NYU Shanghai Takes Action After Facebook Controversy

Oriana de Angelis covers a forum held on-campus about race and diversity following a Facebook post that brought the issues to light.

Since the NYU Shanghai All Classes Facebook page was created, it has sparked a myriad of controversies, from course registration to identity. What else can we expect, from an unmoderated group made up of over 1,000 members from different countries all around the world? The group’s controversial peak, however, was reached in the second week of November 2016, following an article published on OCA. Tensions were high; notifications surged.

The Facebook “boom” began with a response to an OCA article posted on the school’s unofficial Facebook page. Burkini Ban in France, yet the topic of discussion quickly changed after more universal and polemical issues arose. Different conceptions of identity and students’ points of view regarding white privilege were two of the topics which took the spotlight. The number of students who wished to voice their opinion on the matters were quick to make themselves known.  Such an extensive interest in the topics reached the ears of the school’s faculty, resulting in a club-organized discussion on Nov. 16 arranged by the Ally Week Committee, Collective Voice, Model UN, the Identity and Advocacy club and NYU Shanghai’s Student Government and hosted by Almaz Zelleke. Both international and Chinese students attended and took part in the conversation.

Zelleke, head of NYU Shanghai’s Social Science department, started off the conversation with the question “How do we identify ourselves? With which part of our identity do we feel most strongly?” Many responses came up, from gender to sexuality to race. The forum was an open and safe environment, where the language changed drastically from the one used during the Facebook interchange. Many students felt comfortable voicing their personal experience in regards to the challenges they have faced throughout their upbringings.

One of the first responses was voiced by NYU Shanghai Senior Stephanie Ulan, who described how “it is difficult to explain how I feel like I have two identities”. Ulan explained how she found herself “equally Latino as I am white, despite the fact that not many may agree with my dual-identity.” Several students shared similar backgrounds. American-Born-Chinese students were even directly questioned in regards to their personal experience as bicultural individuals.

In response to the many personal anecdotes presented by the students, student Sohrob Moslehi thereafter raised the question of “whether identities are divisive or if they promote ally ship.” Students responded to Moslehi’s questions with various perspectives. “I don’t think Identity Politics are necessarily constructive, but they exist. They are a thing,” NYU Shanghai sophomore Angelica Castro-Mendoza said.

Lily Korinek provided the assembly with another perspective, raising a crucial factor which influences our perceptions of identity. Korinek asked “How do we celebrate diversity?…because that same diversity creates such challenges.” In response to Korinek’s mentioned dilemma, Korinek herself named an article on the Huffington Post which discussed how one must “[understand] where the other person is coming from. When arguing, each person can only rationalize where you are coming from. How do I successfully explain to you how I am perceiving [an issue] and how do you successfully understand my situation?” After Korinek’s statement many opinions regarding empathy arose, paving way for one of the meeting’s main topics: constructive conversation.

For many the assembly presented constructive conversation itself, giving room for students to voice out their opinions in a agression-free environment. Those present in the audience were interested in creating a bridge of understanding between those who have experienced distressing situations due to their backgrounds and those who wanted to prevent those situations in the future. Several students managed to speak up in a neutral environment, successfully expressing their opinion on the subject raised during the Facebook controversy. However, due to the significance of the topic in discussion, the conversation should continue.

This article was written by Oriana De Angelis. Please send an email to managing@oncenturyavenue.com to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Arshaun Darabnia

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