Pattern of U.S. Student Leadership Undermines Diversity

There is a small U.S. American flag above the writing desk in my dorm. It’s easy to miss, and even I often forget that the stars and stripes I have ...

Sep 21, 2013

There is a small U.S. American flag above the writing desk in my dorm. It’s easy to miss, and even I often forget that the stars and stripes I have pledged allegiance to so many times is on perpetual display. It is the only flag in room 1814, where all three inhabitants are U.S. Americans. This latter fact was only noted when we moved in together — it had happened unintentionally. We had unconsciously made an enclave of concentrated ‘Muricanism.
Incidental Americanization of our university and its students is a frequent topic of discussion. “Where is the balance?” we ask ourselves. We have called ourselves the World’s Honors College, but we are an institution based in the United States and our degrees will be accredited therein.
The class of 2014 is about one-third U.S. American, and each subsequent class has contained a progressively smaller proportion. This would imply that institutionally — on a student level — Americanization should be on the decline.
Yet this does not appear to be the case. At the Student Interest Group leaders meeting last week, 13 of the 25 chairpersons were U.S. American. The two highest offices of our student government have been, since Brett Bolton’s administration, predominantly U.S. Americans. I don’t know the numbers, but if I were a betting man I would wager that U.S. Americans are overrepresented on committees. Student leadership at NYU Abu Dhabi simply does not reflect the composition of the student body.
There are probably a number of decent explanations for the U.S.-focused makeup of student leadership. Perhaps it’s the result of our culture, or maybe its roots lie in a unique understanding of the students’ role in the structure of a university. Whatever the reason, a serious and frank discussion needs to happen to address the severe overrepresentation of U.S. Americans in student leadership roles. Not only is this unsustainable as incoming classes contain relatively fewer U.S. Americans, but it also reflects poorly on all students here at NYUAD.
With so many U.S. Americans in leadership positions, an unthoughtful visitor to our community could come to one of two embarrassing conclusions. The first is that the U.S. Americans at NYUAD are power-hungry and have managed to push out other nationalities from governance and leadership. The second is that other students are simply lacking in initiative. Neither could be further from the truth.
All NYUAD students have a measure of initiative. Being at NYUAD, starting a university — even including you freshmen, Rome wasn’t built in a day — is an initiative enough to impress. That’s not to mention past student achievements in the Hult Prize, the Sila Connection and the Global Issues Network Conference, all of which are programs driven by students from across the globe. And, though we have power-hungry students, U.S. Americans are certainly not more likely to be so.
Yet, despite the great diversity and initiative present in our student body, there is a dire lack of proportional representation in leadership positions. Why is there not more diversity in the creation and running of SIGs? Why is the executive board of student government so U.S. American? These are the questions that we need to answer if the structures of our student leadership and SIGs is to represent the student body and be more than just U.S. American.
Stephen Underwood is a contributing writer. Email him at
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