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Kate Chandler’s Letter to the Editor is an Insensitive Response That Misses the Point

What we want from the university is for them to acknowledge that the Go Local program is discriminatory. What we got, instead, was a shallow, institutional response that invalidated students’ experiences of inequity within the global network.

Nov 1, 2020

As Senior Opinion Editor at The Gazelle, I was surprised to read Acting Assistant Vice Chancellor Kate Chandler’s response to Managing Editor Abhyudaya Tyagi’s article about NYU’s decision to cancel study aways. I took issue with it because I believe my desk was vigilant in ensuring that Tyagi’s arguments were fact-checked and substantiated. Moreover, I agree with Tyagi’s characterization of the Go Local program as discriminatory.
Specifically, Chandler took issue with Tyagi’s characterization of the decision as a “fiasco.” Tyagi wrote, “To add another layer of hypocrisy to this fiasco, the university has also chosen to extend the blatantly illogical Go Local program, which allows local residents to study at locations where they do not require a student visa. It assumes that student visas, rather than public health concerns, are the primary impediment to study away.” In response, Chandler wrote, “The real fiasco would be to put students knowingly at risk by scattering them around the globe and increasing exposure for them, faculty, staff and families at a time of great uncertainty and peril.”
The issue here is not so much about safety, but about who is classified as a threat, as someone who could possibly be at risk and put others at risk. The question that remains unanswered is: if people with the passport of a certain country can Go Local — including European students going to any of the sites in the European Union — then why is it that others, who may manage to obtain a visa or may not even need one, be forbidden to study away?
It seems that NYU is trying to control the amount of circulation within the global network, and the way they decided to do that is to filter by passport. The problem with this method, however, is that once again, people with weaker passports cannot study away while those with stronger passports can. It is as if people from non-Western countries are somehow threats to countries’ public health, while those with strong passports are not. As Tyagi put it, “for no compelling reason, the university has decided to provide students with privileged passports, mostly from the West, with access to study away opportunities that were denied to everyone else.”
NYU’s Go Local program webpage states that “To be eligible for Go Local at any NYU location, students must be able to reside and study in that country for the duration of the semester without the issuance of a student visa.” This clearly shows that NYU is not concerned with students’ health, as Chandler argued, but with logistics. For example, if a student with a French passport lives in Russia, the student can Go Local not only in Paris but also in Florence, Berlin, Prague and Madrid. Even though moving outside Russia puts her and others at risk, the Go Local program does not prevent her from doing that.
In other words, people don’t always live in their country of citizenship and yet can move around due to their privileged passports. Therefore, the policy that should have been adopted is that if the student can obtain their own visa, they should be eligible to study away.
In addition, Chandler’s refutation of Tyagi’s “assertion that the program ‘privileged passports, mostly from the West’” is frankly ridiculous. She wrote that “the totals across the sites do not support this view, with the largest number by far of those ‘going local’ studying at [NYU Shanghai].” While I am not questioning that statistic, this argument does not deny the fact that the program still privileges students from the West. It simply implies that there are many Chinese students enrolled at NYU New York and NYU Abu Dhabi, and thus can go local at NYUSH.
It is, frankly, insensitive and distasteful that Chandler used this NYUSH statistic to deny that passport privilege affects students’ mobility within the global network. Passport privilege exists and has always affected NYUAD students even before the pandemic. How could it not be at play given the illogical Go Local and study away policies?
What we want from the university, at the very least, is for them to acknowledge that the Go Local program is discriminatory. By publishing the article, we weren’t necessarily expecting a policy change. We were just expecting some empathy and compassion. But what we got was a shallow, institutional response that invalidated students’ experiences of inequity within the global network.
Tom Abi Samra is Senior Opinion Editor. Email him at
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