In Spring 2014, the Office of Campus Life and First Year Programming began the First Year Dialogue in an attempt to foster a sense of community within NYU Abu Dhabi and make the transition into university life as smooth as possible.
was launched over four weeks, and looked at several aspects of student life including identity and cultural sensitivity. After gathering feedback from members of the class of 2017 who took part in the pilot, FYD was incorporated into the class of 2018's student life programming.
Although some pilot members of the class of 2017 were hesitant about the efficacy of the FYD, Samantha Neugebauer, Assistant Director of First Year Programming, felt the feedback was extremely positive.
According to Neugebauer, the goals of the dialogue remain unchanged.
“If anything, the mission has been enlarged to include more precise learning outcomes, such as interpersonal skill development, personal development, civic engagement, and campus connections," wrote Neugebauer. "These learning outcomes are the basis of many first year seminars throughout the world."
But the most significant change made between the pilot and the new program is the fact that FYD is now mandatory for all members of the class of 2018. It is also twice as long as the pilot was, giving students a chance to build stronger relations with one another.
Scheduling regular sessions was a major issue in the pilot as participants were involved in many other conflicting activities. To address this problem, FYD was added as a course on the official student rosters, thereby making the seminar a scheduled part of every student’s week.
The scale of FYD was also increased due to the large size of the incoming class. 35 seminar groups were created, consisting of six to ten students, with 36 student affairs professionals, five Global Academic Fellows and one librarian serving as instructors and co-facilitators.
The topics covered in FYD are as varied as the pilot: Some are more cerebral in nature, such as discussions on identity or cultural competence, while others are more practical, such as time management and how to lose a bad habit. Students also received weekly homework assignments, which involved talking to various people on campus such as members of the Health and Wellness Center as well as watching videos.
FYD is also meant to be a forum to discuss sensitive issues such as substance abuse, sexuality and cultural norms. Neugebauer did not give specifics on how such issues would be dealt with, but mentioned that writing regular journal entries and group discussions would be employed.
“Our goal in the office of First Year Programming is to ensure NYUAD students develop a foundation to help them make good choices throughout their NYUAD career, and in life," wrote Neugebauer. "Moreover, First Year Programming recognizes that many of our students will study away, resettle in other cities after they graduate, or maybe even encounter a friend who needs help. For these reasons, we want to make sure students know how to navigate challenging situations, and be educated on the dangers of engaging in risky behavior."
The reactions of the class of 2018 have been varied.
Many freshmen see the Dialogue as a chance to interact with fellow classmates. For Sofia Fernandez, these sessions have enabled her to gain insight from freshmen that she may not have been able to meet otherwise.
Although some may find it daunting to open up in front of people whom they have never met, the Dialogue groups provide a safe environment for students to voice their opinions.
“Our [Dialogue] coordinator has put us in a very safe environment where we feel comfortable to talk about whatever we want and where we know that it will not be repeated outside,” Shanzey Altaf explained.
One of the difficulties in establishing discussion groups such as the Dialogue is accommodating such an internationally and culturally diverse student body. Nevertheless, according to freshman Kelly Murphy, these problems have been dealt with by basing discussions on broad topics that cater to almost everyone at some level.
Most students agree, however, that issues such as sexuality and drugs are items that should be discussed more freely in these sessions. The intimacy of small groups gives everyone an equal opportunity to speak, if they wished, allowing the students to fully students can fully engage with one another.
For freshman Hazem Ibrahim, being able to discuss these types of issues is essential in gaining a new perspective.
“It helps [to] acknowledge that you should open up your mind to accept other cultures, even if it may offend you,” he said.
On the other hand, Ibrahim feared that the nature of the topics might actually be a hindrance to the intended open environment of the group.
“I think most students aren’t comfortable with opening up to people that could potentially judge them,” Ibrahim added.
While it may be challenging to determine how often groups should discuss sensitive issues, Fernandez thinks that being able to talk about these topics is important while transitioning into university.
“Perhaps not everyone may benefit from these discussions, and it may bother them to speak about these issues, but I think in general it is necessary to provide the opportunity to discuss it for the people who do need it,” she said.
Mitali Banerji is deputy features editor. Mario Zapata and Gabby Flores are contributing writers. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.