate Research Journal (FURJ) will be issuing Volume VII of its publication. Copies of the journal will be distributed throughout the day in McGinley, but will also be available in the Dean’s Offices at the Rose Hill and Lincoln Center campuses, as well as online at the FURJ website.

Fordham University and FURJ look forward to celebrating the accomplishments of the students and sparking interest and dialogue between students, faculty, and the community.

Volume VII of the Fordham Undergraduate Research Journal to be Released Wednesday

BRONX, NEW YORK – On Wednesday, April 26, 2017, the Fordham Undergraduate Research Journal (FURJ) will release its seventh installment during the Fordham Undergraduate Research Symposium, which will be held in the McGinley Center from 11:00 AM until 5:00 PM.

Signifying the Journal’s high-regard, nearly forty research submissions from undergraduates in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences were submitted to publication consideration, with seven selected for print after a rigorous, double-blind peer and faculty review process. Likewise, the Journal received book reviews, including a review of Before the Fires: An Oral History of African American Life in the Bronx from the 1930s to the 1960s coauthored by Fordham’s Dr. Mark Naison and Bob Gumbs. Also considered for print were several news articles, all written by Fordham undergraduates, discussing current research at Fordham University, including an investigation into algorithmic randomness and analysis of psychological trauma in adolescents in the Bronx.

One fascinating research article designated for publication involves the study of smartwatch based transcription biometrics. In the piece, Francesco G. Ciuffo, FCRH ’17, showed how with the use of a smartwatch, it is possible to precisely determine what specific task an individual is engaging in, such as writing a short paragraph on paper.

“After receiving an overabundance of submissions for Volume VII, we deliberated tediously to select published articles for print as well as for web publication,” Editor-in-Chief Valerie Marquez Edwards said.  “As we move into Volume VIII, it is my hope that our web presence will be more interactive, and we’ve been working diligently with the future editors to ensure that we can publish as many articles as possible vis-à-vis the Fordham Research Repository next year.”

For students and faculty unable to pick up the latest installment during the Undergraduate Research Symposium, copies will be available at the Dean’s Offices at Rose Hill and Lincoln Center and will also be accessible on the Journal’s webpage.

Established in 2011, FURJ features peer-reviewed, original research articles, news articles, and book reviews conducted by undergraduate students at Fordham’s three campuses.

Questions about the Journal may be directed to the Editor-in-Chief at

On Structure-Function Relationships

As a man whose skills are related to bioinformatics, protein expression, biochemistry, and “general troublemaking,” Dr. Paul Smith has a lot on his hands. Dr. Paul Smith is currently a professor in the Chemistry Department at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus who divvies up his time between teaching and carrying out multiple laboratory research projects. Smith is a graduate of Columbia University where he received his Doctor of Philosophy in Molecular Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry in 2005.

Smith had not been involved in research until his senior year of undergrad where he took a project laboratory class at Columbia University, allowing him and several other students to conduct research projects in exchange for credits. The professor of this class cultivated Smith’s interest in research, leading Smith to attend graduate school. While completing post-doctoral work at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Smith conducted research in the molecular biology department. After his time at Sloan Kettering, Smith became a teacher and researcher at Fordham University in 2013.

Smith is currently conducting research in two different branches, one computational and the other on structure-function relationships for proteins. Under the structure-function branch of research, Smith is studying the relationship between atoms and how this relationship may impart function, whether it be enzymatic, structural or more. Under this course of study, Smith was approached by associates at Weill Cornell Medical College to conduct research on E4ORF1, a protein with unique attributes to it that have “potential in biotechnology applications.”

E4ORF1 is a viral protein, which is associated with adenoviruses, that radically alters cell physiology. Smith states that adenoviruses are pathogens implicated in sickness and disease, such as the common cold, obesity, and diabetes. These proteins have unique abilities to affect other cells and proteins. In his proposal, Smith suggests, “One of these genes in particular, orf1, has been shown to have remarkable ability to alter cellular physiology upon expression.” E4ORF1 is an aggregation-prone protein that forms a precipitate in solution that is difficult to dissolve, even with the strongest of agents.

The goal of his research is to identify the structure of this protein and its aggregation abilities in relationship to other proteins and cells. Although the protein is small, its structure is unknown. Using computer modelling, Smith has been able to predict the unique hook shape of the protein that may allow it to form fibers. Future applications regarding this protein may be in the growth of hematopoietic cells, which are stem cells that give rise to blood. With further research work, there may be the ability to grow these cells without growth factors by simply using this protein in culture. This would reduce the risk of rejection in transplants and transfusions.

Smith compares research work to wildcatting, which is exploratory oil well drilling. In discussing his analogy during our interview, Smith states “You sink a drill and you hope you get lucky… you might make it rich or you might end up broke.” Protein work is unpredictable and crystallization or finding a protein with unique biochemical traits that can be traced is difficult. Nevertheless, Smith has a great outlook for the future of his collaborative research project and hopes that purification and application of the E4ORF1 protein will be possible in the near future.

The Psychology of Networking

BRONX, NEW YORK – On Thursday, February 23rd, Dr. Michelle Weber, Professor of Management at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business spoke on the psychology crucial to successful networking. Sponsored by the School’s Office of Personal Professional Development, Dr. Weber used her experiences in both academia and industry to discuss enlightening, practical, and theory-based methods of networking, particularly useful for students seeking to connect with employers and employees within firms. With several opportunities for student participation and a question and answer segment, Dr. Weber’s talk was well-received by its attendees.

A graduate of New York University and Columbia University, Dr. Weber was conferred a PhD in Organizational Psychology and has published several articles in Total Quality Review and Journal for Quality and Participation. After serving as a Director of Human Resources at Philip Morris USA, Dr. Weber recently returned to the academic environment, teaching undergraduates at Fordham University’s Rose Hill Campus and graduate students at the Teachers’ College at Columbia University in Manhattan. Currently, Dr. Weber is chiefly interested in improving understanding of leadership practices and change within organizations.

With keen study of the principles of interpersonal influence, originally posited by Dr. Robert Cialdini in the late 1900s, Dr. Weber spoke to three of the principles that students should use to significantly expand the quality and extent of her or his personal network: the principle of “liking,” the principle of “scarcity,” and the principle of “reciprocity.” While seemingly simple concepts, she notes that such principles appeal to “deeply rooted human needs and drives” of individuals when used properly.

Regarding the first principle of “liking,” Dr. Weber says that psychology suggests that the rational individual is more ready to comply with those who are like him or her. To make use of this concept, Dr. Weber suggests that students seeking to network with an individual mention a simple commonality, such as the fact that both individuals attended the same high school.

The second principle involves “reciprocity,” whereby humans are naturally inclined to eventually repay those who first offer something. For instance, Dr. Weber notes that charitable organizations often see a significant increase, sometimes as much as double, in the amount of donations received when prospective donors are given a small, complementary token, such as address labels. To make rigorous use of this principle in a networking setting, Dr. Weber suggests that students analyze their unique abilities and skill-set to discover ways to benefit their intended connect. Noting students’ frequent use and understanding of technology, she shows how simple it is to use this principle, by suggesting that students offer up computer technical help.

The final principle is “scarcity,” specifically as it refers to maintaining professional relationships with employers for whom students are interested in working. With a basis in economic theory and psychology, this principle follows from the notion that humans tend to have a significant desire to acquire goods and opportunities that are in short supply. More specifically, human-being use the relative rarity of an item to analyze the value of goods and services, and are naturally increasingly motivated by loss, rather than opportunities for gain. For the student seeking to improve his or her networking relationship as he or she progresses in multi-round interviews, the student should be transparent about other opportunities afforded to him or her. By doing so, the prospective employer will feel that the individual’s value has been validated by competing firms and likely be more interested in offering the position to the student.

Using these three psychological principles, students can certainly increase their individual networks and stand out as a stellar job candidates.