NYUAD Students Confident in Campus’ Response to Coronavirus

NYUAD students feel reassured by its administration following the closures of all of NYU’s global sites.

A student walks through NYU Abu Dhabi's campus. NYUAD is the last of NYU's campuses to remain open amid the outbreak of the coronavirus. (Photo by Sam Klein)

An email sent on Monday, March 16, by NYU Global Programs notified the students of NYU Accra and NYU Sydney that both campuses would be closing. With this shutdown, every NYU campus has been closed due to the coronavirus outbreak — every campus except NYU Abu Dhabi. While NYUAD announced it was switching to remote instruction on March 4, it is the last of 14 campuses to physically remain open.

Regardless, NYUAD students are not worried about losing their housing anytime soon. Several students cited NYUAD’s tight-knit community — including its administration — as the reason why they are not bracing for a campus closure. 

The United Arab Emirates reported a confirmed case of coronavirus in late January, making it the first known case in the Middle East. Since then, the UAE has taken drastic measures to combat the spread of the virus — barring all international travel, closing all public entertainment areas and disinfecting the entire city of Dubai — many of which have proven to be effective. 

As of Monday, March 16, 125,000 residents of the UAE had been tested for the virus, equal to approximately 1.3% of its population. In comparison, there have been 71,695 people tested in the U.S. as of Sunday, March 22. This is equal to approximately 0.0002% of the population.

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There are currently 153 cases of COVID-19 in the UAE, with 13 arising within the last day. There are also 38 reported recoveries from the virus in the country. 

A CAS sophomore who has asked to remain anonymous is studying away at NYUAD. He noted that the UAE’s quick response helped assure him of his safety in contrast with the United States’ slow response to the outbreak and the resulting effect on NYU’s New York campus.

“I do think that the UAE in general has been doing a lot better to mitigate the pandemic-crisis, where we are definitely in a different position than in NYU New York,” the student told WSN in an email.

NYUAD junior Xinyi Zou agreed, noting that it is not only the government’s actions that make her feel safer, but those of the NYUAD community as well.

“Abu Dhabi right now is probably, in terms of health care and testing facilities, safer than most places,” Zou said. “[It is] a combination of the campus and the government and the healthcare system itself.”

NYUAD senior Alia ElKattan noted that after students at NYU’s New York campus were evicted from their residence halls with little warning, NYUAD students grew worried, but their fears were soon alleviated.

“Some students were concerned when the news from New York first broke out,” ElKattan told WSN in an email. “But then we had a university-wide Zoom forum with senior leadership and they assured us that we can remain on campus if we choose to, so people are now more confident in our situation.”

She added that she believes the NYUAD administration will continue its practice of transparent communication with students regarding the virus.

“[NYUAD’s administration] has been communicating with our student body and community at-large with so much thoughtfulness and compassion, so it makes it difficult to believe they’d leave us stranded at any point,” ElKattan said. 

NYUAD senior Motoi Oyane agreed, saying that his trust in the administration is one of the main reasons why he’s not worried.

“I believe that the school is closely monitoring the situation around the world and will make sensible decisions, hence, will not take sudden measures that will make us feel that we were off-guard,” Oyane told WSN in an email.

NYU Abu Dhabi’s administration is known amongst its students for its transparency and care. Vice Chancellor Mariët Westermann, who began her tenure in August 2019, has stated that she cares deeply about mental health and hosts “Walk with Mariët” sessions, where she and a group of students walk the streets of Abu Dhabi and talk informally.

The CAS sophomore has met with and spoken to Westermann, as well as a number of other high-ranking administrators. He says that at NYUAD, this is not abnormal.

“They feel very accessible,” the student said of NYUAD’s administration. “Part of it, I think, has to be because they live in proximity to us. They live on campus, and not in a penthouse mansion like [NYU President Andrew] Hamilton. Therefore, they feel closer and in turn, have a bigger responsibility to serve the student body.”

To them — and to many other students — the administration’s transparency is the very reason they’re not afraid of a sudden closure. If the campus was going to close, students believe that the administration would tell them first.

According to an email from Westermann sent to the NYUAD community Sunday, March 22, a page titled “Virtual Community Events” will soon be added to NYUAD’s intranet, its equivalent of NYUHome. The page will be updated daily, Westermann added.

The administration and Student Government have planned a variety of virtual events, all of which can all take place while social distancing. Events include Zoom fitness classes, Rooftop Rhythms Virtual Poetry Open Mic Night and the NYUAD Social Distancing Film Festival. 

One building on NYUAD’s campus — which usually remains empty, as the campus is not at capacity — has been converted to host students who have flown in from abroad, and are therefore required to self-quarantine for 14 days. 

The NYUAD community has ensured that these students don’t get lonely while they are in quarantine.

“Our peer-support club REACH have arranged for students to write them words of support and delivered the cards to them,” ElKattan told WSN. “Yesterday, they sent a group to sing to them from underneath their building, which was really cute.”

As to why NYU Abu Dhabi has kept its doors open while all others shut, students have been left to speculate.

Some students think it is because the outbreak has yet to reach the UAE to the degree it has at the other degree-granting campuses, New York and Shanghai. Others think it’s because of NYUAD’s high percentage of international students and the risk of traveling abroad.

Because of the open communication from the administration, many students say they do not wonder if the administration is hiding crucial information — there is an underlying assumption of mutual trust. 

“The administration has been as transparent and communicative as they could be in a time of such extreme uncertainty,” ElKattan said. “It’s made it so much easier to deal with everything going on and feel safer and well-taken care of.”

Zou echoed ElKattan’s statement and emphasized that the NYUAD administration was acting on behalf of students. 

“Really, [the administration has] been acting in students’ interests,” Zou added. “They’re not kicking anyone out. They’re not having inconsistent messages. It’s just been a very supportive, safe environment. Right now, it just feels super supportive here.”

NYUAD’s Acting Assistant Vice Chancellor for External Relations Kate Chandler said that it was through the collective strength of the NYUAD community that the administration sustained its efforts.

“Our leadership have been inspired by the enormous resilience and empathy shown by our students for each other, for our faculty and staff, and for the larger community,” Chandler told WSN in an email.

Though the coronavirus outbreak has negatively affected NYUAD, students say the administration’s response has promoted positivity during a period of global paranoia.

“Strengths and weaknesses reveal themselves at tough times,” Oyane said. “I have been very satisfied by what the NYUAD community has shown us to be capable of.”

Corrections, March 23: This article previously referred to residents of the UAE as Emiratis. The article also previously miscalculated the percentage of the United Arab Emirates’ population that has been tested for the coronavirus. The article has been updated and WSN regrets the errors.

A version of this article appears in the Monday, March 23, 2020 e-print edition. Email Abby Hofstetter at [email protected]

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