Illustration by Dhabia Al Mansoori

Why NYU’s Go Local Option is Unfair and Discriminatory

The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted that NYU did not display efficiency, honesty and equal opportunity when it came to study away and global opportunities.

Why did you enroll in New York University? If you are like me, global opportunities and learning through traveling must have been among your top priorities. That would not be surprising –– NYU takes pride in being a leader in global education. However, that vision was challenged by the way the institution approached the study away program for the fall 2020 semester. It turns out that only individuals with strong passports and a minority of other students were allowed to spend their semester abroad, while the majority were denied this opportunity.
This fall, the university’s study away policy demonstrated unfairness in two major ways. First, it failed to provide all students who could have studied abroad the opportunity to do so. Second, the university’s unclear communication and poor decision-making resulted in some students being able to benefit from a study away experience, while most could not. Both of these shortcomings were rationalized by the Covid-19 pandemic when, in fact, most of the issues precluding a large group of students from Going Local or studying away had a fix.
Due to the pandemic, the Office of Global Programs made a decision to cancel study away semesters for almost everyone. This was explained in terms of concerns for students’ safety and public health. However, some students were granted an opportunity to spend their fall 2020 semester at one of the global sites via the Go Local option. Specifically, this meant that if you were able “to live and study in that country for the duration of the semester without the issuance of a student visa,” you could study at that global site.
This basically translated to: if you have an European Union passport, you can go to Berlin, Paris, Madrid, London, Florence or Prague –– just choose. US citizens were also able to benefit by choosing between the New York, Los Angeles and Washington DC campus. Meanwhile, Chinese, Argentinian, Ghanian and Australian citizens could each go to one designated campus.
Together, students from Annex II countries — a list of countries which do not require a Schengen visa for stays up to 90 days in the EU — petitioned for more clarity and opportunities with regards to the Go Local policy. We thought that if we did not need a visa for most of our semester –– 90 days out of the semester’s regular 110 days –– we should be able to study away at a global site. We also believed that if we could get a visa on our own, we should not be precluded from an educational and global opportunity.
If a student lives on another continent, but has a US or EU passport, they could still benefit from the policy. By contrast, they could not benefit from it if they live somewhere in Western Ukraine or Bosnia, even if you can take a 30-minute drive to the EU border, without even needing a visa. Most were left with no option but to stay at home. Also, for some countries studying away without a student visa for a period under 90 days was clearly possible. For instance, citizens of the Annex II countries could go and study at NYU Florence without a student visa being issued for up to 90 days as confirmed by the Italian Foriegn Ministry. Below you can see a confirmation that individuals of an Annex II country — Ukraine, in this case — can indeed spend 90 days at NYU Florence legally.
We could have obtained visas independently, or at least have been given the opportunity to do so, as some students in different parts of the world could still access visa services. Take the French government, which decided to allow all international students to come regardless of the country of citizenship, even giving priority to student visas and residence permits.
The Global Programs Office, however, met our concern with close to zero response. They thanked us for our email, referred us to the Global Education Office at NYU Abu Dhabi and recommended that we filled the form before the deadline, but did not comment on the petition itself. Two students, including myself, did apply, as the office suggested, but were still rejected from the program.
Not everyone felt that the policy was discriminatory. Many students simply did not view Go Local as evidence of NYU’s double standards: an institution that positioned itself as a bastion of equality had failed to provide an equal opportunity to study away and make the most of living in a global site for all citizenships. Among those who didn’t recognize the issues with this policy was the Office of Equal Opportunity. To my complaint, the office stated that it did not find the Go Local policy to be discriminatory. It is hard to say if such a lack of recognition is frustrating, surprising or both.
I would have thought an office whose title includes the phrase “Equal Opportunity” would have assisted students in accessing this option equally. Had they reviewed our case seriously, they probably would have been able to support and advocate for students to get access to mental health and academic resources only available at physical sites, helped students have the chance to attend blended or in-person instruction, and made their overall educational experience richer and more fulfilling regardless of their citizenship. A fully online semester could not have possibly compensated for this. After all, the office clearly stated on its website that citizenship-based discrimination is one of the numerous things they work against.
But this is not the end of the story. Plot twist: you could go study at NYU New York, even without going local.
Despite the university's purported decision to cancel study aways, The Gazelle can verify that several NYUAD students are already studying away in the United States over the fall. This was confirmed to me by the OGS and Global Education offices via email. These students, surprisingly, are not US residents or citizens. Nevertheless, they were still allowed to go to the New York campus since they were able to secure their visas by the beginning of July.
Initially, the Office of Global Education had claimed that study aways were cancelled. Later, it was announced that it might be possible to spend the semester in New York specifically if students could secure their own visas. However, this change in policy was never publicly announced to all students. In order to enquire how such a decision was made and why it was not communicated to all people who could have studied in New York or other site locations, I reached out to the Office of Global Programs.
When asked about the lack of communication about alternative possibilities to manage a semester abroad, the Office of Global Programs replied: “Students who were admitted to study away at NYU New York in April were provided the opportunity to study in New York, provided they obtained the proper visa in early July.” In reality, there was no clear communication with the students who could have studied away this semester, but due to the university’s malfunctioning policy, did not.
In short, the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted that NYU did not display efficiency, honesty and equal opportunity when it came to study away and global opportunities. Moving forward, NYU should acknowledge the discriminatory nature of the policy and promise to provide study away opportunities in Spring 2021 for all students who directly suffered from it. Not all of us might be vocal about our feelings and concerns, but NYU should initiate a dialogue instead of hiding behind what seem like insincere apologies. And instead of redirecting us to academic mentors, the university could redirect itself to clearer communication and fairer policy-making.
Davit Jintcharadze is a Contributing Writer. Email him at
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