Health and safety take center stage at first fall 2021 student government meeting

The NYU Student Government Assembly discussed the university’s COVID-19 guidelines and other safety protocols during its first meeting of the semester.

The+first+Student+Government+Assembly+meeting+of+this+semester+took+place+last+Thursday.+Students%E2%80%99+concerns+regarding+COVID-19+guidelines+and+the+recent+shooting+that+happened+outside+the+Tandon+School+of+Engineering+were+addressed.+%28Illustration+by+Charlie+Dodge%29

Charlie Dodge

The first Student Government Assembly meeting of this semester took place last Thursday. Students’ concerns regarding COVID-19 guidelines and the recent shooting that happened outside the Tandon School of Engineering were addressed. (Illustration by Charlie Dodge)

By Maria Freyre, Contributing Writer

NYU’s Student Government Assembly discussed student concerns about the university’s COVID-19 safety guidelines and questioned campus security protocols in relation to the recent shooting outside the Tandon School of Engineering in its first general meeting of the fall 2021 semester on Sept. 30.

“The number one priority is continued health and safety,” said Anthony Cruz, the vice chair of the President’s Council. “Open communication between administrators and students is going to be beneficial.”

Throughout the fall 2021 semester, students have complained that policies surrounding the return to fully in-person instruction have been unclear. During the meeting, student representatives expressed concerns about the university’s communications regarding COVID-19 guidelines.

Tien Nguyen, the senator representing undergraduate students at the School of Professional Studies, relayed one of his constituents’ concerns about insufficient availability of class recordings and other remote attendance options.

“One of the students that contracted COVID-19 said that she’s worried about how students drop masks during classes,” Nguyen said. “We want to be clear on whether professors are required to have remote options available at the same time during class time.”

The university’s COVID-19 information hub webpage does not specify whether instructors should offer remote synchronous alternatives to in-person classes. Some faculty have been unsure of the guidelines themselves.

During a Sept. 28 webinar about COVID-19 guidelines, one faculty member asked whether students who are isolating but feel well enough to participate in class are permitted to attend over Zoom. In response, Provost Katherine Fleming said that while faculty are welcome to offer remote learning options, they have no obligation to do so.

The potential risk of viral transmission in classroom settings was another topic of discussion, particularly since representatives had heard about sick students being asked to attend classes in person while waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test.

NYU has maintained that social distancing is not necessary in classrooms, since the university has found that classrooms have not been sources of transmission. Carlo Ciotoli, head of NYU’s COVID-19 Prevention & Response Team, nevertheless acknowledged that more could be done to ensure that students are not afraid of academic consequences should they choose to isolate as a precaution.

“What I’m sensing is that students are potentially showing up to class symptomatic to not miss classes,” Ciotoli said. “I would be fully supportive of advocating for [faculty flexibility]. We’re really trying to encourage people who are sick to stay home, and we do want faculty support on that side as well.”

Ciotoli attributed the majority of COVID-19 transmission at NYU to off-campus social gatherings and urged those attending large events to get tested frequently.

“If we are aware of a particularly high-risk situation and we know who was there, we are able to reach out to that group and recommend them to test within a certain window,” Ciotoli said. “Certainly not a mandated thing, but something we encourage.”

Ciotoli also informed the SGA that the university is working to revisit guest policies for residential halls and expand rapid testing on campus in accordance with COVID-19 transmission rates on campus and in New York City. Since the start of the fall 2021 semester, students living off campus have not been permitted to enter university housing and randomized testing for all students has been implemented. 

SGA executive leadership also reviewed the university’s response to the Sept. 21 shooting at Tandon to ensure that future incidents are met with a better coordinated response. Iman Yusuf, the senator at-large representing Black, transgender and gender-expansive students, questioned the presence of the New York City Police Department on campus.

“If NYU is able to reach out for expanded NYPD activity, it is also able to mitigate it,” Yusuf said.

Fountain Walker, NYU’s vice president for campus safety, responded that NYU does not have the power to interfere or prohibit police presence in NYU buildings during emergency calls.

Diversity Committee Vice Chair Alex Chapman added that police officers have been observed entering campus buildings and flouting the university’s COVID-19 regulations by not wearing masks. Walker said that noncompliance can be reported directly to the Department of Campus Safety, and that the university would actively report officers risking the health of others to their precincts. Ciotoli previously addressed this issue in the faculty webinar on Sept. 28.

“The only time that NYPD really should be entering are under urgent or emergent situations, in which case obviously filling out the Daily Screener is not practical,” Ciotoli said. “They should all be masked upon entry. Campus Safety will ask them to mask if they are not when they enter buildings.”

The student government concluded the meeting by discussing its plans for the remainder of the fall semester, which include amplifying a campaign demanding that NYU divest from fossil fuels, calling for greater transparency with regard to the university’s endowment, and advocating for more opportunities for student participation in the faculty hiring process.

Student government leaders will reconvene for their next meeting on Oct. 28.

Correction, Oct. 7: WSN originally misstated Tien Nguyen’s SGA office. Nguyen is the senator representing undergraduate students at the School of Professional Studies. WSN regrets the error. 

Contact Maria Freyre at [email protected]