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NYU India and the Diversity Fallacy

Narrow-minded perspectives on what constitutes diversity homogenizes a group of people with different experiences, who have lived across the world, and who speak dozens of languages to an indistinguishable, brown clump.

Sep 30, 2018

The blip in the global leader calendar — that brief period after summer internships have ended and before NYU Classes sites have been published — is characterized by countless controversial and explosive anonymous posts on one of NYU Abu Dhabi’s infamous confession pages. One such post this summer expressed concern about the nature of ethnic diversity on campus, suggesting that South Asian representation is disproportionate and hard to overlook. Admittedly, the author did “[sign] up for NYU Abu Dhabi not NYU India,” but their obliviousness to both the inaccuracy and shallowness of their statement reveals the hierarchy of ethnic groups as constructed by certain members of the student body and their restrictive idea of what diversity entails.
South Asia, with a population of over 1.8 billion people, comprises 21 to 25 percent of the world's population. While I am unsure whether this statistic is reflected in the student body, South Asia is only one of many regions that may be overrepresented on campus. Other countries are similarly overrepresented at NYUAD, a relic of the school's unequal outreach programs and reputation across the world. For the anonymous author to single out a region that is far from homogenous as an impediment to the unparalleled diversity promised at NYUAD reveals a flawed bias targeting an ethnic group whose members they would rather do without.
Additionally, the author insists that since their opinion is shared by others, it could not be merely a personal observation. Unfortunately, the subjectivity of their claim does not depend on whether or not it has been corroborated by other students. These students’ perceptions of the demographics on this campus are influenced by their background and the demographics they have experienced in their own upbringing, making them hyper-aware of unfamiliar ethnicities and indifferent to the rest. Supporters of the original author divulge this possibility, insisting that they cannot grow intellectually without exposure to new ideas and diverse backgrounds, and that the dominating Indians or South Asians prevent this. This simple but damaging statement reveals the misconception that cultural growth and awareness can only exist in an environment that silences and restrains the too many brown people. To say that certain regions of the world are not able to culturally educate as much as others is to imply that a global education should be skewed to expose students to the type of diversity they deem deserving. NYUAD was built to deconstruct this very prejudice.
In a university founded on collaboration between people differing in background, perspective and ambition, expressing your disapproval of the number of people from a large region of the world is equivalent to intolerance and narrow-mindedness. The word disproportionate defines a certain number of people that look moderately alike, speak the same language or have the same passport — or none of those, for many South Asians — that a student of the World’s Honors College is okay with. The word inadvertently informs a heterogenous people that they have nothing more to share about their culture or experience. Diversity of thought and ideas should matter more than a single student from Iceland, for instance, or 200 students from an entire subcontinent.
To defend the author of the post, students may have been misled. Can we blame racial biases from manifesting when the university advertises itself through statistics about citizenships, languages and the full spectrum of countries and colors represented? Hurtful opinions that make a regional group feel superfluous originate when students are promised a stimulating academic environment centered around a singular and superficial definition of diversity. Annual By the Numbers reports shape the incoming global citizen’s notion of internationality and set them up for disappointment when they evaluate their peers on a one-dimensional aspect of their identity.
It is prejudice to call out one of many overrepresented groups on campus as bothersome to you, just as it is reprehensible to claim that they are inhibiting your cultural growth. To agree with an anonymous comment supporting the original post, “diversity of backgrounds, cultures, races, genders, religions, nationalities … allows for people to learn from one another,” but this diversity can also be found in a seemingly uniform group of people. Narrow-minded perspectives on what constitutes diversity — and unreasonable expectations fuelled by the university’s promotional material — homogenizes a group of people with different experiences, who have lived across the world and who speak dozens of languages, to an indistinguishable brown clump. Despite what the author of the post thinks, this brown clump is a necessary and diverse community that only fosters the ideals this school was built on.
Priyanka Lakhiani is a Features Editor. Email her at
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