Against NYUAD Exceptionalism

Students at NYU Abu Dhabi are often told how great they are. This encouragement comes alongside a sense that the school itself is extremely unique, if ...

Feb 21, 2015

Students at NYU Abu Dhabi are often told how great they are. This encouragement comes alongside a sense that the school itself is extremely unique, if not absolutely exceptional. I do agree that the NYUAD experience is unique. There is not much else like it in the world, but I tend to stray away from believing in NYUAD exceptionalism.
Too often, I hear that we cannot be just another school of NYU. I don’t know what it means to be just another school of NYU, but I do know that we are a school of NYU and I am extremely proud of that fact. I am further proud to be a part of the NYU global network.
My reservation against an absolute pronouncement of NYUAD exceptionalism stems from two primary factors.
The first factor is my experience of growing up in the US with the values of American exceptionalism. While the US maintains many characteristics that set it apart from other nations and make it exceptional in certain categories, American exceptionalism is often used to assert claims of superiority.
Just this past week, the former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani chastised President Barack Obama for merely acknowledging some valid criticisms of the United States. I would never want NYUAD’s student body to take our exceptional factors and use them as a basis for asserting superiority over other institutions and other parts of NYU’s global network. Yes, I am looking at football chanters who shouted “at least we have athletic fields” to our opposing fans.
My second reason for withholding a proclamation of NYUAD exceptionalism emerges from my experience last academic year witnessing strong claims of entitlement from a small subset of the student body.
In one memorable episode, an NYUAD student posted a desperate plea online for the university to provide connections for jobs while stating other universities provide jobs to students on silver platters. Yes, someone seriously asked for jobs on a silver platter. To me, the most egregious aspect of letting notions of exceptionalism go to your head is when exceptionalism breeds a sense of entitlement.
In our days of hubris, when we are often challenged to define ourselves through accomplishments on CVs and publish our experiences on websites for the world to see, humility is pushed to the wayside. It is often far too easy to fall into the trap of believing in one’s innate greatness.
Believing in a sense of exceptionalism risks bringing this sense of entitlement too close to our minds and our thoughts too far from reality. Sometimes it is important to consider ourselves unworthy of the incredible opportunities that we have been blessed with and, in turn, to work hard toward proving ourselves.
When I claim we are not exceptional, I am not claiming that we are not unique, diverse or special. I am, however, claiming that we are not superior and we are not inherently entitled to certain things. It is incumbent upon all members of the NYUAD community to take pride in the aspects that define us and make us different from other institutions while not permitting those differences to give us a sense of superiority and entitlement.
Corey Meyer is managing editor. Email him at
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