Photo by Koi Terai
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that New York University Abu Dhabi is still a transitioning school and that it has changed over the years. Student Life and Student Interest Groups have been no exception. The Gazelle spoke to Victor Lindsay, Associate Director of Student Activities about how SIGs have changed over time.
For him, the continuously expanding student body has been the key catalyst for the various changes that have happened over the years.
“In the beginning the school was so small that everyone really did know everybody and everyone came to everything and that was important. That open mic night especially and the culture events we used to do, everyone came and they stayed the entire time,” Lindsay said.
The move to the Saadiyat campus from the temporary Downtown Campus four years ago also changed the way students interacted with each other. Prior to Saadiyat, students, professors and staff all housed in Sama Tower, at the intersection of Airport Road and Electra Street. The small size of the NYUAD community back then and the proximity to each other at all times meant that the community was much closer than it is now. The move to a bigger space made a big difference.
“Especially in those first years on Saadiyat, I remember students telling me, I can walk around in the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday and never bump into someone. And I think people suddenly felt anonymous on this campus and I think that empowered people to self-select and to create some smaller minor communities in the midst of the larger student body but it also meant that suddenly we could get to a place where there were 15 things happening on the same day. The Arts Center, the Institute, student events, campus life etc.” Lindsay said.
One of the biggest changes that SIGs have gone through in the past few years is the split of continental and regional SIGs into country specific SIGs. The South Asian SIG, TASHAN was the first to split into TASHAN and the Pakistani Students Association. Since then, more country specific SIGs like the Ukrainian SIG and the Polish SIG have emerged. The Caribbean Students Association has been one of the newer additions.
A few years ago, when the SIGs began to split, a lot of Facebook fights emerged as students began to worry about whether country specific SIGs would become very exclusive when cultural SIGs were meant to encourage the whole NYUAD community to engage with a new culture. Lindsay felt that with a changing and growing student body, some of these changes may have been necessary.
“Now we had enough student and enough places, and also having that self-identifying group was important and so now we have several more kind of country specific SIGs or micro-community oriented SIGs … There is also a need to have a place where students can come and find people who look and feel like them in the midst of a very big campus where it’s easy to feel like no one understands you and you just want a little sense of home,” he said.
Over time, funding for SIGs became competitive. For example, in Fall 2015, students who were a part of SIGs like Attitude and the Equestrian Club had to co-pay for each practice session. Attitude is now funded by the Arts Center. Lindsay said that while students may feel like things are being taken away from them, it’s really more to create new challenges for students.
As the student body grew, the fight for resources on campus also became more competitive. New problems emerged for SIG leaders like booking spaces in advance and ensuring that schedules for major events didn’t clash.
“There was enough space and enough people that we started thinking actively about cross programing and scheduling and stuff like that and I think that has fractured some things. We still have good turnout for good mic but it’s not everyone. And we can’t fit everyone anywhere anymore except outdoors and in the football field,” Lindsay said, adding that the kind of commitment to events that was evident in the early NYUAD classes was also not sustainable.
While NYUAD will certainly undergo changes in the future, eight years have already passed since its inaugural class arrived and it is now coming to a point where there is a sense of establishment. Lindsay claims that with SIG leadership and Student Government positions, there is now a sense of continued stewardship. Of course, with only eight years behind us, a lot of history is still to be made.
“It’s only now, the first year students now or the next first year students who will have benefitted from having long term continuity because the very first class had four years at the old campus, everybody else was mixed and then this senior class has spent 4 years on Saadiyat but nobody has learned like there’s not a history on Saadiyat yet and we need more time for those kind of things to emerge and trying to figure out those kind of things,” Lindsay said.
Thirangie Jayatilake is Features Editor. Email her at [email protected]