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Illustration by Luis Morales

It Is Time To Abolish the ROR

It may be the time for falcons to go touch some grass.

Mar 6, 2023

“We endlessly curse Comrade Stalin, and, of course, for a reason. And yet, I want to ask—who wrote the four million denunciations?” Sergei Dovlatov
The negative impact of social media on the mental health of young people is an issue that has been hotly debated in the United States. Many experts argue that smartphones, and the apps they contain, are the main culprits behind the rising rates of teen depression and suicide. In particular, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have been linked to negative mental health outcomes, especially in young people. Against this backdrop, it is deeply concerning that Facebook remains the main platform for student communication at NYU Abu Dhabi. First years are compelled to join the network and are constantly bombarded (or bombarding) with repetitive requests and problems from individuals they may never have encountered otherwise. Ironically, even when posts are relevant, Facebook's flawed algorithm often leads to missed opportunities for meaningful interaction.
One possible solution is to utilize several simple, restrictive platforms for different purposes. The "NYUAD Opportunities" Facebook group, despite it being on Facebook too, is a positive example, because it operates differently from the ROR private forum, and has a clear goal of providing a space to share career opportunities. This simple design allows for effective communication, without engaging in debates, discussions, or whatnot. Restricted social norms in NYUAD Opportunities work well by themselves, indicating that enforcing those restrictions across all student networks could be beneficial.
Compare it to what the ROR founder had to say about the group: “Originally, people wanted a lost and found page,” [Mark] Hoffman said. “But, I figured it would be better if it was a ‘whatever you require,’ so that it wasn’t so specific as a lost and found page. No one is really going to check a lost and found page if they haven’t lost anything.” So we ended up with what was designed initially — a page for everything that everyone checks all the time. But in fact, the “everything” ended up being “nothing”.
In fact, there are many other possible solutions — but they all come down to the willingness to ditch the ROR. However, we don’t even think of ourselves as the users of the ROR anymore — it feels like something that was before us, and that should live long after we all graduate. This is, however, not true. ROR is merely a tool for some students, not a legacy to keep.
Moreover, the question of ROR’s harm touches upon fundamental features of such student networks. One of the main questions is, why is there no administration involved in the most pressing issues? For instance — in light of the recent criticism — the CDC could examine and, perhaps, emulate the relative success of “NYUAD Opportunities”. How did we end up in a world where students and alumni have built a simple, yet effective network for sharing opportunities, and the CDC isn't directly involved in it? In the same vein, ROR reviews for faculty members are something the Registrar could look into, too. Can we not allow individuals to request and share their opinions on a particular professor — anytime, anywhere — while also keeping the university administration informed of the feedback? If there is any concerning feedback about a particular faculty member — the university could act swiftly and effectively on the behalf of the students. It would also help to mediate the communication between different students about different professors — some students tend to use strong wordings, while others are less expressive — but building a simple and user-friendly assessment norm could benefit the students and help to find professors who match their true preferences. Feedback from the instructors should be responsible, honest, and as precise as possible. ROR guarantees none of those. It is the Wild West, if you may think so.
One of the most popular categories of posts on ROR concerns asking for help with either university-related logistics or personal issues, including, but not restricted to people being stranded in their home countries or needing help with fundraising. It is rather discouraging to see that ROR is the only place where students address their very personal crises, while the university can remain silent. It is easy for the administration to let the student body resolve issues and requests on their own. The administration has no incentive to scrutinize what students post, ask, and share, except when they need to do so for surveillance purposes. ROR has failed as a safe space for students, yet it continues to exist for issues that are the direct responsibility of the administration. We have witnessed myriads of posts complaining about Nirvana Travels, dining halls, laundry rooms, and many things more. But the university simply refused to notice what was happening on campus. The recent listening session was a wake-up call for some administration staff, as they were made aware of the countless issues with Nirvana, which were discussed in the ROR for ages. Clearly, the people who had the real capacity to better students’ lives weren’t listening.
Above all else, consider the digital footprint we leave behind. It is dystopian to think that I could trace back all the involvements of almost any NYUAD alumni and see what they posted and commented on years ago. You already know so much information about the person (or their image) you meet for the first time — and it’s definitely not something people are traditionally used to. I don’t want to be able to do that. I don’t want to be findable, either.
The truth is, Facebook and ROR are designed to be monotonous, dull, and repetitive. We are too interconnected, and we need to ditch the ROR, Facebook, and social media, altogether.
Adi Baurzhanuly is a contributing writer. Email them at
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