Illustration by Oscar Bray.

To Catch a Campus Thief

The seeming increase in campus thefts this academic year has many students concerned. NYUAD may not be directly responsible, but it should take active steps to hold thieves accountable.

Apr 10, 2021

In the past three months, I have seen countless posts on NYU Abu Dhabi’s student Facebook pages reporting stolen items. The authors of these posts indicated that many of their belongings had mysteriously disappeared, and this theft mostly occurred in the laundry room. This is likely only a fraction of the thefts taking place, as many go unreported.
The seemingly heightened incidences of theft occurring this academic year threatens the harmony of the campus community and fosters feelings of mistrust among students. The issue at hand is that although talks are pending by NYUAD Student Government, there are currently not nearly enough campus policies that address theft, nor formal processes in place to increase accountability — and this needs to change.
Jianna Jackson, Class of 2024, has had items taken from the laundry room on two separate occasions. “The first one was in late January. They were a pair of shorts, however the person did reach out to bring them back. And the second occurrence was… [in] February. I lost a tank top and another pair of gym shorts, these were in the laundry.”
Like other students, Jackson posted on the student Facebook page Room of Requirement in an attempt to get her still missing items returned. This was unsuccessful.
While thefts have popped up in the past, from the apparent increase in the number of social media posts, it appears that thefts have risen exponentially during the past academic year — especially Spring 2021. But why? Why are people not being held accountable? One glaring obstacle in holding thieves accountable is the lack of formal and clear campus policies addressing how theft is dealt with.
Mentions of theft on student policy pages only highlight how it is a punishable offence. Within the residential colleges, “[thefts] or unauthorized use or possession of personal or university property or services” is listed as a community standards violation, subject to “disciplinary action” and “sanctions.” This attitude regarding theft is also affirmed more broadly on campus by the Student Code of Conduct.
That being said, none of these policies allude to how theft will be determined, nor how students can report stolen items. This creates ambiguity as to what happens when something goes missing under suspicious circumstances. This adds to what some may perceive as a gap between the action of theft and its consequences. What students need are transparent guidelines that help explain what authorities they can go to in the case of theft and the steps that can be taken to investigate the situation.
In addition, while theft is subject to disciplinary actions, the student portal highlights that: “use of the laundry room or any other facility outside of your assigned space is at your sole risk or the sole risk of your [guests], and NYUAD will not be liable for any injury or loss, theft, or damage to, any property suffered by you or your [guests] while using such facilities.”
NYUAD may not be responsible for losses or damages, but it should be responsible for holding thieves accountable on campus. While theft is listed as a punishable offense, it still happens. And despite the fact that these thefts occur in public spaces, it seems as if few culprits are caught. As such, while disciplinary measures may be in place, the lack of clarity and accessibility surrounding the reporting procedure does not due enough to prevent thievery and does not meet the needs of the campus at this current moment. How would a thief get caught if there are no leads to whom it could be? How does one prove they are not just pointing fingers at one another?
It is strange that this campus has so much surveillance, yet the spaces where students continuously report thefts occurring in — especially laundry rooms — do not have cameras. The laundry room is listed as a public space as per NYUAD’s policy, so it should be treated with the same surveillance policies as other campus spaces. With a lack of security cameras in the laundry rooms and an abundance of blind spots on campus, how can students report thefts if there is no clear evidence of it occurring?
Leo Al-azhab, Class of 2022, also relayed her experience of having all of her towels stolen in late 2020: “I know that it is not an accident because they were together with a bedsheet and a pillowcase in a washing machine … whoever stole them deliberately took only the towels out and put the washing machine back on with the bedsheet.”
“I think the rise in thefts might be because people realised that no one does anything. Like you know, people threaten to report to public safety but they don’t do anything as far as I know, so people are like ‘oh even if I do this I won’t get caught/in trouble,’” said Al-azhab.
It may be easy to reduce this issue to one of students not taking enough responsibility over their belongings and leaving them unattended. But such an argument implies that theft is easily avoidable. It is not reasonable to tell students that they are the problem, and that thefts would not occur if they remain in the laundry room when doing laundry. Realistically, as NYUAD’s student body gets bigger, we can’t maintain the same level of trust in the community and should be cautious about leaving valuables unattended when feasible — such as in dining facilities and the library. But the problems we are facing with theft transcend the sole solution of students being more proactive with their personal belongings.
El-azhab concluded that these occurrences damaged her perception of the student community. “It’s really frustrating and annoying because I feel like I can no longer trust this community. I used to hate doing laundry to begin with because some people are really disrespectful to other people’s clothes, but now I hate it even more because on top of that I’m like ‘What if something more important to me than towels gets stolen’?”
Ultimately, we need to have more detailed policies and proactive measures in place. That can happen through installing additional security cameras, introducing accessible reporting policies and holding community-wide conversations on the issue. By having more strategies in place to detect thieves, reporting crimes would be a much smoother process and disciplinary action can ensue, which would encourage more people to report cases of theft and create a culture of accountability. At the end of the day, thieves need to be held accountable for their actions.
Sidra Dahhan is Columns Editor. Email her at
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