A call for health education at NYUAD

While the administration at NYU Abu Dhabi devotes resources to engaging students in intercultural dialogue and global leadership, it does not devote ...

While the administration at NYU Abu Dhabi devotes resources to engaging students in intercultural dialogue and global leadership, it does not devote sufficient attention to preparing students to make educated decisions about their health and safety. Sexual assault, harassment, alcohol and drug use are realities students encounter while in the UAE and abroad. A comprehensive health education is necessary to prepare students to navigate these realities during their tenure as students and after graduation. The lack of such an education at NYUAD is both irresponsible and unacceptable.
Even if students never encounter alcohol, drugs or sex in Abu Dhabi, they may do so during time spent abroad. Oftentimes, students are exposed to these matters even if not by their own volition. Instances of unwanted sexual advances or scenarios with intoxicated roommates become more severe when students are undereducated and underprepared. Indeed, we know that NYUAD students have experienced sexual harassment, date rape drugs and dangerous intoxication. Lack of education and awareness of procedures means that students are more vulnerable in dangerous situations.
Current NYUAD policies on the Student Portal are inadequate in explaining the steps students should take when faced with situations ranging from alcohol abuse to sexual assault. For example, the most comprehensive outline of sexual assault policy and protocol is found not on the Student Portal but in a Campus Safety report published on NYU’s main webpage. Currently, Student Portal details only a fraction of what the Campus Safety report lists. Information of this nature needs to be consistent and readily accessible in the most obvious location: the NYUAD Student Portal outline of Student Conduct, Policies and Procedures. In addition, there are no educational materials or linked sources on the Student Portal to inform students on how to act in these emergencies. Students may find themselves in precarious situations where a lack of clarity and no straightforward policy lead to serious consequences for their health and safety, as well as potential ramifications for students’ legal status.
By neglecting to provide comprehensive health education, NYUAD contradicts NYU’s own principles and dedication to the safety of students. On the “University Policies and Guidelines” webpage the university states, “We believe that the best way to maintain an appropriate campus environment with respect to drugs and alcohol is through preventive education about the dangers of drug abuse and compassionate attention to the needs of those who may require help with alcohol or other drug-related problems.” NYU New York’s online resources are robust and exhaustive, explaining in detail the steps students can take to report issues and ensuring students are informed about their legal rights and the university’s response in emergency situations.
One example of NYUNY’s preventative education program is AlcholEdu, a prerequisite health requirement for all undergraduate freshmen. AlcoholEdu is a two-part interactive web exam that seeks to educate students on safe drinking behaviour, addiction, contraception and how to act when risky situations arise. AlcoholEdu is compulsory at NYUNY even for non-drinkers. By encouraging education for all regardless of belief, NYU ensures that students at its New York campus are informed on how to behave in potentially dangerous situations involving themselves and others.
At NYUAD, students and staff advocates have already begun pushing for more student health information. Recently, the Student Health Advisory Board was formed as an initiative of Student Government to better communicate student health needs to the administration. Dr. Birgit Pols was committed to voicing students’ needs, placing student health and safety as her highest priority. In her departure, students lost one of the most dedicated advocates for alcohol awareness and sex education on campus. We call on the administration to keep this as a priority when hiring the future medical director.
Sex education, while practically absent at NYUAD, exists as a component of many high school curricula in the UAE. Students who attended Abu Dhabi high schools recalled that some private international high schools as well as the Military High School, Al Ain, provided some sort of sex education or STI transmission prevention information. NYUAD, as an institution which values the power and agency brought about by education, should likewise be encouraging dialogue and information dissemination regarding these important matters of student health and safety.
The consequences of inaction are dire. Student deaths and rapes on university campuses in the United States have prompted retroactive implementation of preventative programming and procedures by administration. Currently, in the United States 55 universities are under investigation for possible violations of Title IX regarding the mishandling of sexual assault and harassment complaints. At NYUAD, we cannot wait for tragedy before pushing for a more effective, proactive approach to fundamental student health and safety.
We call for comprehensive and explicit policies, preventative education programs and better communication of these policies with students, namely written policies which students can easily access. We call for Marhaba Week programming for incoming freshmen and continuous education throughout students’ undergraduate careers. We call for explicit, consistent publication of protocols for students to report sexual assault or rape in addition to protocols for alcohol related emergencies in readily accessible student resources. As our student population grows and travels internationally, we need to be more active and conscientious in addressing these matters now.
Tom Taylor, Megan Eloise, Nicole Lopez Del Carril, Kelly Dougherty and Laith Aqel are contributing writers. Email them at
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