Meeting workers at Fordham
By Elaina Weber
“I just came to the United States exploring, you know, vacationing,” he said, “and then I forgot to go home.”
Like many immigrants, Urel Bernard Baptiste finds himself away from home without much of a reason other than employment. Bernard, as he is called, stands guard almost every night from 10 P.M. to 6 A.M. at the front desk in Alumni Court South, a residence hall at Fordham University. He stumbled upon this job before the students he safeguards were even born, and has since remained at his post not on purpose, but by chance.
Born in what is now the Commonwealth of Dominica, Bernard grew up on this Caribbean island’s neighbor, Antigua, where he calls home. “Technically I was looking for a job when I came, but not here in New York. I never planned to leave home.” Bernard was offered a job from a man running the department of security at Fordham named Thomas Courtney, who was fond of him back in Antigua, and his wife encouraged him to give it a try. “I wasn’t doing nothing at home anyway,” he admitted, “and she likes it here.”
But after two years of living in New York, Bernard decided he didn’t like it here. He was homesick for his country, his wife, and his four children. One night, he packed up his things, brought his suitcases to the airport, and was ready to fly home for good.
“That night, I forgot my passport. I took a yellow cab all the way back to the Bronx to the people whose house I stayed in and searched, but I couldn’t find it.” Bernard was encouraged to stay one more night until he could get his things together. “And then I thought, what if I wasn’t supposed to go home after all?”
Soon after, Bernard found himself welcoming his wife and children to New York City, where they have lived since. “I will keep working here until my son is done with his education,” Bernard said, “which won’t be long. Then, I’m leaving New York, and leaving this country. I’m going home.”
One of the reasons Bernard is so eager to get away is centered around management decisions to use Summit Security, a third party contractor to supply many security guards at the university. In fact, Bernard is the sole remaining Fordham-trained and Fordham-hired security guard working in the residence halls, and he fears that management “would love to see me [Bernard] go down.”
Management “doesn’t like me because I use my own digression on the job, as I was trained to do. His new guards, these Summit employees, don’t have training like I did. If we’re lucky, the guard hired for the night has been to Fordham before. If we’re not, they have never heard of the place. They are sent here by Summit. They go to the security office, pick up their radio, pick up their guest log, and they are told ‘Go to Alumni Court South.’ These people don’t know where the hell that is. They don’t know the students’ faces. They don’t know the RAs, the RDs, the supervisors. They don’t know what goes on here, and it is bad for the school.
Bernard believes Fordham Security’s “mentality needs a complete takedown and rebuilding. Bernard’s mentality focuses around familiarity and community; he believes guards should be expected to remain in a static post, get to know the faces of the residents, know their tendencies, and know the feeling of the building in which they work. Instead, security guards are asked to remain sterile in relation to the residents and to follow procedure without exception. If a student has forgot his or her ID card, the guard is not supposed to let the student in, even if the guard personally knows the student and can verify for a fact that the student is a resident in that hall.
After a recent situation involving a resident requesting to retrieve a bag from his room without signing in a guest, Bernard was scolded for making a judgment call by the higher-ups in security. They told Bernard that after 22 years on the job, he was “not qualified to make that sort of a decision without calling a supervisor first.”
That was a sort of last straw for Bernard, who has worked here longer than any of his supervisors, and who knows his job inside and out. Speaking about it later, he was enraged about the situation. But at the time, Bernard said he swallowed his emotion, imitating his first daughter, Harriet, who taught him to control his emotions and thoughts.
“ I have never felt so degraded at a job. All my children have good jobs except me; I’m here working this shit.” He says the pension won’t cover all the costs for his family, so he keeps working. “But I’m leaving soon. And when I do, I might write a letter to Fordham. A long letter. But right now, I have to keep my job.
I try to make the best of it, but I call it survival,” he said, “and what I’m doing is just surviving.”