Campus tour guides who were harassed say NYU response was inadequate

After at least two admissions ambassadors were physically and verbally attacked while giving tours of campus, NYU enacted new measures to increase security. But the tour guides who were harassed say they still feel unsafe.

The+entrance+to+the+Bonomi+Family+Admissions+Center.+On+the+left%2C+a+purple+banner+with+the+buildings+name+hangs+from+the+side+of+the+building.+Above+the+entrance+are+posters+promoting+the+university+featuring+students+and+alums.

Kiran Komanduri

Some NYU admissions ambassadors say they feel unsafe after facing harassment during campus tours. (Photo by Kiran Komanduri)

Ally Dickson, Contributing Writer

As an NYU admissions ambassador led prospective students and parents past the Stern School of Business on a campus tour last month, a man interrupted the group. He approached the ambassador and grabbed them aggressively, shouting and asking for money. The ambassador didn’t know what to do.

“Anything can happen so quickly and I always have to think about where I can run when something happens,” the ambassador said. “The answer is nowhere.”

The admissions ambassador, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely about their job, said they have been harassed on the job several times since in-person tours resumed in fall 2021.

NYU employs more than 150 admissions ambassadors from the undergraduate student body each year. Their responsibilities include conducting tours of NYU’s campus, working university recruitment events, and responding to questions from prospective students and families.

Our tour group families were also victims because this guy started grabbing them. He tried to follow one of the moms. At one point, this mom said, ‘This campus is a bunch of bombs waiting to explode.’”

— NYU admissions ambassador

A second admissions ambassador said that during a tour at the end of the fall 2021 semester, they were hit with a bike, then followed and spit at near Washington Mews.

“The tour group was definitely in shock,” the second ambassador said. “I expected something to go out about it, because I know they send out emails about things that happen, but nothing went out. I was confused as to why, because that’s really scary.”

The second ambassador said that one segment of admissions tours is designated for discussing on-campus safety. In the context of the recent incidents, they said reassuring prospective students and families about safety at NYU felt hypocritical.

“Our tour group families were also victims because this guy started grabbing them,” they said. “He tried to follow one of the moms. At one point, this mom said, ‘This campus is a bunch of bombs waiting to explode.’”

NYU spokesperson John Beckman denied that any admissions ambassadors or tour participants have been physically attacked, but acknowledged that other forms of harassment had occurred since in-person tours resumed in August 2021.

In an attempt to address ambassadors’ concerns, Beckman said NYU implemented new safety policies and strengthened those already in place. The new measures included ensuring that all incidents were reported to the Campus Safety department, increasing security presence near tours and providing de-escalation training to admissions ambassadors and staff. Tours also no longer visit Washington Square Park as their final stop, which NYU’s admissions website calls “the heart of campus.”

Both admissions ambassadors, however, said they still do not feel safe at work.

The first ambassador said that the harassment during tours is mostly targeted toward women of color — particularly Asian admissions ambassadors — and emphasized that the admissions team recognizes the incidents as hate crimes. They said they are concerned for their safety when they have to give tours alone.

“The ultimate problem with Campus Safety is that they can’t do anything about it,” they said, adding that they feel they have to hide their honest opinion about safety on campus. “Recently, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about safety because of all the news. I’m terrified every day to go to school, but I cannot say that — it’s really heartbreaking.”

Seven students were assaulted during a string of attacks on and near campus last month. NYU responded by adding new security measures, including lighting and cameras in the areas where some of the assaults took place.

How tours have changed: walkie-talkies, a buddy system, avoiding Washington Square Park

When in-person tours resumed last fall, the admissions team — which operates campus tours and manages the student admissions ambassadors who run them — instituted a buddy system for tour guides. In an emergency, one of the two guides would be able to seek help without the tour group being left on their own.

Despite this policy, admissions ambassadors said many tour guides have had to lead tours alone due to a shortage of trained guides and a high demand for tours.

“Now, with early decision and regular decision coming out, it’s harder, because everything is booked,” the first ambassador said. “I’m scared for April and May. Hundreds of people come in every hour.”

A third admissions ambassador, CAS senior Jaylen Taylor, said that some of NYU’s security efforts, including the de-escalation training and the use of walkie-talkies, have helped her feel more comfortable when she gives campus tours. Ambassadors have been given code phrases to signal that they are in an unsafe situation without alarming their tour group.

Taylor and other ambassadors also said that, in addition to the de-escalation training, their supervisors’ efforts have helped them feel more supported.

“All of our bosses are amazing and they’re always like, ‘Listen, feel empowered to end the tour if you need to, if you need to come back to home base and talk to us, bring everybody back,’” Taylor said. “That is almost more valuable than the training itself.”

The first ambassador said the admissions team also asked Campus Safety to provide an officer to accompany ambassadors on tours, but the request was denied.

According to the ambassadors, Campus Safety said it cannot station more officers at certain locations due to some of the outdoor stops on tours falling outside of the department’s jurisdiction.

“It sucks that we don’t have anyone else really there protecting us,” the second ambassador said regarding Gould Plaza. “I wish that Campus Safety would be around there more often or more prominently, because we have tours for five hours a day.”

Contact Ally Dickson at [email protected]