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Multimedia by Sidra Dahhan

The Community Listening Session Highlighted Long-Standing Student Grievances

The Community Listening Session offered the first-of-its-kind space for students and administrators to communicate key areas of concern. Although not all answers were favorable, students received more clarity and support.

On Tuesday, Feb. 21, the NYU Abu Dhabi Student Government hosted a Community Listening Session from 7-8:30 PM in the East Forum in collaboration with the Office of the Vice Chancellor and Student Affairs. In a community-wide email, the student government listed the various guests present, including Vice Chancellor Mariët Westermann, Associate Vice Chancellor Baishakhi Taylor, Dean of Students Michael Martinez, Provost Arlie Petters, Chief Administrative & Business Officer (CABO) Peter Christensen and other senior administrators. “This is a great space for students to raise macro-level concerns, share ideas and suggestions, and be in conversation with senior administrative leadership”, read the email.
Moderated by members of the student government, the session began with a short introduction by current president of the student government, Ana Maria Radu, followed by a speech on core NYUAD values by Vice Chancellor Mariët Westermann before the Q&A session, where panelists answered pre-submitted questions. Corresponding answers to specific questions are listed below.
Moderated Q&A Session
The session with the pre-submitted questions covered a range of topics, starting with over enrollment issues, an optional meal plan and concerns on how açaí bowls and Starbucks coffee cannot be bought with meal swipes, Nirvana Travel Agency and high markups, to study away opportunities and menstrual leave for students.
Regarding over enrollment, Provost Peters said it would not continue as it is now, and that “students should reach out to the Academic Resource Center if they absolutely need a class.”
In terms of changing the number of meal swipes, dining administrators said that there is a cost model that would change the price of the food. “The kitchen needs to know the approximate number of swipes that will be spent in a given day,” they said.
Dining claimed that they are looking into making the meal plan optional, given the rising number of commuting students over the years, in hopes of wasting as little food as possible.
CABO Christensen explained how NYUAD has a stable relationship with Nirvana, however he admitted they are not always incentivized to offer the best price to students. The NYUAD Integrated Solutions Group, which is the university’s unit to optimize administrative processes, is working on a self-service process which would give students the agency to choose and research the best flight option and book it. Student Government, on the other hand, is collaborating with Nirvana to create a WhatsApp Business account which will serve to support student queries and requests.
The Office of Global Education firmly stated that another study away is not possible for the Class of 2024 in their senior year. However, they are looking into a second abroad J-Term for this class. “This is also the last year of abroad J-Terms after commencement,” said Carol Brandt, Associate Vice Chancellor for Global Education and Outreach.
Regarding menstrual leave, Associate Vice Chancellor Taylor said that the university would not incorporate a menstrual leave policy because the days in the academic calendar are set and it would require losing more days out of the calendar. “We are working with colleagues to refill the bathroom stations with free menstrual hygiene products, and looking into lowering the prices of the products in the convenience store,” she said.
Student Responses
During the subsequent live Q&A Session, multiple students asked questions directly to the panelists. The Gazelle spoke to three of the students on their thoughts regarding the session and any advice they would like to share to improve the future of student-administration communication.
Deanndra Kidd, Class of 2025, asked a question on academic accommodation for students from timezones far away from Abu Dhabi who may deal with severe jet-lagging issues. While she acknowledged the efforts of the panelists and thought that the session was well-organized, she expressed concerns regarding the access students actually have to air their grievances.
“I think it’s important that the students have more access to as many channels of communication to the administration as possible, in order to have their questions and concerns be heard, but also they should at least make sure the avenues are known to students, because what I found last night is a lot of people saying ‘of course you know me’, ‘of course you can email me’ ‘of course you know where to go’, but I personally did not know all these people, I didn’t know their faces, I didn’t know their names, I also did not know their email aliases”, she explained.
To solve this issue, Kidd suggested that a page with specific portals to lodge concerns may be very helpful as a fixed resource for students. She also expressed that more personnel to pass around the microphone may be a good idea to improve the experience for participants.
“While it may not have been the situation that everybody might have wanted, it at least was a start and I think that’s a very good place to begin,” Kidd added.
Another student, Mahima Sankar, Class of 2024, asked a question about study away options for current juniors, who, due to Covid-19, are only permitted one study away semester. This is in contrast to the possibility of two study-aways that is publicized in a lot of admissions materials. In Fall 2022, Sankar studied away in New York at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, where she identified a capstone mentor who may have been able to assist her with her senior-year capstone project, but she needed to go back to New York for another semester to avail the opportunity.
“I wanted to ask whether there is a possibility that my batch might get a second semester away, or if people who have identified study-away specific opportunities could pursue them were they allowed to. If an exception would be made, or if there's anything else the university could do to facilitate using those resources.” Sankar explained.
Sankar expressed appreciation for the clarity on the impossibility of a second study away semester, while suggesting that they could be clearer on other issues, for example a second abroad J-term for current juniors. Sankar found personally talking to Associate Vice Chancellor Brandt after the session much more rewarding.
“She was very very helpful, I have to say, in that she understood why I was bothered, and she heard me out, I explained, you know, my field of interest in terms of film, and what specific opportunity I was talking about, who the professor I wanted to work with was…she really took the time to listen to me, and we brainstormed after that,” Sankar said.
Furthermore, she suggested that more time for the live Q&A session may be a step forward. “The point of the town hall was to have student concerns addressed, and considering it was only a one and a half hour session, about one-third of that was taken up just by speeches that were not relevant to the town hall directly, and I really think that should not be used. The session is not about the university giving us news, it’s about the students posing their problems to the university”, explained Sankar.
Other questions about campus facilities were also addressed. For instance, Marija Janeva, Class of 2026, argued for more accessibility and understanding for students of determination on campus. “While you can easily locate the link to the Moses Center on every syllabus, or read diplomatic statements, very few people recognize the reality of living on campus with a disability. Professors will breach your privacy and ask for confidential medical documents in order to justify your absences, even though for a lot of people it may be uncomfortable to disclose their health status,” said Janeva.
In addition to the stress caused by a discrepancy between policy and reality, Janeva also cited the heavy doors on campus that are difficult to open. “How can we expect inclusion in the community, classrooms, and residential areas, when they are difficult to access to begin with?” asked Janeva. Both Dean of Students Michael Martinez and Chief Administrative & Business Officer Peter Christensen expressed empathy on the inaccessibility of the doors.
Many panelists stayed after the session to provide students a chance to air their individual grievances on a one-on-one basis. The student body expects change in the relevant fields addressed in the session, with a general hope to continue communicating with the administration directly in the future.
Stefan Mitikj is Managing Editor and Zhiyu Lindy Luo is Senior News Editor. Email them at
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