NYU Shanghai Parents Call for Student Exodus to NYC

NYU Shanghai delays the start of spring classes due to the fast spread of the coronavirus, but parents and students do not think it’s enough.


Echo Chen

Classes at NYU Shanghai will start later than expected due to the recent outbreak of the deadly virus. (Photograph by Echo Chen)

Mina Mohammadi, Deputy News Editor

After China’s leader Xi Jinping warned of the “accelerating spread” of coronavirus on Saturday, universities across China, including NYU Shanghai, delayed the start of the spring academic semester. Some parents and students, however, say it isn’t enough. 

This new virus — also known as 2019-nCoV — has killed at least 56 people and infected 2,000 since its discovery in the city of Wuhan. Cases of the virus have been found in other countries including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and even the United States. 

The most recent delay announcement — issued through an updated alert email yesterday by vice chancellor of NYU Shanghai Jeffrey Lehman — pushed classes back to Feb. 17.

“We have just been advised by the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission that, pursuant to their strategy for responding to the 2019-nCoV situation, they do not want universities in Shanghai to reopen until February 17,” Lehman said. “Accordingly, our spring semester will not begin until that date. Our dormitories, however, will remain open between now and then.”

The Student Health Center is taking steps including temperature screenings and mandatory travel questionnaires, Associate Vice President of the Student Health Center Carlo Ciotoli said in a university-wide email sent on Jan. 24. In this email, Ciotoli also cited the initial delay, which was set for Feb. 10. 

Additionally, a statement released by NYU Spokesperson John Beckman addressed the spring semester delay and efforts by the Student Health Center to remain informed about the virus.

The medical staff at the Student Health Center, as mentioned, is in regular touch with governmental health authorities so as to ensure we are following the most up-to-date guidance,” the statement reads. “As we receive new information or directions, we will update the community.”

But members of the NYU community remain unsatisfied. One member of the Facebook page NYU Shanghai Parents, a group of 166 members, posted an appeal criticizing the delay. The appeal said delaying classes will not give enough time to address global health concerns.

“[The delay] defies logic to send a child into the epicenter of a pandemic virus,” the appeal stated. 

The solution, the appeal argues, is for the student body to move to NYU’s New York City campus. 

“We respectfully ask that our students be considered for immediate resumption of classes at NYU’s New York campus either in person or through online enrollment, or at another campus location nearest our student’s home country where we feel safe,” the statement reads. “This will enable their continued education working toward a degree from NYU. We understand the NY city classes commence January 27th, but believe with the opportunity to catch up, our students will flourish without daily fear.”

Students have shared similar concerns. NYU Shanghai first-year Sayon Biswas said that international students — who comprise half the campus’ population — are anxious about returning to NYU Shanghai.

“I know almost a dozen kids that are really serious about not coming back this next semester because of worries of their safety,” Biswas said. “I am concerned because I do have lots of friends that are currently in Shanghai telling me the situation is being taken seriously. The majority of people are wearing masks.”

Biswas commended NYU’s effort to address the situation by delaying classes but also cited problems with it, including the cancellation of spring break.

“I was really not for classes being delayed because what is a week really going to do? But on the other hand, it’s an effort on the part of the school,” Biswas said. “If we do start on the 17th, we are going to have classes non-stop until summer break.”

NYU Shanghai first-year Zineb Dardafaa was less satisfied with NYU Shanghai’s outreach. Dardafaa felt NYU Shanghai reached out to its students too late, which she said prevented her from recognizing how dire the situation was. She received the initial delay email on her plane back to Shanghai. 

“I was pretty mad. If I had received the news in a more timely manner I would have switched my flight time,” Dardafaa said. “Instead, I am now here with a small group of friends two weeks early, watching changes happen every couple of hours. Everything is so cloudy.”

Dardafaa said many of her peers are reconsidering their attendance at NYU Shanghai and that faculty has yet to address the excessive academic pressure brought on by the delay. She added that she supports the parents’ push to have classes resume in New York City. 

NYU Shanghai junior Jaeven Aylor also voiced concern about the virus’ spread.

“I am about to study away in New York, and personally I do feel like I dodged a bullet,” Aylor said. “I have a lot of friends who are pretty worried, but at the same time it’s not necessarily threatening to the majority of healthy college-aged students.”

Aylor told WSN that the virus could potentially allow people to point to the aspects of NYU Shanghai they already do not like and create unnecessary anxiety. 

“A lot of students come from different backgrounds and their parents don’t understand China well and what the endemic entails,” Aylor said. “I feel like they don’t have much security in their students studying abroad in China in the first place and using this issue to justify their anxiety.”

As of now, there are no identified cases of the virus in the NYU community, including NYU Shanghai. 

“Relocating to NYC seems drastic but it is doable, so I believe it is in their right to suggest it,“ Biswas said. “We are all waiting to see what happens.”’

Correction, Jan. 27: This article previously misattributed the appeal made by a member of NYU Shanghai Parents to the entire page. The article has since been updated to reflect this correction and WSN regrets the error.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, January 27, 2020 print edition. Email Mina Mohammadi at [email protected]