Reflections on Sydney Monfries’ Passing

A special report from the Fordham Observer News Desk



Photos, candles and flowers line the steps of Keating Hall, the building where the accident occurred, to honor the life of Sydney Monfries.

During the month of April, Fordham University became the center of a national media storm surrounding the passing of Sydney Monfries, Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) ’19. In the eyes of most students close to her, Monfries was the victim of a series of tragic events. Her death, which was in most regards a freak accident, became the target of intense scrutiny nationwide drawing criticism and commentary from the furthest reaches of the country.

Students from New Jersey to California reported that they were approached by family and friends alike over Easter break in regards to Monfries’ passing. They report being met with every reaction from concern to admonishment, as misperception of the events and a national search to place blame quickly overshadowed the impact of Monfries’ loss to the Fordham community.

Coverage by national outlets such as The Daily Mail and The New York Post was regarded by many students as sensational and inappropriate, drawing harsh criticism in a staff editorial by Rose Hill’s student newspaper, The Fordham Ram. Yet that coverage was precisely what guided the national conversation that enabled people — even those completely removed from the Fordham community — to assign blame.

Voices from across the country saw the event as a reason to implicate the Fordham community of wrongdoing. Between the perception that it was the University’s neglect or the accusation that Monfries herself was to blame, there was no shortage of opinion thrown at the Fordham name.

And then, almost as suddenly as it started, the national conversation around Monfries gave way to the next sensational headline. After passing judgment on the way she died, few took time to reflect on the life that she lead.

To students at Fordham, the painful aftermath of these events is still apparent. At Rose Hill in particular, there has been a very different tone of the conversation surrounding the life and legacy of Monfries.

Monfries passed away just weeks before graduation. The University confirmed that they will posthumously present Monfries a bachelor’s degree in May. She majored in Journalism and had interned as a Photo Editor at InStyle magazine during her time at the University.

In a joint statement released by United Student Government, Commuting Students Association, Residence Halls Association and Campus Activities Board, they stated that “she loved, and was loved by, the hundreds of lives that she touched throughout her four years at Fordham.”

Instead of sensationalizing her death, as much of the country did, the Fordham community sought to remember and honor the life of Sydney Monfries.

The Sunday of Monfries’ passing, scheduled Palm Sunday services at the Rose Hill University Church were extended to comfort the Rose Hill community. Students filled every pew, lining each wall and standing in crowds filing out of the entryways as mourners gathered together. The service was somber, as the congregation, choir members and clerics alike fought back tears.

On Tuesday, April 16, a memorial service honoring Monfries was held at the same University Church, which was covered closely by The Fordham Ram. The chapel was again completely filled, with countless members of the Rose Hill community gathering to celebrate Monfries’ life. Many close friends of Monfries shared stories and expressed gratitude for having known her.

The nature of Monfries’ untimely and tragic death shook nearly every student at Fordham — shortly after Monfries’ passing, Rose Hill students were hesitant to spend time on Eddie’s Lawn, the popular public space in front of Keating Hall, despite the much-awaited warmer temperatures. Crowded elevators in the Leon Lowenstein building became discussion halls about how Monfries had passed. Students from both campuses report that in the week following the event, they could not go more than a few hours without overhearing a conversation about her.

A story that drew eyes from around the country took place on Fordham’s campus, and directly affected Fordham’s students.

While students from both campuses were affected by the news, there was admittedly a difference in the way that the event and ensuing coverage impacted each campus.

As one Lincoln Center student put it, “the tone at Lincoln Center was a lot less serious. It was definitely in the back of everyone’s mind,” they said, “but if this had happened at Lincoln Center, people would’ve been a lot more affected.”

The Observer, as the student voice of Fordham Lincoln Center, respects that the Rose Hill campus dealt with Monfries’ passing in a much more personal way.

Further, it is understood that in the immediate aftermath of the event, The Observer’s coverage was one of many remote voices that potentially contributed to the sensationalization of Monfries’ passing. Artificial divides between the two communities had in some ways detached the students of Lincoln Center from the gravity of what had occurred on the Rose Hill campus.

In the aftermath of such distressing events, one point remains abundantly clear: the loss of a Fordham community member is a loss for all of us.

This academic year also saw the untimely and tragic loss of three other Fordham students: Donika Celaj, FCRH ’18,  Nicholas Booker, FCRH ’22 and Rachel Ragone, Gabelli School of Business at Rose Hill ’16. Summer break saw the loss of university provost Stephan M. Freedman. Over Winter break, Fordham Law lost professor Kimberly Greer. Just last week on April 26, Francis Simon, a dining services employee at Rose Hill, passed.

Each circumstance confronted the Fordham community with a different loss, but the absence of these individuals has not gone unnoticed. Each of these deaths were of themselves a tragedy, but the life and legacy of every one of these Fordham community members is worth remembering.

If Monfries’ passing has shown the Fordham community anything, it is that death is not to be sensationalized. Rather, life is to be celebrated.