Students say punishments for violating COVID-19 guidelines are overly harsh

Liberal Studies first-year Aria Young claims she was unjustly treated after being evicted from NYU housing due to misconduct. Young and other students who face similar situations allege that the university handled their cases insensitively, in part on account of their race.


Ryan Walker

Students claim they were unfairly treated after suspension from NYU housing. Those facing punitive actions are alleging a pattern of the university’s insensitivity and unnecessary severity. (Staff Photo by Ryan Walker)

Mei Lamison, Staff Writer

It was Dec. 23 and Liberal Studies first-year Aria Young had just finished her the last of her exams of the Fall 2020 semester. Unable to fly home to Shanghai due to the pandemic, Young planned to remain in the area for the holidays. She stayed with friends before returning to on-campus housing for the January term. But that morning, she received an email from the Office of Student Conduct informing her that she was suspended from university housing. She had two weeks to find other accommodations.

“I was scared, panicked, really just in a state of disbelief,” Young said. “It was the day before Christmas Eve, so everything was shut down, and I couldn’t get in contact with anyone from NYU. As an international student from China with no relatives in the States, I had no one to rely on.”

According to the Office of Student Conduct, Young violated three sections of the university’s student policy because she lent her student ID earlier that month to a friend who does not attend NYU.

“I gave him my ID so that he could use the bathroom since all the public restrooms were closed due to COVID,” Young said.

According to Young, her friend was in Lipton Hall for no more than five minutes. He followed New York state’s COVID-19 guidelines and tested negative prior to his arrival at NYU. Using Young’s ID, he entered Young’s residence hall. However, he was caught by a security guard when exiting the building.

In addition to being suspended from university housing, Young was placed under disciplinary probation.

“I realize my wrongdoing violated NYU’s community standards and deserved some kind of consequence,” Young said. “However, the punishment given to me by NYU was unnecessarily severe.”

Young appealed the decision, but the office upheld the verdict.

“If you are unable to locate alternative housing in the New York area, I encourage you to work with your academic adviser in Liberal Studies to identify courses that you can take remotely while studying from home this semester,” the Office of Student Conduct told Young in an email.

“It is impossible to book a flight back to … China within two weeks’ notice,” Young wrote in an Instagram post. “I was told to simply go home, even though home to me was half a globe and a 10k plane ticket away.”

She reached out to the office again to explain her situation and ask for an extension, but received no response.

As a woman of East Asian descent, Young also worried about her safety in New York. Surges in anti-Asian sentiment and violence have accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, hate crimes against Asian Americans increased by 833% in New York City and by 150% nationwide.

“I assumed that NYU, a school I have always looked up to and a school that prides itself on diversity and global inclusion, would show me enough sympathy to ensure my safety,” Young said.

Frustrated, Young turned to the parent of a friend, Jamie Frederick, for advice. After hearing about the situation, Frederick reached out to NYU himself.

“It’s supposedly one of the most prestigious universities in the country, in what is probably the most liberal city in the country, and here they are, treating a minority group a specific way,” Frederick said. “It’s very contradicting to the image that they try to portray … As an advocate, I reached out to the president of the university, the head of Student Affairs and a few others.”

According to Frederick, he received a response from the Office of Student Conduct that “essentially said, ‘Sorry, there’s nothing we can do.’” He also received a phone call from the attorney’s office at NYU, asking if he was Young’s lawyer.

“The irony is that [Young’s friend] was allowed inside of the residence hall again to help her move out,” Frederick said.

Following Frederick’s interactions with the university, Young received a response from the Office of Residential Life and Housing Services, informing her she could remain in her dorm until the end of the month. The extension gave Young enough time to secure off-campus housing.

“It’s upsetting,” Young said. “As soon as a white man calls, they are suddenly scared and interested in my situation.”

According to NYU spokesperson John Beckman, NYU suspended a “significant number of students” from both the university and from housing since the start of the 2020-2021 academic year. “The “overwhelming majority” of students suspended brought in — or attempted to bring in — someone outside of NYU’s residential community into their residence hall, Beckman said.

Stern School of Business first-year Kelley Zhang experienced similar treatment to Young. Zhang brought another NYU student into her dorm room and was consequently suspended from housing and put on university probation. According to Zhang, the school failed to provide her with timely information surrounding her suspension, which made the process even more stressful.

“The security guard and RA were also super aggressive towards me and made me feel very uncomfortable and attacked,” Zhang wrote to WSN. “It’s frustrating because they seem to expect you to know the student conduct policy in and out.”

Another first-year student, who asked to remain anonymous, faced a situation similar to that of Young and Zhang. The student, along with their two suitemates, was suspended from university housing and placed under academic probation for having three other NYU residential students inside of their suite.

“The RAs … totally undermined the situation,” the student wrote to WSN. “They said that we might just get a couple of essays to write, nothing too big of a punishment.”

According to the student, punishments varied between those involved in the incident. The three residing in the suite were suspended. The three visiting were only placed on university probation.

“For some odd reason, they decided to split up the group of six people and have 3 people talk to one student conduct [officer] and the other three with a different student conduct [officer],” the student wrote. “I feel like because of that, our punishments were not the same. Our [officer] seemed like … she already knew what she was going to do with us before she even heard our case.”

The six students were caught in early November. The students’ suspensions lasted the remainder of the fall semester and continue through the Spring 2021 semester.

“It’s also worth mentioning that 3 of us were black and the other 3 were Asian,” the student wrote, noting that the three Black students were suspended and the three Asian students were not. “I don’t think our punishment had a lot to do with race … but race shouldn’t go unnoticed in this case. NYU has not always been fair or equal with certain things when it pertains to race.”

Young also believes the handling of her case was racially insensitive. A few weeks following her initial suspension, Young shared her experience on social media.

“NYU’s decision to kick me out of housing directly pushed me towards housing instability and potential deportation,” Young wrote in an Instagram post. “NYU failed to recognize my individual circumstances that are different from a domestic white student’s … jeopardizing my safety in a global pandemic and national racial crisis against Asians.”

As of press time, Young’s post has over 11,000 likes and more than 800 comments.

“As an Asian American woman who is now living an hour away from campus without the protection of NYU security because of this decision, I am … fearful of my safety on my long commute to campus every day,” Young wrote. “I emailed president Andy Hamilton’s office about my experience and the improvements NYU needs to protect marginalized students like me, but have got no response.”

Young also started a petition calling for NYU to issue a public statement acknowledging negligence in handling her case, reexamine the procedures for managing student conduct, and further enhance security measures to protect and support Asian students. The petition currently has over 300 signatures.

Beckman responded to Young’s efforts in an email statement to WSN.

“It is untrue to assert that NYU suspends students from housing capriciously or without cause, and it is fictitious to suggest that we take action abruptly or without regard to a student’s circumstances,” Beckman said. “Students have been commendable about observing the safety and health rule; however, since the start of the year, some students have not.”

“In each case, when sanctions have been imposed, it is because of a clear violation of a clear rule,” he continued.

Young, however, disagreed with Beckman’s claims.

“I agree that students deserve sanctions when they violate university policy; however, the severity of NYU’s sanctions are countereducational and punitive,” Young said. “The negligence of the university is astounding. The Office of Student Conduct directly harmed me, and a number of other students, by threatening our safety and wellbeing in the middle pandemic. It is a shame that such a prestigious and progressive college refuses to recognize its harsh treatment of students.”

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 26, 2021, e-print edition. Email Mei Lamison at [email protected]