“They were like there's no vacancy for your accommodation; that's what made me understand I wasn't a priority, because if I were, I would have been placed in my appropriate housing,” argued Price Maccarthy, Class of 2022.
Maccarthy’s frustration stems from the treatment of students with disabilities on campus, an issue on which she has been a key student organizer
. Over the last month, as the university grappled with the chaos of the last-minute cancellation of January Term, several students with disabilities were denied housing accommodations. Despite repeated student attempts to organize and advocate for their rights, accommodations were only provided to most students weeks after their arrival. In at least one case, a student is still yet to receive accommodation.
To receive preferential housing at NYU Abu Dhabi, one must have housing accommodations approved by NYU’s Moses Center for Student Accessibility
, the New York office responsible for student accessibility. For many students, their accommodation is a single room, i.e. a bedroom that they share with no one else. Several students without housing accommodations also reside in single rooms.
In a short interview with The Gazelle, Dean of Students, Michael Martinez, suggested that students being denied required accommodations for weeks was the result of a housing crunch caused by extenuating circumstances over the past month. Since early January, NYUAD, and Residential Education, in particular, has struggled to cope with the arrival of hundreds of students who had studied away in the Fall. The logistical challenge was exacerbated by the cancellation of January Term, a decision that the university took in response to the global emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. Martinez repeatedly suggested that housing accommodations for students with disabilities were the university’s most important priority and emphasized that the disruptions were unavoidable.
One of the administration’s claims, that made the situation worse, was that many of the students who were stuck with required housing didn’t get their approved accommodations because they failed to meet Moses Center deadlines to be approved for accommodations.
Maccarthy, who required a single room in a non-visitation residential hall among other accommodations, was first approved for housing accommodations by the Moses Center in October 2021. Maccarthy explained that she personally met the deadline, “I received my accommodations on the 27th of October and I had applied earlier than that, but that was when they sent me an email that I had received my accommodations. So they had from October to December… They won't allow you to be a day late with your Moses and accommodation application.”
However, a student who wished to stay anonymous, hence referred to as Clair Zane, also initially denied her accommodation of a single room, explained that the requirement for meeting deadlines was never really clearly communicated to her. Zane felt it was unreasonable and unfair for the university to not provide students with accommodations because they didn’t meet certain deadlines when the institutional communication on the matter had been so substandard.
Eventually, when housing assignments went live, Maccarthy’s initial housing assignment was a single room in a visitation community. “My accommodations had just been discounted, they just gave me a single, and did not care about anything else.” said Maccarthy in an interview with The Gazelle. Zane received the wrong accommodation too.
After both her and her counselor contacted Residential Education, Maccarthy was told that there was no space. “I found [the absence of space] very interesting because there are friends of mine, or people I knew … in single rooms in non-visitation buildings … [who had not received accommodations].”
After this response from Residential Education, Maccarthy subsequently contacted Aisha Al Naqbi, Assistant Dean of Students and the NYUAD liaison for Moses Center. She received a similar response, which emphasized the absence of space on campus. The email left Maccarthy in a bind, especially as she did not know that other students were going through the same problem.
“Now I’m scared for my life … I am uncomfortable in the space I'm going to be placed in and nobody is responding to my emails and nobody seems to care,” recounted Maccarthy of her experience flying back to Abu Dhabi, not really knowing where she would be living.
Sarah Afaneh, Class of 2022, had a similar experience. After initially receiving Moses Center accommodations to be in a single room, her housing assignment was changed to a double occupancy room before her arrival on campus. Around this time, Maccarthy saw a Facebook post by a student who had faced a similar issue. After meeting through this post, along with two other students, Zane and Maccarthy again emailed Aisha Al Naqbi, collectively, asking that they be granted the accommodations they were promised. Naqbi, again, reiterated that there was a problem of space and that Moses Center accommodations were subject to availability. She also suggested that the students, all of whom have disabilities, were incorrectly referring to themselves as “disabled students.” Al Naqbi did not respond to The Gazelle’s interview request.
“Back-handedly telling us that we have no right to refer to ourselves as … disabled students … and that the correct term is a student of determination, which was very patronizing” argued Maccarthy.
Zane explained the students' feelings after they received this response: “The response we got back was just laughable, honestly… I think all four of us were pretty outraged.”
Throughout interviews with The Gazelle, students with disabilities reiterated that communication from administration was poor, insensitive and did not tend to their needs. Afaneh added: “They fail to communicate the same way that ResEd [Residential Education] does. Often I don’t know anything and there is no way for my questions to be answered … and I don’t think ResEd communicates with them.”
While Martinez, in an interview with The Gazelle, emphasized that: “A very small number of students encountered this on a temporary basis. And, it was a result of a sort of [an] interim period.” It seems, however, that this was never actually communicated to the students in question.
“It wasn't communicated at all, and I think part of me understands that because you don't want to promise something you can't deliver on,” explained Zane. “At the same time, it was quite a source of anxiety and stress.”
Furthermore, Martinez also emphasized that all students were eventually given their housing with accommodations. “We no longer have any students in interim housing, everybody is now set for the Spring semester. Everybody has the accommodations that they have been provided for.”
While Zane received her housing accommodations, in what may constitute a violation of the university’s obligations under the American Disabilities Act (ADA), Maccarthy is yet to receive accommodations; belying several claims of administration. “I still haven't received my accommodation… I assumed that [ResEd] would have reached out to me by that time to at least tell me that spaces are opening up, but they didn't,” Mccarthy lamented.
Despite claims that students with disabilities were the university’s number one priority in the housing process, when asked why the university did not place students without disabilities in temporary housing to accommodate students with disabilities in single rooms, Martinez suggested that this was logistically impossible. He also added that there was a limit to what the university could do. “Now, at the end of the day, Moses Center accommodations are always based on what is reasonable. And that's a practical consideration.”
Zane argued that individuals without accommodations could have been moved. “Why can’t you just make people move from semester to semester?” she added. “Yes, the administration was having difficulty, but what bothered me was that they couldn't really admit fault.”
For many students, this particular incident was illustrative of broader problems with the treatment of students with disabilities. In particular, students emphasized the lack of awareness of their rights and the university’s obligations. Bernadett Borbála Kis, Class of 2024, who recently applied for housing accommodations, Kis suggested that she would have applied earlier if there was more accessible information on the subject. “If I knew that [Moses Center accommodations] could affect having a single or a double, I would have applied earlier. But I thought it only depends on what year you are in.” she added. Kis suffered several panic attacks as a result of sensory overload during online classes in her double room.
Mccarthy also explained how arbitrary deadlines from the Moses Center and Residential Education pose problems for students needing accommodations in general. “I have friends, for example, while I was able to apply successfully… they were trying to even get the diagnosis from mental care professionals. It's only big enough this semester that they've managed to get a diagnosis and then they have to now apply for accommodations.”
For Maccarthy, having only one person in charge of responding to all concerns relating to students with disabilities is part of the problem, too. “Making one person take all this load is kind of inefficient… But also, then when you have an issue with the person that you want to be able to report, there's no higher authority that could hold them accountable to even reach out to,” argued Maccarthy.
Afaneh suggested that the university should be more sensitive to the concerns of students with disabilities during a pandemic. For her, the university’s failure to provide such accommodations was shameful.
“For any student … your living space is a safe haven. Taking that choice from everyone and failing to communicate it … is disregarding student well-being, whether or not you have Moses [accomodations]. And then having Moses [accomodations] and also disregarding accommodation… is offensive, it is rude, it is upsetting, I do not have words,” explained Afaneh.
Abhyudaya Tyagi is Editor-in-Chief. Huma Umar is Managing Editor. Email them at email@example.com.