Much of NYU Shanghai’s identity derives from its small campus on Century Avenue, known fondly to students as “the AB.” With its signature 2nd floor cafe, study lounges, cafeteria and library, years of NYUSH students have grown accustomed to the simultaneously lively and cozy atmosphere of the building.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has dispersed NYUSH’s international students and resulted in the building being repurposed with plexiglass, hand sanitizer, and socially distanced desks. It still retains its old qualities— the cafe, lounges, cafeteria and library— but with some substantial changes. NYUSH students on-campus have taken their time to get accustomed to the new look and to assess how the AB has changed since last Fall.
In past years, the NYUSH library has been known for its coveted seats and quiet atmosphere. Many students have spent long days, and even nights, cramming for finals in a study room or at a desk.
Murphy Wang, Class of 2023, frequented the library last Fall as a first-year student. On what has been the biggest change in the library this Fall, she said “it is a lot harder to find a seat there due to the increasing number of students.”
Wang was referring to the influx of “Go Local” students, originally NYU New York students also displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic who are taking classes in the AB.
NYUSH students have long commented on the difficulties of finding a seat in the library during midterms and finals. Wang, however, pointed to the daily difficulties of finding a seat in the library for a study session.
“Some students will leave their stuff there overnight to occupy the seat so that they can secure it the next morning,” she said.
With the increasing number of students, NYUSH has responded by enhancing technology that makes it easier to organize seating. A “reserve your seat” function on social media using QR codes allows students to save their seats while they take a break from studying.
Despite these changes, students continue to visit the library to take advantage of the quiet atmosphere and study for classes.
The NYUSH Library in November, 2020. Photo by Hugo Wang, Class of 2023.
The 2nd Floor Cafe
The cafe on the 2nd floor of the AB has been a hub for students to catch up with friends in between classes. It has often seen a mix of international and Chinese students, with some having a snack, chatting and laughing with friends, and others studying on the couches.
Given the new social distancing rules and increased number of students, the cafe has seen some stylistic and atmospheric changes.
The NYUSH Cafe in November, 2020. Photo by Hugo Wang, Class of 2023.
In the Fall of 2019, the cafe was designed with open spaces and long couches. For the Fall 2020 semester, new tables and seats have been moved into the cafe to allow for extra study space. Students are encouraged to keep their distance and wear masks (unless eating).
The cafe has also had to cope with an increase in students given the presence of Go Local students. However, many students also say it is a quieter cafe now than it was last fall.
Even with COVID-19 restrictions, students have been finding ways to continue socializing and maintain the spirit of the cafe. Stephanie Anderson, class of 2023, recently returned to campus after completing her quarantine. She shared her thoughts on the cafe having visited again after a year away.
“The cafe might look different, having adapted to the new COVID guidelines, but the same spirit of friendly faces and meaningful conversations still remain,” she said.
Stephanie Anderson and Hugo Wang, Class of 2023, pose outside the cafe. Photo by Sophia Alfred, Class of 2024.
The 15th Floor Study Lounge
Last Fall, the 15th floor of the Century Avenue campus consisted of large open spaces dedicated to performances, meetings, and other large-group events.
With the demand for more study spaces having increased, the NYUSH administration has responded by renovating the 15th floor to a large-scale study space. Now, it is occupied with dozens of chairs and tables for individual and group study sessions.
The redesigning of the 15th floor into a temporary study lounge was a coordinated effort by NYUSH Student Life and Facility Management, who acknowledged the limited space in the AB and were quick to respond to student needs.
Hugo Wang is one of the many students on campus who have taken advantage of the new space.
“I didn’t go to the 15th floor a lot during my first year, but now I’ve started to really enjoy the view. There are also a lot of tables and chairs for group discussions or just chatting with friends,” he said.
He also offered suggestions on how the school could further improve the place.
“It would be great if we could have more cute decorations!”
The suggestion stems from the design of the AB’s other study lounges, which feature cozy living room decor, bean bags, lamps, and other unique furniture pieces.
With the administration’s quick response to the transformation of the 15th floor, a new renovation of cozy decorations could be in its future.
Hugo Wang, Class of 2023, studies in the 15th floor lounge.
Whether you’re stopping by for lunch, hitting the gym or playing ping pong, the cafeteria has traditionally been one of the most popular spots at NYUSH.
However, given its capacity for large gatherings, the administration has instituted a number of restrictions to ensure social distancing. Each table now seats four people, with transparent dividers separating them.
Declan Mazur, class of 2023, says the restrictions do not hinder socializing with peers.
“On a regular day it’s quite easy to hear and interact with your peers, regardless,” he said.
The cafeteria also has been transformed throughout the semester. While at the beginning of the term, the school avoided large gatherings, the cafeteria has now hosted a Thanksgiving celebration, encouraging bonding among students.
“We just had our Thanksgiving celebration this past week and each day had the cafeteria packed with people. Students said that was the first time they’d had a major event in B1 with hundreds of people in the cafeteria at once,” Mazur said.
The gym next to the cafeteria has also resumed activities. As NYUSH nears the end of its fall semester, it continues to adapt to the changing circumstances of COVID-19 restrictions and returning international students.
On whether the atmosphere is different since last Fall, Mazur said “I’d say the vibe hasn’t changed too much. I would argue the changes, being sanitization and social distancing orders, have only been positive.”
“That being said, I’m waiting for the day that those barriers can be torn down safely!”
Two students eat in the cafeteria in May of 2020. Photo by NYUSH gallery.
While the most beloved general spaces in the AB look relatively similar to last Fall, significant unnoticable changes have been implemented in accordance with COVID-19 prevention efforts.
NYUSH cleaning staff have taken on more frequent disinfecting of the campus, using chlorine-containing disinfectant tablets. The staff has been hard at work ensuring that surfaces are clean for students.
NYUSH Facility Management has spearheaded efforts to ensure clean air circulation by placing disinfectant tabs on outlets and adding new antibacterial air filters. Their aim is to cancel return air from ventilation systems and maintain fresh air supplied into indoor spaces.
Physical barriers, social distancing directions, and hand sanitizer stations have been prevalent in the AB since the reopening of the school last spring.
On whether any additional facility precautions will be taken to combat COVID-19 in the spring, a representative for NYUSH Facility Management said “any further steps may be carried out subject to the evolution of the epidemic situation.”
The New Campus
While the AB undergoes its own changes, NYUSH is busy building its new campus in the Qiantan area of Shanghai. The new home will feature sports facilities, a larger library, more study lounges, and other amenities.
The new Qiantan campus is scheduled to open to students in 2022.
NYUSH students will almost certainly transform the new campus’s library, cafe, study spaces, and cafeteria into the lively and cozy environments they created on the Century Avenue campus.
Even among pandemic-level changes, NYUSH students’ commitment to community engagement and identity remains as strong as ever.
This article was written by Mia Barkenaes currently based in Kristiansand, Norway. Please send an email to [email protected] to get in touch.