Fostering Community Through Dialogue

One of the unique resources of NYU Abu Dhabi is its diversity and the opportunities that come with it. However, this diversity can be counterproductive ...

Feb 15, 2014

One of the unique resources of NYU Abu Dhabi is its diversity and the opportunities that come with it. However, this diversity can be counterproductive and lead to a fragmented student body. In an effort to bridge this cultural gap and promote community building, the Office of Campus Life has recently introduced “First Year Dialogue.”
This program focuses exclusively on first-year students and will begin its pilot stage this spring semester with a small focus group of members from the Class of 2017. They will meet once a week for an hour and a half to discuss issues related to student life, culture and various other topics.
Three Global Academic Fellows — Sally Weathers, Ama Francis and Yasmin Bokye — developed the curriculum for this program in 2013. It was meant to be ready for the Class of 2017’s arrival in the fall; however, it was not fully realized by September and so was postponed a semester.
The initiative is dedicated to creating conversation within a safe space and is meant to be primarily student-driven. At the preliminary information meeting on Feb. 10, First Year Dean Temi Pedro described the Dialogue as a platform for conversations you would usually have with roommates and close friends.
“[The program is] an opportunity to discuss issues which almost every student faces when they move to college,” Francis said. “The dialogue is a great avenue to make new friends, aims to facilitate community building and embrace the diversity.”
The curriculum was developed with input from a group of current juniors and seniors.
“We drew on our own experiences as freshmen coming to NYUAD; what we wish we had known, what was helpful to us in integrating into the community and navigating what can be kind of a stressful situation,” said Charlotte Wang, a senior. “[We tried to think about] what we thought freshmen coming after us might have to deal with that we did not.”
Similar programs have been implemented in leading colleges in the United States like Harvard’s Community Conversations Program, which aims to promote dialogue on a range of issues to build a more inclusive and cohesive academic community.
Students who participate in the First Year Dialogue this semester will have the opportunity to become peer advisors for the Class of 2018 and co-facilitate sessions with a Campus Life representative. The seminar will soon become mandatory for all incoming freshmen starting from Marhaba week.
Campus Life believes this program is going to be a stress-free component of student life where freshmen can come and share ideas and experiences. They explained that the curriculum is full of fun games and lessons structured around group activities. The program also has an end-of-the-semester activity that is meant to be a culmination of the Dialogue. It is likely to be an out-of-city trip, aligned with the last lecture topic, “Getting to Know the Real UAE.”
However, members of the Class of 2017 like Quan Vuong had a few reservations about the program.
“People talk about personal things with friends and in an environment they can trust,” Vuong said. “My main concern with the First Year Dialogue would be that [it brings together] a group of students who might not know each other very well in a room with a staff as a facilitator. Thus, the students might not feel absolutely safe and comfortable to fully express their views regarding the sensitive issues that the dialogue seeks to discuss.”
There were several other concerns related to the feasibility of the program since there are already forums such as Sama Circle on campus that address similar topics. Some of the students also raised the point that this dialogue would be like an extended Brothers and Sisters program, in which several students participate to discuss life in the UAE and cultural norms.
Despite these concerns, there were also several, including Class of 2017 Student Government Representative James Carrington Gardner, who said that this program would be a vital component of freshman life that the current Marhaba experience lacks.
“Discussing things like identity in a foreign country and basic communication skills are fundamental for our success at university, personally and professionally. In terms of whether I think this will succeed, I feel that this program, if it remains dynamic and open to feedback/new topics, will have great success and buy-in from the freshmen year group.”
Mitali Banerji is deputy features editor. Email her at
gazelle logo