Illustration by Alexandra Najm.

Reflecting on the Past and Present: Centering Marginalized Voices in The Gazelle

From reporting on institutional racism on campus to violations of labor rights regulations and the plight of Palestinians, we delve into The Gazelle’s history, and reflect on the pieces that have historically centered minoritized voices.

Mar 28, 2021

As we reach our 200th issue, an important question needs to be asked: Does The Gazelle give all NYU Abu Dhabi community members an equal voice? Whose voices have been centered? Our two Editors in Chief discuss and reflect on historical instances where authors have penned pieces that center minoritized voices at NYUAD.
Black Lives Matter
In Aug. 2020, The Gazelle published a Black Lives Matter special issue.
Laura Assanmal, Class of 2021 and Editor in Chief, commented on why this issue had to be made during the summer, an unusual time for publication. “The violent murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police sparked so much grief, anger, protest and mass mobilization not only throughout the world but within our campus,” she said. “That summer, something that was always clear for our Black peers all along started to become clearer to our entire campus: that racist violence and anti-Blackness was pervasive in our community.”
“It would be wrong not to give students a platform to express their grievances … and to not give them [a] voice to express these extremely pertinent issues which, until then, NYUAD in general — not just the publication — had not addressed in a big way,” added Kaashif Hajee, Class of 2021 and Editor in Chief.
This issue was further inspired by what eventually became the feature article –Racism at NYU Abu Dhabi: A Global Problem at a Global University — which emphasized the pervasiveness of racism on campus. “Racism encompasses more than just overt instances: it also includes a lack of representation and racial consciousness that impacts the day-to-day experiences of Black students on campus,” the authors stated.
By reflecting on institutional racism through the absence of Black representation among Senior Leadership and instances of racism experienced among the student body, the authors highlighted how Black students’ voices are continually marginalized. Ultimately, they discussed how racism is a global issue, and that non-Black students are responsible for making themselves aware of their peers’ experiences.
Assanmal reflected on the importance of this piece in the special issue. “It all started with Waad, Charles, Nour, Yehowahi and Waseem's piece. After that, it felt morally imperative to only encourage Black students to speak during those times,” she said. “We had other submissions, other non-Black students wanting to write, but at the time it became a question of journalism ethics: whose voices do we center and for which conversations? Who are we listening to?”
This issue contained a number of pieces that sought to elevate overlooked voices, such as Yasmeen Tajiddin's, Class of 2022, and her reflection on how being a Black woman at NYUAD is exhausting, Tatyana Brown’s, Class of 2022, examination of the burden placed on Black student organizers in being solely responsible for creating spaces and opportunities due to institutional abandonment and Assanmal’s republished piece on AZIZA — a space created to unify Black women on campus.
“I challenge our administration to prove that their commitment to the Black student body does not end with the international outcry about Black Lives Matter; that our words and actions will not mean less than they do right now,” Brown stated in her article.
A recurring theme through this issue was how the university does not do enough to recognize minority voices — something that needed to be resolved in the long term. This issue was not just about providing a platform for students to passively listen to; it was about making people internalize these voices and care.
Assanmal provided her own insight into this matter. “We routinely fail our Black peers. We fall short in Black representation in our newsrooms, our pitches, our coverage. We have fallen short in nurturing and retaining Black talent. We have fallen short in making sure they feel encouraged and able to write about issues even outside Blackness. And most importantly, we want to do better. We are open to being held accountable by our community, and to learning how to make it a safer space.”
Reflecting Backward and Moving Forward: Representation in the Gazelle
Hajee believes that The Gazelle needs to actively recognize marginalized voices on campus. “That at the end of the day has been its goal. Of course when it comes to representing a voice … It’s not just a simple matter of having them being seen on a page,” he added, discussing how we need to be mindful of protecting certain voices in nuanced contexts.
For instance, last year The Gazelle made a controversial decision in publishing a piece about gender pronouns that many described as transphobic.
Hajee explained, in a response article: “I am deeply disappointed by this irresponsible, insensitive editorial choice. It is naive at best and at worst, deeply damaging … Neutrality, however, is not a core principle of journalistic integrity. Moral clarity, empathy and a commitment to the facts are.”
That said, many pieces have made conscious efforts to uphold values of inclusivity and equality, and protect voices too. “I do think we have seen progress, but there is a really long way to go,” Assanmal noted. “This year we have seen brilliant investigative reporting and really brave pieces centering minoritized voices.” Among these is a feature on the people who have worked in Mina Zayed for decades. This was a tribute to the men and women who have labored and found a home in that space that was soon to be redeveloped and whose voices and experiences are not frequently included in UAE journalistic pursuits.
Furthermore, authors have explored topics that put a spotlight on identities that are often overlooked, such as Class of 2020 Reema El-Kaiali’s piece on the plight of Palestinians, Mari Velasquez-Soler’s piece on the disastrous repercussions of Government repression in Nicaragua and Tom Abi Samra’s piece on the 2019 Lebanon protests.
It is key to highlight these voices because they exist within the NYUAD community whether or not everyone is aware of them. Assanmal elaborated on other notable topics the Gazelle has sought to vocalize in the past. “Way before our tenure, I think The Gazelle has played a larger role in covering violations to labor regulations and shedding light to migrant workers and contracted colleagues' issues in a way that we have not been able to this semester.”
Students have also leveraged The Gazelle to amplify the voices of contracted colleagues and domestic workers on campus by sharing their stories.
Such articles include one about Brendalle Belaza, a Filipina nanny and passionate photographer who co-taught workshops on campus. Another article highlights the nine women who worked as nail and hair technicians at the now defunct StudioXY on campus, and the bond they shared as integral members of our community.
“Studio XY[‘s]... location on campus and its familiar clientele are deeply reminiscent of NYUAD. But it is also a reminder that our university is built in a city greatly shaped by foreign workers. Like us, the stylists have created a home away from home through their friendships with each other. With Studio XY closing, we lose an understanding of the city and the migrants who inhabit it,” wrote Emily Broad, Class of 2022, in an article about the closing of Studio XY.
The Gazelle has worked to remind the community of how global we are and what that really means; marginality can also be understood in terms of displacement, passport privilege and socioeconomic disparity. It is something that many members of our community experience in some form or another and students have the potential to make a difference through their voices.
Their voices have power.
Sidra Dahhan is Columns Editor. Email her at
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