NYU Abu Dhabi celebrates its 10th anniversary

After a one-year delay due to COVID-19, the NYUAD community commemorated the accomplishments and challenges of the campus through virtual and in-person events.


Roshni Raj

An art installation commemorating NYUAD’s 10th anniversary sits on the Abu Dhabi campus. The celebrations surrounding the anniversary were delayed a year due to COVID-19. (Staff Photo by Roshni Raj)

Roshni Raj, Abroad News Editor

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — NYU Abu Dhabi celebrated the 10th anniversary of its founding with a series of virtual events and a visual installation on campus on Sept. 21 and Sept. 22. Students, faculty and staff reflected on NYUAD’s accomplishments and challenges over the past decade through a film premiere, video tribute and panel discussions after the celebration was delayed for a year due to COVID-19. 

NYUAD opened in 2010 as a joint partnership between NYU and the government of Abu Dhabi, the campus’s primary funder. Since opening, NYUAD has faced criticism for its treatment of workers, tenuous academic freedom and the institution’s legal framework. The campus is located on Saadiyat Island northeast of Abu Dhabi.

In a video message played at the celebration, Rima Al Mokarrab — an NYU trustee, chair of Tamkeen LLC and executive director of strategic affairs at Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi — said the vision for the campus started as a desire to educate and prepare students for a world of rapid technological change and increasing globalization.

“You can’t just learn about other cultures from a book,” Al Mokarrab said. “You have to physically move and travel throughout the world to actually get that experience and know what it means. It’s better to engage with difference than to be afraid of it and close yourself off.”

The NYUAD Memory Project — community-centered oral history sessions documenting NYUAD’s history through students, faculty and staff — launched in 2020 to celebrate the anniversary. Lauren Kata, an archivist and librarian at the NYUAD library, became the coordinator of the project after working with NYUAD’s 10th Anniversary Working Group in fall 2019.

“We capture history from a person’s lived experience,” Kata said in an interview. “Oral history, as an archival record of lived experience, is a really important part of documenting an institution’s history and memory.”

NYUAD’s pre-recorded events began with a panel called “The Origin Story: An Oral History of the Founding of NYU Abu Dhabi 2005-2010,” which debuted an oral history video and accompanying book featuring leadership and founding members of the campus. The programming also included “The Tenth Talks” — a series of episodes discussing the university’s contributions and goals regarding the environment, technological innovation, COVID-19 and the future of global education — and the documentary-style feature film titled “This is NYU Abu Dhabi.”

While a majority of events were held virtually, some in-person activities brought the community together. NYUAD’s East Dining Hall handed out cupcakes and cookies decorated with a 10th anniversary graphic to students, faculty and staff. At NYU’s New York City campuses, the Third North, Downstein and Jasper Kane Cafe dining halls also marked the occasion with menus featuring regional and Emirati meals. 

Toby Le, an NYUAD senior and the student government’s programming board chair, helped organize an event dubbed Polaroids at the Palms to commemorate the anniversary with Polaroid pictures.

“We have a lot of students coming to campus who’ve never had anything close to an in-person event,” Le said. “We found it would be really nice to capture this moment to provide some sort of physical memento for students so that they can look back more fondly on this moment, and that’s what really inspired the event.”

Le said that seeing about 160 community members take part in the events helped bring the community together. He hopes the next 10 years will continue to preserve NYUAD’s student culture.

“If we have individuals who are willing to advocate and work with the administration on maintaining what NYUAD is supposed to be, I’m not too worried about the long-term plans,” Le said. “Under non-COVID circumstances, I could have seen this celebration being way more extensive and of a celebratory nature, which makes me a little bit regretful that I’m not living in a timeline where that’s possible.”

A version of this story appeared in the Sept. 27, 2021, e-print edition. Contact Roshni Raj at [email protected].