A community as diverse as ours is rare and fitting into this community is a continuous process — one I never consciously thought about. However, a recent interaction with a first-year helped me realize the nuances surrounding our sense of belonging and comfort within this community. They told me that they were removed by previous administrators from the NYU Abu Dhabi Room of Requirement Facebook group, a forum in which students ask questions, share resources and generally discuss campus issues, for posting offensive comments. A RoR ban may be a rare situation, but it is still a good example of how our community deals with confrontation in a way that does not give the offender a chance to grow.
As our community grows in size, people from more diverse backgrounds are coming in with different ideas of political correctness. I can use the context of Nepal — the one with which I’m most familiar — to describe one. My country only had a few students coming in each year and mostly from the same elite schools. Now, we have people coming in from different places and not all of them have had access to the social groups and resources that would allow them to be aware of what is acceptable and what is not in a diverse community like ours. In school, my teacher would use stereotypical words about my ethnicity because it was common to do so and I only realized how wrong their actions were after coming to NYUAD. Not everyone grew up in a context where they were aware of the importance of inclusion. Realizing this does not mean we do not acknowledge the offense. We should not accept offensive behavior, but sometimes we should expect it and take the right step to ensure that it does not happen again.
If no one is interested in talking about why something is wrong but only in proving their moral superiority, it is not possible for someone to open up and learn from their mistakes. The NYUAD community is one of a kind in terms of diversity. Most of us have not been exposed to an environment that would allow us to be at the level of political correctness we need to be respectful members of this community. But that is what we are here for. We learn things gradually and keep growing.
However, if you are removed from RoR even before starting to unpack your life on campus, the ways in which you can learn are severely limited. This is a serious situation because RoR is a vital resource for members of this community, from borrowing pots and pans to looking at course reviews to, most importantly, finding resources to learn about inclusion and respectfulness on campus.
Such a punitive way of dealing with people who do or say something offensive can extend beyond social media within different social groups on campus. If people decide to just exclude someone when they do something wrong instead of informing them that what they did was wrong, that person will never learn and just go on to repeat the disrespectful action.
Here, my intention is not to portray people who do something offensive as victims. The emotional toll of such interactions is definitely heaviest on the person who was on the receiving end. Therefore, it is not easy to ask people to just go around educating those who say something offensive to them. Confrontation is difficult and even though “learning from mistakes” is an overused term, we know that it works
. The point is that if we can not personally confront someone, the person who made the mistake should still have some door open for them to learn and grow. Shunning or banning someone is closing all doors.
If people are excluded from social groups or barred from resources like RoR, the learning process becomes difficult. Offending someone could come from plain ignorance, or like for me, it can also come from clumsily translating thoughts into understandable English. I was fortunate enough to have friends who let me know about my mistakes and to have the other resources our community provides. Not everyone has this same privilege: what prompted me to write this article was the response I heard when I asked the first-year student what they had said to get removed from RoR. It was pretty clear to me why the administrators might have decided to ban them. But the way they were describing the offense made me realize that they did not even know what they did wrong.
Did banning help in this situation? I guess it did in some way. The comment probably got deleted and no one else had to see it. However, that response made me think that the person did not learn a lot from the experience and they would never learn unless someone confronts them. It was easy to point out that what the person said was wrong and shouldn’t be allowed. Giving the person a second chance and telling them why it was wrong was the alternative choice that was harder to make. In the moment, banning might have been the best, most immediate solution. But will the same person deserve to stay banned a year from now?
Ultimately, we should expect some mistakes from our peers because we are a unique, diverse community with different life experiences that inform our behaviour. If all of us were already experts on this matter, there would be no need for an NYUAD on this planet.
Safal Shrestha is a Contributing Writer. Email him at email@example.com.