Class Syllabus Features Discriminatory Language Against Low-Income Students

Students enrolled in the American Sign Language II class are demanding action after seeing their syllabi feature exclusionary language against low-income students.

The Edgar Starr Barney building on Washington Square houses NYU’s Steinhardt school. A Steinhardt professor has fallen under scrutiny for discriminatory language in her class syllabus against low-income students who may not be able to afford the supplies. (Photo by Mathilde Van Tulder)

Mathilde Van Tulder

The Edgar Starr Barney building on Washington Square houses NYU’s Steinhardt school. A Steinhardt professor has fallen under scrutiny for discriminatory language in her class syllabus against low-income students who may not be able to afford the supplies. (Photo by Mathilde Van Tulder)

Aarushi Sharma, Deputy News Editor

Last Friday, CAS sophomore Ron Hall noticed discriminatory language in his syllabus for the American Sign Language II class taught by Steinhardt Professor Carmen King.

“If you cannot afford the textbook and the DVD, then you cannot afford to take this class,” the syllabus reads. 

Hall posted a screenshot of this section of the syllabus on Twitter on August 28, although he did not initially reveal Professor King’s identity.

“Frankly, I felt the presence of the language was not only tone deaf but goes directly against creating an environment that is inclusive to low-income [students],” Hall wrote in a text to WSN. “And while I do not personally consider myself low-income, I recognize that it is important to not only shed light, but work to dismantle institutional barriers that disproportionately impact low-income students.”

As more students interacted with the tweet, Hall created an email template to encourage fellow NYU students to email the department’s and course’s representatives to address the discriminatory language in the syllabus. 

The particular language featured on the ASL II and ASL I syllabi does not solely express Professor King’s views, as the syllabus is universal across all sections of the class.

In an email shared with WSN, Ramy Ebied, the Academic Program Administrator Head, expressed his regret for the language deployed by the department. 

“This language was clearly unacceptable,” Ebied wrote to WSN. “NYU, Steinhardt, and the Applied Psychology Department are committed to providing an education to all students regardless of their socioeconomic status. Please know that I have reached out to the instructors asking them to remove that language from the syllabus immediately, and the department is working to ensure that this never happens again.”

Steinhardt sophomore Shamon Lawrence, expressed concern that the added costs for the course material might be posing barriers to potential low-income students like himself.

“As a FGLI [First-Generation, Low-Income] student when I saw that last year before taking the course I was intimidated,” Lawrence wrote in a text to WSN. “Had it not been for my Opportunity Programs stipend, I would’ve been one of the students who needed to unenroll. She is the best at what she does, and is a great teacher. ASL should be accessible to students regardless of if they can afford a book.”

Lawrence –– who identified the professor before Hall’s tweet –– stated that King’s classroom decorum also made some groups of students feel marginalized and voiceless.

“I immediately knew it was her syllabus when I saw the font and the spacing,” Lawrence wrote. “When I read it I was sure. Those are words that I could never forget. Those words were my first encounter with imposter syndrome here at NYU.” 

This news is coming at a time when low-income students across the country are struggling due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the looming uncertainty of possible suspension of in-person classes.

NYU has previously been ranked fourth among top colleges enrolling the highest percentage of low- and middle-income students by the New York Times in 2017 as well as eighth on the economic mobility index, which measures access and outcomes for students as well as their ability to improve their economic status.

There have been several instances of NYU not enacting socio-economically conscious decisions. Since quarantining students moved into the residential halls on Aug. 18, several have spoken about being served inadequate meals with some getting meals as late as 11 p.m. This came after NYU revealed that tuition costs would be raised by 2.95% despite the pandemic heighting economic hardship.

Delmy M. Lendof, the Associate Dean for Student Affairs at NYU Steinhardt also expressed her regret for the use of such exclusionary language, in response to Tisch Junior Samantha Garcia’s email demanding accountability.

“I have spoken to the chair of the department and she is committed to ensuring this concern is reviewed and steps are put in place to ensure it does not happen again,” Lendof stated. “I will be working on providing language to be included in sillaby that focuses on resources for students that may have concerns about accessing the needed materials to be successful in a course.”

Co-leaders of the First-Generation Low Income Partnership (FLIP), CAS junior Renee Reed and CAS senior Bianny Magarin, consider the rhetoric of the ASL faculty to be classist. They are hoping for appropriate action from the university.

“We believe there should be no barriers to low-income students, especially in regards to adding even more obstacles in their already difficult journey to obtaining an education,” they wrote in an email to WSN. “If nothing is said [by NYU], NYU will have made their true feelings towards low-income students very clear.” 

Professor Carmen King and University Spokesperson John Beckman did not respond to WSN’s request for comment by time of publication. 

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, August 31st, 2020, e-print edition. Email Aarushi Sharma at [email protected]