Throughout my career, I have regularly been reminded of the power of the collective voice. As I reflect on how we connect during this particularly challenging time, a time where communities across the world are battling long standing systemic inequities — whether they be racism, xenophobia or those exacerbated by Covid-19 — I am constantly reminded of the words of Corretta Scott King. The celebrated activist, author and civil rights leader said
: “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”
That spirit of concern, care and empathy typically arises from an understanding of the lived experiences within the community. As I set out to learn about the NYU Abu Dhabi community, I pursued this spirit of care and compassion, as well as the resulting understandings, and I found in place excellent work that had begun in this area.
My predecessors Tamu Al Islam, Director of Inclusion and Equity, and Alta Mauro, Director of Spiritual Life and Intercultural Education, along with student leaders and organizations, started the hard work of bringing anti-racism and Inclusion, Diversity, Belonging and Equity work to the forefront of this institution. While racism is thought of as a problem restricted to the U.S. context, it is, undoubtedly, a global phenomenon. When Vice Chancellor Mariët Westermann made her commitments
to building a more inclusive institution last year, she also launched the Implementation Committee on Race, Diversity and Belonging and initiated the development of an accountability framework. This framework
ensures that the community is aware of the progress we are making across the institution, with the Implementation Committee coordinating these efforts. So, with this work underway, it was fitting to name the community survey Our NYUAD: Journey to Belonging.
To continue making progress on this journey, we must first understand what is already being done to support diversity and inclusion, what is working well from our community’s perspective and, importantly, how we can do more. The goal of this survey is to assess how all members of our community experience the living, learning and working environment at NYUAD with respect to IDBE across multiple dimensions, including race, gender, ability, socioeconomic background, nationality, religion and other forms of identity.
While “climate” on its own can have a variety of meanings, “campus climate” refers to the general atmosphere experienced by members of the campus community, primarily in terms of their overall comfort, their sense of safety and belonging, and whether they feel valued, treated fairly and with respect. This survey is tailored for our distinctly diverse community and introduces a new demographic data model that is specific to our context. This model does not rely on the traditional U.S. or U.K. based census classification generally used by American higher-education institutions. Instead, it is a community survey, and consequently, is customized for our community, factoring in all the elements that make this institution and community uniquely distinctive.
Every voice matters. Participating in this survey will help us shape the next 10 years and beyond at NYUAD. The valuable perspectives shared now will help shape the experiences of this community and those who join for years to come.
The next phase of this journey will involve continued engagement with the community to respond to insights and findings gathered from the survey. This will also come with difficult truths and an uncomfortable reckoning of where we have fallen short, but we must accept these as an institution and move toward action. The goal is to provide the groundwork for a comprehensive, strategic plan to advance IDBE work at NYUAD. The plan will drive many changes that include improved representation among faculty and staff and diversifying the academic curriculum, as well as the implementation of programs and services that enhance the climate at NYUAD.
My philosophy on IDBE work aligns with a proverb from my native Gambia: “If your only tool is a hammer, you will see every problem as a nail.” IDBE work is often approached from a deficit framework, starting with a litany of issues and problems that need to be fixed. However, based on my legal and academic background, I believe IDBE work is most effectively approached through the asset based model. Simply put, IDBE is synonymous with excellence and innovation.
In the nearly two decades that I have been on this IDBE journey, I have had the opportunity of working in the legal field, non-profit organizations, elementary school systems, a large research institution and a small liberal arts institution, and teaching incarcerated youth. I have had the opportunity to work in diversity, equity and inclusion across a wide range of constituencies, including those where diversity work is not always apparent. In all of those experiences, one thing has been consistent: the power of the collective voice and accountability. By participating in the survey and providing the critical information we need, we too, like countless other universities and colleges, can hold NYUAD accountable for change. I encourage you to take the survey because this community is for us all. This is our NYUAD.
The survey is open to all NYUAD community members until May 15. You can find your unique survey link in an email sent from Qualtrics titled Our NYUAD - Journey to Belonging.
Fatiah Touray is NYU Abu Dhabi's Senior Director of Inclusion and Equity. Email her at email@example.com.