On April 20, a group of NYU Abu Dhabi students penned an open letter to the community
under the name “Voices of NYUAD.” In a few short paragraphs, the authors paint a picture of a community that has allegedly evolved into a negative and hateful space, plagued by what they label as “social adversarialism.” They describe NYUAD as a place where “intellectual freedom goes to die” and urge students and faculty members to band together in support of a future where “diversity of opinion on any topic is not only expected but cherished”. In essence, the authors reductively categorize students in two camps. On one end, there is the “cyber mob” whose member’s assumed goal is to “silence anything and anyone they disagree with”. On the other, the authors, who collectively represent an oppressed group of “intellectual minorities.” What is more, they weaponized a recent unfortunate incident of cyber bullying to advance their aims.
Let us be clear: all forms of bullying are reprehensible and should be condemned with full force and without reservation. We endorse the administration’s call for compassionate accountability. Nonetheless, the authors dishonestly conflate real problems of bullying with reasonable criticism of bigoted ideas perpetuating harmful structures of inequality. For example, they suggest that students have been using “any tactic at their disposal — from shouting down to cyberbullying to intimidate students who don’t think the same way as they do.” This conflation is a disservice, both to the vibrancy of our intellectual community and to the gravity of the incidents in question.
Marginalized students calling out privileged students for holding bigoted opinions is not the same as bullying. We believe it is dangerous to assign the label of bullying to community members coming out in opposition to comments that caused genuine harm. If so-called intellectual minorities want to share their discriminatory views, then they should be prepared to hear the responses of their colleagues.
The letter also makes a pointed critique of The Gazelle, suggesting that recent management decisions imply that the publication is no longer a “platform open to all student voices.” While we welcome and encourage any and all criticism of our publication, this claim is patently false. In our time in office, this Management team has never rejected a concrete pitch from any writer, regardless of their political affiliation. In fact, several of the letter’s signatories have written articles for The Gazelle, others have held official editorial positions and some have been approached by us and invited to contribute.
While we strive to approach all our editorial decisions with a commitment to moral clarity and factual accuracy, we are opposed to any form of journalism that intends, causes or projects harm towards genuinely minoritized communities. We do believe that questions of positionality and harm should be considered when deciding which voices to center. And while we do share the authors’ admiration for open intellectual spaces, we recognize that such spaces can only truly exist if marginalized students feel safe, welcomed and affirmed.
The letter is laced with privilege, as the signatories, the majority of whom are white or male, co-opt the language of the oppressed, using words such as courage, threat, safety, marginality and minorities to defend their positions. Essentially, the authors insensitively equate their own work to the struggle of minority communities for their right to exist. For us, the safety of our community members must always take precedence: those whose safety actually has and continues to be under threat, unlike the authors who dishonestly co opt the language of the oppressed to claim threat and marginalization.
While most of the letter is vague, the authors make their ultimate intentions clear. They criticize an article titled “The Gazelle Cannot Be Neutral on Equality”
which argues against the publication
of a transphobic article
by Nicholas Patas, Class of 2021. By implicitly defending Patas’ article, it is difficult not to interpret such a perspective as justifying the harm such an article caused. To us, transphobia could never be equatable to intellectual freedom – as the notion of acceptance cannot apply to bigoted beliefs.
Moreover, the problems with the letter go far beyond its faulty arguments or insensitive framing. As our reporting reveals
, the letter itself was edited, to the extent of being ghost-written, by the American political consultant Frank Luntz. His record – promoting global warming denial
, the Iraq War
and Israel’s violence towards Palestinians
through the use of rhetorical manipulation – is not indicative of promoting productive conversation, rather forwarding right-wing partisan goals. His interference with student matters does not bode well for the goals of anti-bullying, equality and accountability that our newspaper is meant to embody.
While we are honored that Luntz decided to take a break from defending
those behind America’s opioid crisis to help students comment on the nature of freedom of speech on their campus, we must reflect on the implications of an outsider — particularly one specializing in manipulation and holding a considerable degree of power — interfering in student matters. If there is a genuine threat to intellectual freedom on campus, then this must be discussed and vigorously debated among the student body, not outsourced to Luntz. The so-called voices of NYUAD allowed themselves to be hijacked by the voice of a man who has long treated the truth as a disposable commodity.
Most students at NYUAD are neither part of a cyber mob, nor see themselves as so-called “intellectual minorities.” Instead, this is a community where most students have striven to understand, accept and appreciate diversity in all its forms. In that spirit, we invite the authors of the letter to use our platform to discuss, debate and contest our views. Hopefully, this can lead to more meaningful discussions about the intellectual environment on campus, ones that do not require the intervention of a Republican pollster and strategist.
Kaashif Hajee and Laura Assanmal are Editors in Chief, and Abhyudaya Tyagi, Ari Hawkins and Dylan Palladino are Managing Editors. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.