Pregnant NYU Silver student denied remote learning accommodations

After reaching out to professors and several university departments, a Silver graduate student with health concerns reported being repeatedly denied learning accommodations.

The+picture+shows+a+typical+small+NYU+classroom+with+20+tablet-arm+chairs+in+green+and+orange.+A+large-screen+TV+is+mounted+in+the+room.

Sam Tu

The NYU Silver School of Social Work is located at 1 Washington Square N. One student was denied desk accommodations in a Silver classroom. (Staff Photo by Sam Tu)

 Bryn Borzillo and Joyce Li

When Jennifer Bryant, a graduate student in the Silver School of Social Work, arrived on Feb. 17 at her first in-person class of the spring semester, she was expecting one accommodation — a bigger desk. Instead, Bryant — on bed rest due to pregnancy complications — was forced to use a makeshift work area made by combining two chairs.

Bryant and other students with health conditions said they have struggled to obtain reasonable support from faculty and university offices, instead facing communication difficulties and rejected accommodation requests. Although NYU defends its decisions, students say they are being placed at an academic disadvantage compared to their peers.

In November 2021, Bryant sent a request to take her spring 2022 classes online to NYU’s Title IX department, which is responsible for preventing gender-based discrimination in education programs. A week before the start of the semester, she was informed that her request had been denied by the dean. She then requested a wheelchair and a bigger desk.

“It’s sad because we’re supposed to be getting the training to go out into the world to fight against these oppressive systems, to push back against injustice, and it’s just like, ‘You want us to do all of this but you don’t want us to do it to you?’” Bryant said. “This is unjust.” 

Bryant sent an email to an associate dean at Silver on Feb. 17 to confirm that a larger desk would be available in her classroom. The dean forwarded her email to the Title IX department, but a coordinator was reportedly unable to process the request. The coordinator wrote in an email that the classroom had been moved, leading to an internal miscommunication.

Bryant said Silver denied her initial request to take courses online since the accommodation would hinder the school’s ability to administer effective clinical classes. Representatives from the Office of Equal Opportunity and Silver agreed that the refusal to provide remote accommodations was “within the university’s guidelines for academic accessibility requests,” according to an email from the dean to Bryant.

“I’m really hopping through hoops just to get this degree,” Bryant said. “I’m at the point where they could just slip my damn degree under a door. I don’t even need to attend graduation. That’s where I’m at.”

Previous accommodations denied

Bryant had previously reached out to the Title IX department, requesting in November 2021 to take the remainder of her fall 2021 classes online. After a week-long delay during which Bryant missed several classes, she was told that only two of her courses would be available virtually, while the third would be recorded and sent to her.

However, when Bryant received the recording of her first class from her professor, it was only an audio file. When she emailed her professor asking if it were a technical issue, her professor said that they would not share their slides. 

“It broke me,” Bryant said. “I wasn’t able to sleep all night, having all these anxiety attacks about just failing this class. I didn’t know how I was supposed to make it.” 

Bryant also learned that the professor had distributed handouts during class that they did not send to her. She was able to complete the course, compensating for missed instruction with online videos.

“It’s just about showing my voice, showing that no matter what, you’re going to come against these obstacles and you just have to continue to push,” Bryant said. “That’s exactly what I’ve been doing, I’ve been pushing. But I’m just tired. I don’t feel like I should have to fight.”

Bryant is not the only student facing issues with accommodations. She said that when she posted about her situation to a private Facebook group for Silver students working toward master’s degrees in social work, she received more than a hundred comments, many of which recounted similar experiences.

NYU responds to student concerns

NYU spokesperson Shonna Keogan said that individual departments, faculty and administrators are not responsible for class accommodations for students. She added that each case is reviewed by multiple teams.

“Ultimately, we all share the same goal: to make the NYU experience as accessible as possible to all students,” Keogan wrote in a statement to WSN. “Our staff work hard to achieve this by having qualified personnel assess each case with efficiency and compassion, while concurrently ensuring the quality of the education we endeavor to provide remains intact.”

Bryant believes that she did not receive the accommodations needed to have the same quality of education as her peers. She said students should continue to advocate for themselves and hopes that NYU administration will better support community members who need accommodations.

“This is something that’s been happening in Silver for a very long time, and nobody apparently wanted to speak out,” Bryant said. “If somebody did speak out, they were intimidated.”

Correction, March 27: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported the status of Bryant’s accommodation request. Bryant’s request for a wheelchair and bigger desk were not explicitly denied, but were merely never fulfilled. WSN regrets the error.

The headline has been updated to better reflect the article. 

Contact Bryn Borzillo and Joyce Li at [email protected]