Graphic by The Multimedia Desk/The Gazelle

The Evolving NYUAD Identity

Editor’s Note: The following article contains explicit language. Instead of the regular General Assembly schedule of amendments and points ...

Dec 5, 2015

Graphic by The Multimedia Desk/The Gazelle
Instead of the regular General Assembly schedule of amendments and points for-and-against, the Student Government forum on Sunday, Nov. 29,, had four round tables set up in an invitation for discussion. Groups of students congregated to talk about NYU Abu Dhabi’s institutional values, touching on topics such as Sama traditions, the university’s position in the city and efforts to integrate students across classes.
One issue that vexed participants was the notion of a fixed NYUAD identity. The NYUAD experience has been evolving; juniors and seniors have straddled both Sama and Saadiyat environments during their time at NYUAD, while sophomores and freshmen have much larger classes. The locational changes taking place at NYUAD, along with its increase in population, has led the student body to navigate multiple identities over the span of the last few years.
Sophomore Megan Moore claims the lack of a fixed identity was one of the reasons why she chose to come to NYUAD. Sitting in the dining hall as Serco staff replaced the chairs and tables around us with a yellow-and-blue setup reminiscent of Sama, Moore noted that NYUAD’s diversity prevented the consolidation of a common identity.
“I think there is a similar mindset but there's nothing that binds everyone,” she said.
The notion that NYUAD is tied together by its difference is something that is instantly recognizable from the material published by the university. In the admissions profile, the first quantitative measure of the class of 2019, after its size, is the number of nationalities and languages represented by the class.
Senior Farah Shammout, President of Student Government, noted that this diversity can make a common identity hard to define.
“For us, identity is hard to define, that's why it makes it more difficult for us to define institutional identity,” she said.
To create a firmer notion of identity, departments such as Athletics and Residential Education have created icons that students could identify with to represent the school. The recent designation of Faiza the Falcon as the NYUAD mascot and ongoing traditions such as the Midnight Breakfast serve as well-known examples.
Senior Krishan Mistry noted that these icons, though practical in terms of public relations, can at times feel forced.
“It's like the institutions at this school are … trying to create the signifiers of a school, so that we become a school," said Mistry.
These markers are often associated with traditions at other U.S. liberal arts colleges and universities.
Moore noted that there exists a tension between the model of the university and its reality.
“I think it's hard because our model is the American institution and I think we're just not an American student body; I think that's one of the biggest hurdles we have," said Moore.
Shammout saw the influence of U.S. American culture as a given feature of the university.
“NYU is a U.S. school so it's natural for us to have some American aspect in our education or in our university,” she said.
However, the unique nature of NYUAD has also allowed a particular global experience to become common across the student body. For students who study abroad, returning to NYUAD creates the opportunity to share experiences that unite the student body. Certain aspects of the academic curriculum, such as the Core Curriculum and January Term, are also commonalities among NYUAD.
At the same time, students are also creating their own traditions, such as Open Mic, which evolve alongside the institution. Mistry noted the way Open Mic has changed since the move to Saadiyat.
“Open Mic used to be this event, a school-wide event … everyone was there,” he said. “It's much harder for me to imagine something like that happening [now]. You could never mobilize the whole school to attend an event in the way that, like, Open Mic was able to."
As the final chairs were cleared, leaving us sitting in the only red-black bowl chairs of the dining hall, Moore reflected on the changing nature of the student body since the move to Saadiyat.
“I think the upperclassmen have this feeling that you can do whatever you want because NYUAD is new and whatever works will go, but now we're on a campus, more and more things are becoming fixed,” she said. “I think that's sad because before it was just this idea that it has to come from the students to build the community."
However, Shammout saw the move to Saadiyat as offering new opportunities to students.
“NYUAD has been here for five years and this is only its second year on Saadiyat,” she said. “Our identity is really related to the environment here and I would say we're one step ahead of the transition period from Sama to Saadiyat.”
Shammout was hopeful for the school’s future trajectory.
“It's just the beginning of turning NYUAD into an institution," she said. "I think it's largely up to the students and how they define their values."
Mistry, meanwhile, encouraged students to be more involved in creating what he terms "random shit."
“I mean random shit in a very specific sense,” he said. “Something that's not for class, it's not for anything. It exists for its own sake, it doesn't have to be sponsored by the institution.”
Mistry cited examples such as the King Broichiro campaign, the annual Presidents Day photo-shoot and the third ninth annual Eder Munyapenda Fight For Life race as examples of these student led-initiatives.
“It can just be you and your friends doing shit, and once people realize that you're doing shit they'll participate, because it's fun stuff to do,” he said. “I think those are the things that define an institution’s identity.”
Connor Pearce is news editor. Email him at 
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