Everytime I check the news and see the word ‘China,’ I instinctively brace myself for bad news. When I woke up and read that the Chinese consulate in Houston was being shut down, my immediate thought was “Am I just never going back to China?”
You might be thinking that this is an overreaction or that I’m being pessimistic, which is why I’ll first provide an analysis of the recent events concerning US-China relations. From shutting down consulates, to attempting to limit Chinese student exchanges on top of increasingly anti-Chinese rhetoric among politicians and the public, it’s not unreasonable to be concerned about the possibility of NYU Shanghai being shut down.
First, shutting down a consulate sends a stronger message than the typical tactics of tariffs or sanctions, it’s a direct cut of diplomatic ties. Furthermore, taking a tougher stance on China has become a popular tactic in Republican and Democratic campaigns. Attempting to build a ‘tough on China’ image has become a popular platform in both Trump and Biden’s presidential campaigns, with the general American public viewing China increasingly unfavorably.
Perhaps most alarming in relation to our situations as students, Republican senators have introduced bills that would make Chinese students unable to pursue STEM degrees at US universities, not to mention the recent attempts at deporting foreign students in the coming semester.
Alongside this, Trump has repeatedly blamed the CCP and China as a whole for America’s rising coronavirus cases, leading to ongoing travel bans and heightened tensions. This has led many to speculate that the US and China are on the brink of, or have already entered, a long awaited cold war.
Given all of the above, I think it’s reasonable to be concerned. With that, I also think it’s reasonable to demand that the NYU Shanghai administration gives us some kind of contingency plan to prepare for the worst.
In the worst case scenario that our doors are ordered shut, what’s the plan?
If NYU Shanghai were to be ordered shut, would we all go to New York? How would required credits differ? Would we be able to keep our scholarships? What about the Chinese national students? In times where there is a reasonable concern about US-China relations, the administration should at least be considering questions like these.
Even if we are back eventually, the likelihood of us getting back at all this semester is low, and even if we are allowed permits, how would those who are under the Houston consulate obtain that permit? Secondly, it’s logistically very difficult to get into China at the moment, we can’t even get in unless we sneak our way onto a cargo ship.
So why is there no leniency on the Chinese requirement? I went to China to learn Chinese firsthand, not take a year of it online. Alongside that, the only open Perspectives on Humanities (POH) slot is at 2:00 am New York time. Why is there no leniency on strict campus-specific course requirements when we can’t even be at the campus, especially when I was told to not plan for the possibility of taking classes across multiple time zones?
Going beyond concerns of being told we are no longer allowed to operate, what if censorship requirements become more stringent to the point where academic freedom is sacrificed? In a draft of a new policy concerning limitations on freedom of speech for foreign teachers, it is explicitly stated that topics such as the “Tiananmen Square massacre, the status of Taiwan and the mass incarceration of Uyghurs” are to be avoided. Where is NYUSH going to draw the line and recognize that laws like these would prevent us from getting the liberal arts education NYU promised?
The administration, specifically Vice Chancellor Lehman, is being over-optimistic in (what seems like) a desperate attempt to retain our tuition dollars despite knowing the harsh reality. There needs to be a thorough consideration of the worst case scenario if diplomatic ties go further south, or if censorship becomes so burdensome that our liberal arts education is sacrificed. More importantly, the plan for how to handle this worst case scenario should be known by the students. We deserve to know. Alongside this, there should be a reevaluation of academic requirements given that almost all international students will likely be unable to be present in Shanghai for a quarter of their undergraduate career.
This article was written by Lauren Bickle currently based in Miles City, Montana. Please reach out the author through instagram account @laurenjunebickle.
Photo credit: Jennifer Pak/Marketplace