Students Voice Concern Over NYU Pandemic Response

During a virtual town hall organized by Students Demanding Care, students criticized NYU’s handling of COVID-19 and demanded the university take more concrete action regarding emergency aid and tuition.

NYU buildings, once bustling with students and staff, are closed and silent as remote learning continues. College students from NYC schools recently spoke with local and state officials about various issues they currently face. (Staff Photo by Alexandra Chan)

Before the floor opened to comments, the first town hall hosted by Students Demanding Care started with a somber offering of condolences to those in NYU’s community who have COVID-19 and those who have passed away from the virus. A brief silence ensued before people started introducing themselves and sharing their grievances.

The meeting was held via Zoom on Friday, May 1, for students to voice their concerns about NYU’s handling of COVID-19. Participants talked about the university’s failure to reimburse students who believe their quality of education has been severely reduced, their opaque policies regarding their use of CARES Act funds — which provide emergency funding to universities nationwide — as well as and the logistical difficulties many international students have faced due to NYU’s response.

“One thing that everyone [attending the event] has been fighting for is just more transparency from NYU,” Tisch graduate student and event attendee Zane Liston told WSN. “We have never gotten a breakdown of what our tuition actually means, which is how they are able to argue right now that we are receiving our full education online.”

Liston was vocal in the discourse Friday night, expressing concerns about how students in her department have not been awarded even the minimal fee refunds granted to other Tisch students for certain performance, lab and equipment fees.

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“[The administration] is way more interested in the bottom line of the university than protecting students,” Liston said. “They should put the students and the faculty at the forefront of all the decisions they are making”

The 38 attendees included representatives of multiple student-led organizations such as the Student Labor Action Movement, GenVote and COVID Coalition.

“I felt like it was a space for student power, and for them to really address the fact that student voices aren’t being heard by the administration,” Gallatin professor Amin Husain told WSN. “They are not part of a decision making that is … impacting their lives and their resources.” 

He attended Friday to voice his concerns about how NYU has responded and to stand in solidarity with his students, some of whom are founders of SDC. He highlighted the importance of sticking together as a community versus as an institution. 

A variety of plans to mobilize and suggestions to get the administration’s attention were raised. COVID Coalition just finished a week of virtual action and SDC is planning to hold future town halls. Other ideas were bounced around, including a fall tuition strike in which students refuse to pay tuition.

“Based on what NYU has been doing, it’s clear they care more about money than students,” International Student Affairs committee member Gabin Lee said about the proposed strike.

Lee Zoomed in from Korea to illustrate the many challenges international students have faced. Lee explained how many students struggled or failed to get home once dorms closed because NYU waited until the last minute to act, leaving students with short notice to move out.

Many students in China were put in hotels to quarantine and did not have WiFi strong enough for Zoom. NYU failed to do anything to remediate these and other challenges, Lee said.

She also discussed NYU’s failure to address the xenophobic sentiments Asians students have faced amid the pandemic. 

“At the moment, we are left on our own to deal with any hateful actions that may arise,” Lee said. “It would be great if NYU had some [anti-xenophobia] policies but at the moment they [don’t].”

SDC wrote NYU President Andrew Hamilton with demands including tuition refunds and freezes, job security and guaranteed pay and structural changes to the institution to better support students. The letter also expressed support for NYU COVID Coalition’s petition demands.

“It’s really important to get students talking,” Gallatin junior Alessandra Frank said about the event. “Hopefully moving forward we can band together to do something that moves the needle.”

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, May 4th, 2020 e-print edition. Email Andrew Califf at [email protected]

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