Students at NYU Shanghai have had an unusual start to their semester. Classes at the site were suspended as the extent of the coronavirus outbreak became apparent. Many are taking classes online, while others have transferred to other NYU campuses abroad.
Despite the stigma that pervades coronavirus discourse, NYU Shanghai students and alumni offer a message of understanding and solidarity. They came together from around the world in a virtual choir released last week to sing “We Are Not Strangers” in a video posted on NYU Shanghai’s YouTube channel. The video currently has 2,663 views and has been circulated widely on various social media platforms.
The coronavirus has now affected 78,000 people around the globe, with surging appearances in South Korea, Iran and Italy, as cases in China decrease. The widespread fear brought on by the virus’ spread makes this a more crucial moment for unity across NYU campuses.
“We Are Not Strangers” is featured in the musical comedy “The Reality Show,” which is written, choreographed and composed by students from each of NYU’s three main campuses and played during first-year orientation.
NYU Shanghai Dean of Students David Pe, who was central to organizing the YouTube video, described how it came together.
“A WeChat group was created by students and invited cast members from the past 6 classes of students,” Pe told WSN in an email. “Within three days, we had some 38 alumni and students record and submit videos of themselves singing the song. A video editor donated his time to the project and worked around the clock to finish it in time to release before the first day of classes as a message and reminder that things will be alright.”
Pe said that the choice to reference “The Reality Show” was intended to promote unity across all NYU sites.
“‘The Reality Show’ has been a longstanding NYU tradition connecting all three campuses,” Pe continued. “It is one of the unique experiences that binds every NYU student together. ‘We Are Not Strangers’ […] serves as an anthem for every person to step outside their comfort zone, face the adversities in life, and connect with one another.”
NYU Shanghai sophomore Leon Ding led the fundraiser “Light a Lantern for Wuhan” and was featured in the YouTube video. Ding echoed Pe’s sentiment that including a song heard by most NYU students is comforting and encourages NYU students across the world to stand in solidarity with each other.
“‘We Are Not Strangers,’ which we would perform every year on ‘The Reality Show’ stage for the freshmen, sends out a message that though the world is such a big place, the connection between me and you still draws us close and makes us ‘not strangers,’” Ding said.
He is from China himself and was there when the outbreak began. Ding opted to stay close to home, taking online classes for the spring semester. He submitted his recording from the Zhejiang province of China, while others featured in the video were as far away as Washington, D.C., Singapore and Chandigarh, India.
Ding became involved with the fundraiser for the same reasons he was a part of the video; both efforts represent banding together as a community and inspiring hope during troubled times, he told WSN in an email.
At first, Ding said he was worried about whether his donations to other charities would go directly to those who needed it most. When a friend forwarded him an in-school fundraiser activity at Wuhan University, he had the idea to do the same thing.
“I could follow these pioneers and explore a donation channel within NYU Shanghai,” Ding said. “Which I believe is what many students concerned about the national epidemic are eager to see.”
Ding emphasized the central message of the video and the song — NYU community members across the globe supporting each other in difficult times.
“The kernel idea of both this song and NYU’s attitude towards CoV outbreak is no matter long our distance is, our hearts are never separated,” Ding said. “We are all human and thus care for each other.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, February 24, 2020, print edition. Email Nick Mead at [email protected]