Screenshot by Caroline Haskins
In a group chat for members of the class of 2021 enrolled in the Tandon School of Engineering, racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic and sexually explicit jokes and comments have been exchanged since at least April of this year, according to an investigation by Washington Square News.
The messages included jokes about rape, self-harm and pedophilia, comments degrading Asian, black and female individuals, and approximately 60 instances in which racial slurs were used. Two posts from July contain memes depicting a Catholic priest that referred to pedophilic sexual abuse.
“If you date a girl with split personality and she changes personality in the middle of sex, is that considered rape?” one student posted on April 24.
Other posts stated that all Asian people look the same, complained that there were too much “yellow” and “estrogen” in the group chat and mocked sexual interest in black women.
The Tandon group exchanged messages on Discord, a chat and voice app designed originally to be used by gamers. The Tandon Discord server is accessible by clicking an invitation link included in a Tandon GroupMe group chat available in a Facebook group titled “NYU Class of 2021 (Official).” The closed Facebook group is run by unnamed, non-administrative members of the NYU community. Multiple messages in the GroupMe as early as April 17 and as late as July 1 state that the Tandon freshman group chat has been moved to Discord.
Two of the students involved in the exchanges shown above provided apologies via email when asked to comment on the Discord conversations. One consented to be quoted in this article under the condition of anonymity.
“I sincerely apologize for anything I said in the Discord,” the student said. “I apologize from the bottom of my heart. I try to make friends through joking around, but those jokes were not necessary. I apologize from the bottom of my heart. I’m completely embarrassed I was being immature, and I know that’s no excuse for my actions.”
In June, Harvard College’s independent student newspaper, The Crimson, reported that after offensive memes were posted in a private group chat on Facebook Messenger, at least 10 admitted students’ offers of admission were rescinded. The Harvard memes included jokes about the Holocaust, physical and sexual abuse of children, suicide, and bestiality. They were often combined with elements of violence and racism.
NYU spokesperson Matt Nagel said that disciplinary action is also being considered in this case.
“On this specific case, the University is still looking into the matter and it is too early in the process to tell if any NYU students have violated any policies,” he said. “We always consider the unique circumstances of each case to determine if any University policies apply and whether student conduct action is appropriate.”
The University did not clarify exactly which NYU policy may have been violated by the students in the group chat, or whether communication apps such as Discord are regarded as social media platforms.
University policy on student conduct explicitly forbids discrimination, harassment, and threats.
The NYU Admissions website states that NYU expects admitted students “to be good citizens online,” and NYU Dean of Admissions Shawn Abbott said in an email that NYU Admissions monitors the social media of admitted students. But after May 1 — the deadline for enrollment at NYU — the Student Resource Center becomes responsible for monitoring incoming freshmen’s social media profiles.
“With the exception of some of our Facebook groups for admitted students [sic] candidates, our social media profiles for admitted students are publicly accessible — not private,” Abbott said. “We monitor these pages closely, respond to admissions related inquiries and reserve the right to remove content that may be offensive to community members.”
When he was made aware of the situation on August 18, Abbott said that he was not familiar with the app Discord.
“This is the very first I’ve heard of this situation or the app Discord,” he said. “We’ll have to investigate so it’s premature for us to provide any sort of response.”
WSN contacted NYU Public Affairs, but they did not provide a statement in time for publication.
The NYU Student Conduct Policy, which applies to students that live in NYU residential housing, states that Residential Life and Housing Services staff members do not monitor students’ social media accounts or consider social media activity in disciplinary action.
“In general, a student’s conduct in non-university affiliated online communities should not be subject to disciplinary action unless the information relates to documented incidents which occurred within university property or the conduct seriously affects the student’s position as a member of the academic community,” the NYU Student Conduct Policy webpage reads.
However, NYU Student Conduct Policy does not account for university-affiliated online communities in private settings, such as the Tandon Discord group chat.
According to Kathleen Hamilton, Tandon’s Director of Marketing and Communication, Tandon follows the NYU Student Conduct Policy and does not have an internal, school-specific conduct policy.
NYU does take a number of steps toward sponsoring inclusion amongst its freshman. NYU spokesperson Matt Nagel said that offices such as the Center for Multicultural Education and Programs and the NYU LGBTQ Student Center target students across all schools.
“Notably, the Tandon School of Engineering continues to make inclusivity a priority,” he said. “This is evident in the school’s long-standing programs and practices — ranging from the classroom to its activities to residential living.”
Kathleen Hamilton also said that Tandon’s freshman class has about twice the percentage of female engineering students as the national average.
“Our programs reach as early as middle schools, where girls are prone to shift away from STEM,” she said. “We’re very proud of how many highly qualified alumnae we are sending into a tech workforce sorely in need of their expertise.”
In Tandon specifically, NYU participates in an extension program of National Center for Women in Technology, an annual Women’s Summit, the Code Liberation Program, Women Empower Hours, the Women in Engineering, Science and Technology (WEST) Symposium. It also offers fellowships targeting Tandon female students, such as the Women in Technology and Thompson-Bartlett Fellowships, and there is a “Women-in-STEM” themed floor in Othmer Residence Hall.
“NYU is committed to building a culture that respects and embraces diversity, inclusion, and equity, believing that these values — in all their facets are important for our incoming first year students to embrace,” Nagel said.
A version of this article appeared in the Sunday, Aug. 27 print edition. Email Caroline Haskins at [email protected].