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NYU Abu Dhabi Student Tanya Bansal Reflects on and Converses about Life at NYU Abi Dhabi


NYU Abu Dhabi: From Unknown to Beloved

By Tanya Bansal, Class of 2018

NYU Abu Dhabi brings together a community at the crossroads of the world in an environment conducive not only to academic learning but also to learning that extends beyond textbooks and labs into a city that’s cosmopolitan, dynamic, modern and culturally vibrant.

Even though NYUAD students come every corner of the world, Abu Dhabi is our home away from home, so much so that no study away journey begins without a “#SeeYouSoonDhabs” post on social media and no conversation with a friend from home is complete without telling them that there are only two seasons here: hot and hotter. When most of us prepare to leave for a break our suitcases are packed with delicious Arabian dates to share with those who’ve never had them before.

It almost makes me laugh when I think about how my notions of life in Abu Dhabi turned out to be poles apart from the reality. After three eventful semesters, I’ve discovered that AD is much more than its quintessential beaches, souks and malls. It’s a place that brings together people from every part of the world in a community that is diverse, tolerant, modern and culturally alive. Abu Dhabi is truly one-of-a-kind.

Casual conversations with fellow students, faculty and staff allow me to string together pieces of our changing perceptions of life and society in Abu Dhabi and present a side of the story you’ll never read about in brochures.

Special thanks to Pam Mandich, Rosy Tahan, Justin Blau, Jessica Vitiello, and Ankita Sadarjoshi for sharing their thoughts.

What surprised you about Abu Dhabi?

The travel opportunities, remarked staff member Pam Mandich, who came to Abu Dhabi almost nine years ago from Canada and has seen about 20 different countries since then.

“What I love most about this place, besides being safe and having friends from all over the world, is how easy it is to travel. In less than an hour I can be in a totally different country!”

What is something you thought about Abu Dhabi that turned out wrong?

The impression of Abu Dhabi as safe but relatively dull (and even boring) seems to be the number one misconception for many of us.

“There is so much more to do in the city than hit the malls”, said sophomore Rosy Tahan, who grew up in Dubai. “Formula One events and free annual concerts on the beach really pep the city up.”

What do you think is the most commonly held myth about life in Abu Dhabi?

Mandich finds herself educating friends across the Atlantic about what day-to-day life is really like for women. “I tell them that I live in one of the most tolerant and diverse places in the world. I don’t have to cover, just dress respectfully.”

Tahan added with a laugh that “some people think you’ll be arrested for wearing shorts” and don’t know the UAE has female cabinet ministers and even fighter pilots.

Professor Justin Blau is always surprised when people “think Abu Dhabi is the same as Dubai.” There are a lot of differences.

What challenges you most about living here?

Freshman Ankita Sadarjoshi who grew up in Muscat, Oman, said it’s sometimes “difficult to explore the city on foot” because it’s so spread out and there’s a lot of construction. The pedestrian culture is still finding its feet.

And for those who transition from snow to sand, getting used to the heat and humidity can be a challenge, while others are surprised to see a big city like Abu Dhabi doesn’t have overly accessible public transit like the Dubai metro.

Mandich was surprised to learn there’s no traditional address system. “I had to Google every place before taking taxis and I still get lost in Dubai.”

Still, most of us can’t help but be charmed by this city’s peaceful yet vibrant vibe. New Yorker and athletics coach Jessica Vitiello is considering starting a family in Abu Dhabi. Settling down far from the US will be difficult news to break to her loved ones and it will take some adapting on her part because Abu Dhabi is a transitional society where people are constantly coming and going.

“You are always having to say goodbye to really wonderful people,” added Mandich. “But of course, the flip side is that you are also always saying hello to new friends.”

This post originally appeared on NYU Abhu Dhabi’s Salaam blog; see more here.

Student Team at NYU Abu Dhabi, Including Visiting NYU Shanghai Student, Creates Winning App to Curb Road Accidents

bb_940-350Can an app reduce road accidents in the UAE? Yes, says the team of five students who created RoadWatch, the winning app for the UAE government’s 2016 mGov competition. (Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum personally handed them a well deserved prize of 1,000,000 AED).

The national competition asked university teams to create a mobile app designed for government services. Partnered with the UAE Ministry of Interior, Kai-erik Jensen (junior, from the U.S.), Maitha Salem (sophomore, from the UAE), Kenny Song (NYU Shanghai junior, from the U.S.), Quan Vuong (junior, from Vietnam), Ling Zhang (senior, from New Zealand) created the RoadWatch app — a smart, real-time driving assistant with three components: a phone app, smartwatch app, and web app.

The phone and watch app are for drivers, who can track driving habits like speeding, tailgating, swerving — factors that are then quantified into a driving safety level. It also gives real-time audio alerts on road conditions from the police. Impressively enough, the companion smartwatch app can monitor driver biometrics to alert drowsy drivers. The app is also is available in 15 languages.

The web app is for police use. With a map-based interface, police officers can draw zones with audio alerts and dynamic speed limits (e.g. if there is an accident, construction, sandstorm) to alert drivers. A heatmap allows the police to view anonymized, aggregate data on regions for speeding, swerving, and hard stopping to improve police patrol zones and road planning.

“I’m extremely excited and proud that our cross-campus NYU team has won the 2016 mGov competition. The funding, recognition, and government relationships we built during the competition will enable us to develop the app further and create safer roads in the UAE,” said Kenny Song.

The team, having worked on this project since the fall semester, received help refining the app from the Ministry of Interior. Four finalists from 94 teams were chosen, and a public voting process was held to ultimately decide RoadWatch as the first place winner. The team was invited to attend the World Government Summit in Dubai from February 8 to 10, where they were given a platform to talk about their app.

The future looks bright for the RoadWatch team. They’ll meet with various government agencies in the next few weeks to see how their app can be developed for public release or integrated into existing government apps.

Find out more about RoadWatch here.

NYU Sydney Professor Alecia Simmonds publishes about an Australian detention center

unnamedDr. Alecia Simmonds (Ph.D., University of Sydney) currently teaches Pacific World History at NYU Sydney. She has previously taught The Australian Experience.

Professor Simmonds is the Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology Sydney, as well as the Book Review editor of Law and History. She is an inter-disciplinary scholar whose work on the relationship between emotion, imperialism and law in the Pacific has been published in a range of international and domestic journals. She is also the author of Wild Man: The True Story of a Police Killing, Mental Illness and the Law (Affirm Press, 2015).

Professor Simmonds’s current research project, entitled “Hatching, Matching and Despatching”, focuses on the legal regulation of intimacy in the Australasian colonies from 1788-1901.

Professor Simmonds recently published a piece in Australia about the Nauru detention centre. The piece is available here and also reprinted below. Conversations about the refugee crisis and immigration are taking place across NYU’s global network this year.

Why we need a reminder about Australia’s imperialist history with Nauru


How do you imagine Nauru? A desolate wasteland that Australia populates with persecuted people? A small Pacific island filled with large, lazy Islanders? An open prison that props up the borders of our own closed paradise? Like all islands, we tend to imagine Nauru as a kind of terra nullius, an empty land, without history, suspended in splendid isolation from the world but eternally open to the will of larger nations.

It benefits us to think of Nauru as a mean-spirited atoll hovering outside of time and space, because it saves us from having to confront some dark historical truths.

Nauru did not simply wake up one morning and decide that it wanted to harbour our concentration camps. And nor did Australian politicians run a finger over the skin of a spinning globe until it stopped on Nauru. Our histories are entwined. Nauru is a product of European and Australian imperialism.

What we forget in the asylum-seeker debate is that the history of offshore processing is but another chapter in a history of empire. We fail to question the ‘Pacific’ in the ‘Pacific Solution’.

Australia chose Nauru because we have a tradition of ignoring its sovereignty. After World War One Nauru was one of many countries considered by the League of Nations not “able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world”. It was thus transferred to Australia and Britain as a Class C ‘mandate’, to be administered by Australia as “an integral part of that territory”, which meant giving our government the right to impose upon it almost full control.

During this time we exploited its resources and decimated its land, which partly explains Nauru’s decision to accept the camps today: they’re now one of the most indebted countries in the world.

You’d be forgiven for being unaware of Australia’s history of imperialist aggression in the Pacific. Bleatingly subservient to our English or American cultural overlords, we have ignored our own region’s history. But when High Court decisions are handed down declaring Australia’s sovereign right to send back asylum seekers to Nauru (in short to assert our sovereignty by undermining their sovereignty) we would do well to know that there is nothing new or shocking in this decision. It’s an extension of a shameful past.

Australia was not the first to colonise Nauru. In the famous ‘scramble’ for Africa and the Pacific in 1884-5, Germany, Spain and Great Britain fought over the islands of the Northern and Western Pacific. Nauru became a German protectorate in 1886 (along with other countries like PNG and Samoa). Of course, no Pacific Islander was consulted about being stripped of their sovereignty.

Australia was unimpressed. Ever since we declared Tahiti to be within our jurisdiction in the early 1800s, we had long considered the Pacific to be part of our ‘sphere of influence’. By the late nineteenth century we were raiding Vanuatu and the Solomons for slave labour, lopping sandalwood trees in Fiji, pressuring Britain to annex Vanuatu and Fiji, and attempting, as an editorial in The Age said in 1914, “to…[lay down] the foundations of a solid Australian sub-empire in the Pacific Ocean.”

Nauru caught our attention in 1899 when an Australian entrepreneur found rich phosphate deposits (a sought-after fertiliser ingredient) formed out of, yes, ancient bird droppings. By 1912 we had drawn up plans to seize Nauru (as well as New Guinea and Samoa) and in 1914 we invaded Nauru, claiming it as an Australian possession. In 1919 Billy Hughes pushed for a full annexation by Australia of former German Pacific islands – particularly New Guinea and Nauru – at the Versailles negotiations; but settled for a mandate status.

Part of the reason we won Nauru, according to Greg Fry, was because of our experience in “managing” Aboriginal Australians. Australia finally granted Nauru independence in 1968, after a post-World War II UN trusteeship and brief period of Japanese occupation. But by this time the island was all but destroyed.

Australia oversaw the strip-mining of over 80 per cent of Nauru’s land, leaving itunpassable and unfarmable; a lunar nightmare of white stone pinnacles.

By independence, the country was so ravaged that Australia declared Nauru ‘uninhabitable’ and offered to resettle the population on Fraser Island and, later, Curtis Island in Queensland. (Possibly apocryphally, a plane-load of Nauruans were said to have done a reconnaissance of the proposed islands but decided that they preferred their own blasted island to the racist Queenslanders).

The trade was also economically catastrophic: the conservative Economist has called the terms of our monopoly “outrageous”. And with Nauruan landowners paid just half a penny for every ton of phosphate extracted you can see why. In 1993, Australia paid Nauru $72 million in an out-of-court settlement at the International Court of Justice for the environmental devastation caused by mining.

Australian imperialism also sanctioned the colonisation of Nauru’s political institutions, which left Nauruans at independence with little institutional memory or political knowledge. As Epeli Hau’ofa has argued, “unlike other colonial regions of the world, our political independence… was largely imposed on us. It also came in packages that tied us firmly to the West.”

To this day white Australians continue to fill major roles in the Nauruan judiciary and bureaucracy; the Australian High Court is the highest court of appeal for Nauru and aid packages have always been tied to preferential trade agreements that benefit Australia. Of course, the most recent violations of Nauru’s sovereignty come in the form of ‘regional processing centres’, where you’ll find an Australian government office decorated with an Australian coat of arms, inhabited by uniformed Australian staff.

This is not to suggest that Nauru is innocent. It’s clearly been plagued by corruption, lavish expenditure and economic mismanagement. But to suggest that these failings can be divorced from the catastrophe of colonisation would be absurd. Almost as absurd as thinking that Australia simply decided out of the blue to relegate our gulags to Nauru, and that they serendipitously accepted.

If Australian borders are ‘strong’ as Turnbull reminds us, then it is only because for over a century we have regarded Nauru’s borders as weak or non-existent. We don’t just protect our sovereignty, we extend it through the informal colonisation of our neighbours.

Islands are always going to be either a paradise or a prison, and in its narcissistic quest to be great, Australia has created a gulag. This is the forgotten horror of the ‘Pacific’ behind our hellish ‘Pacific Solution’.

Dr Alecia Simmonds is the author of Wild Man (Affirm Press), a researcher in law at UTS and a lecturer in Pacific history at NYU-Sydney.

NYU Washington, DC hosts Cartoons and Taboos: Dancing in a Visual Minefield


One year ago, on January 7, 2015, terrorism attacked freedom of expression with the assault on the satire magazine Charlie Hebdo. The slogan “Je suis Charlie” became ubiquitous. All of Europe showed its solidarity with France. Many citizens living in capital cities placed garlands of flowers in front of the French embassies. The European media reproduced caricatures as a show of solidarity.

European cultural organizations hold on to the belief in the freedom of expression, and refuse to avoid difficult topics. Four caricaturists have accepted our invitation to participate in a discussion about these questions: Steven Degryse (LECTTRR) from Belgium, Ann Telnaes (The Washington Post), Kevin Kallaugher (The Economist), Matt Wuerker (Politico). On 11 February, NYU Washington, DC hosted these caricaturists to discuss some of pressing issues related to cartoons, taboos, freedom, and democracy.

The freedom which was accepted throughout Europe after the Peace of Westphalia (1648) and which formed the core of liberalism is being seriously threatened today. For whoever avails himself of the freedom upon which our ability to express and accept criticism is based may face the threat of death as a result. Withstanding this challenge and finding institutions that continue to protect this freedom is an imminently urgent task. We are confronted with a fundamental shift in thinking: freedom of expression can cost lives. Time will tell what consequences this has – will there be an image policy to prevent conflicts? Or will we maintain our position in editorial departments, at universities, in art and politics?

This event was organized in cooperation with the Embassy of Belgium and the House of Flanders, New York.

This Iconoclash program is also supported by the Delegation of the European Union to the United States, the British Council, the Embassy of Slovenia, the Austrian Cultural Forum, the Goethe-Institut, EUNIC and New York University.


1450474142391Lectrr (Steven Degryse) is a Belgian cartoonist, best known for his daily political cartoons inDe Standaard. Over the past decade he has been publishing all over Europe, both as an editorial cartoonist and as a syndicated single panel cartoonist, in magazines such as Helsingsborgs Dagblad(Sweden), Prospect Magazine(UK), Nieuwe Revu (The Netherlands), Veronica Magazine (The Netherlands), Kretèn (Hungary) and many others. His work has been published in over ten languages and 15 books. Lectrr is a member of the jury in Knokke-Heist, the oldest cartoon festival in the world, and was nominated multiple times for the Press Cartoon Belgium and the Press Cartoon Europe awards.


1450474529700Kevin Kallaugher (KAL) is the international award-winning editorial cartoonist for The Economist magazine of London and The Baltimore Sun. In a distinguished career that spans 37 years, Kal has created over 8,000 cartoons and 140 magazine covers. His resumé includes six collections of his published work, including his celebrated anthology ofEconomist cartoons titledDaggers Drawn (2013). In 2015, KAL was awarded the Grand Prix for Cartoon of the Year in Europe, the Herblock Prize for Cartoonist of the Year in the US and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Cartooning. In 1999, The World Encyclopedia of Cartoons said of Kevin “Commanding a masterful style, Kallaugher stands among the premier caricaturists of the (twentieth) century.


1450475542101Ann Telnaes creates animated editorial cartoons and a blog of print cartoons, animated gifs, and sketches for theWashington Post. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for her print cartoons. Telnaes’ print work was shown in a solo exhibition at the Great Hall in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress in 2004. Her first book, Humor’s Edge, was published in 2004. A collection of Vice President Cheney cartoons, Dick, was self-published by Telnaes and Sara Thaves in 2006. Her work has also been exhibited in Paris, Jerusalem, and Lisbon.



1450474869426Matt Wuerker is the staff cartoonist for POLITICO. Part of the team that launched POLITICO in 2006, he provides editorial cartoons, illustrations, caricatures and Web animations for both the print and Web platforms of the publication. Over the past 35 years, Matt’s cartoons have been used widely in publications that range from dailies like the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and the Christian Science Monitorto magazines such as Newsweek, the Nation and theSmithsonian. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012. In 2010, he was awarded the Herblock Prize at the Library of Congress, and the National Press Foundation’s Berryman Award.

NYU Shanghai Students Design a High-speed Train Prototype

Concept-Render940-350Like the idea of teleportation, high-speed ground transport may conjure trappings of science fiction to most, but a team of NYU Shanghai freshmen, sophomores and juniors created a top-level capsule design for a hyperloop — a near-vacuum tube that would allow high-speed transportation. Invited to the Design Weekend taking place at Texas A&M University, they’ll compete in the SpaceX Hyperloop Student Competition and show off their上海perloop (shang-hai-per-loop) design.

Over the course of three weeks, the team spent many school nights consuming research and MOOC lessons, learning how engines work, planes are built, and cars are systemized. They are a cluster of physics, engineering, interactive media arts, business, neural science, biology, computer science, humanities and mathematics majors. Five members are composing the industrial design for the project, another five are producing the business plan and eight are working on engineering, while many share cross-divisional leadership roles.

“We believe it is this active learning that can make new, fresh connections and epiphanies,” said junior student Michael Lukiman, adding, “We wish to show and inspire others in our community that enough drive and passionate work can pay off, first with this Design Brief, then beyond.”


The opportunity comes from business magnate, Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX — an American aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company — who opened a design challenge to university students in considering the transportational hyperloop. Over 700 student teams from all over the world submitted applications to the preliminaries, and the NYU Shanghai team was among the 100 that passed the first round, as the competition’s only team based in China.

The underlying motive is a good one — a statewide mass transit system that is safer, faster, convenient, less costly, immune to weather, sustainably self-powering and resistant to earthquakes. Visualize a tube over or underground using powerful fans to push air at high speed, with a levitating capsule to reduce track friction and counteract gravity in a low air-pressure environment. In people-sized pods, commuters could potentially be propelled from LA to San Francisco in about 30 minutes.

Over the Design Weekend in January, teams will showcase their design and analysis, presenting research to potential sponsors as a sort of pitch to investors based on what judges have so far seen. The competition carries over to full-fledged pod racing in June, where teams will build their half-scale Hyperloop pod and test them on the subscale test track constructed by SpaceX (inner diameter between 4 and 5 feet; length approximately 1 mile). Resembling a sea-level spacecraft with on-board propulsion, it may use magnetic levitation technology similar to the already real Shanghai Transrapid Maglev — currently the fastest operating passenger train in the world, topping at 431 kilometers per hour.

“Working with our team’s engineering arm has once again allowed me to see the amazing talents of the students that attend NYU Shanghai. I feel so lucky to be in an environment that constantly provides opportunities that turn our wildest ideas into viable innovations that solve real-world problems. We’re working with hoverpads. It doesn’t get cooler than that,” said sophomore Omer Cohen.

With student innovation accelerating the development of a functional prototype, a better alternative to flying or driving may be within reach after all.

The members of 上海perloop are: (freshmen) Bradford Sunderland, Farrell Dunlap, Robert Prast, (sophomores) Fernando Andres Medina, Haider Ali, Jennifer Ziyuan Huang, Johan Yao, Omer Cohen, Richard Awuku-Aboagye, Siqing Zhang, Tristan Armitage, and (juniors) David Santiano, Kelvin Liu, Michael Lukiman, Richard Huang, Sean Kelly, Shahn Shamdasani, and Usama Shahid.

To learn more, visit the website.

NYU Berlin German Department Provides Language Training to Assist Refugees

In the summer of 2015, thousands of refugees began arriving in German on a daily basis. In Germany, the existing conditions for receiving refugees are better than in many other countries. It has thus become an important destination for those seeking refuge – they hope to find work and peace in Europe’s leading economy.

Volunteers have become the largely responsible for supporting the refugees and helping them adjust to life in Germany. The German Department at NYU Berlin decided to offer assistance by focusing on how it can best contribute – in teaching German. NYU Berlin thus initiated the project “German as a Foreign Language – Coaching for Voluntary Helpers” which offers training seminars to coach voluntary language instructors in teaching German as a foreign language.

Gabriella Etmektsoglou, NYU Berlin Site Director, has this to say about the program:

In a span of just a year, Germany became the ‘safe heaven’ of roughly 1 million refugees, mostly Syrians who escaped an apocalyptic civil conflict with complex international dimensions. Some 4,000 displaced persons (Geflüchtete, is the more neutral term in German) continue to arrive daily, and no end to the war is in sight. Germans and refugees struggle – mostly in solidarity – to come to terms with the immediate challenges of shelter services as well as the prospect of a shared future.  Hundreds of thousands of mostly traumatized people are in a county whose language and culture is unfamiliar. Finding words to narrate stories of agony, death, and fear in a foreign language, is an added stress.  In the early summer of 2015, the NYU Berlin community reached out to refugee welcome centers to offer assistance and has since established a close partnership with the Unionhilfswerk. Staff, instructors, and students have participated in a number of initiatives.One long term project focuses on training volunteers who teach German language in welcome centers. We believe that language acquisition will greatly facilitate communication and the co-creation of a more diverse society in Germany.  Our community is committed to remaining actively involved in this process in the years to come.

One of the German volunteers who received training at NYU Berlin, Hans Komorowski, reflects on the experience. Hans is a volunteer with the organization UNIONHILFSWERK, currently working in the refugee camp on Konrad-Wolf- Straße, Berlin-Lichtenberg. [His article has been translated from the original German.]


Learning How to Teach

In New York University Berlin’s workshop “German as a Foreign Language”, volunteers learn that foreign language instruction is about far more than language acquisition alone.

At present, many individuals are arriving in Europe, particularly in Germany, in the hopes of refuge – refuge and shelter from war, terror or poverty in their native countries. In order to assist these individuals in successfully establishing their new lives in and integrating into our society, it is essential that they be offered the opportunity to learn the German language. Those seeking refuge know this just as well as the volunteers from UNIONHILFSWERK. And thus, voluntary initiatives are formed which offer German language courses and tutoring at UNIONHILFSWERK-run refugee shelters to supplement the educational services offered by the state.

After hearing about the Volunteer Management at UNIONHILFSWERK from a training mentor who also works at the university, New York University Berlin (NYU Berlin) made a donation of 100 dictionaries, as well as a special offer: a three-part workshop for volunteers with the motto “Teaching German – How does it Work?”. Before the language instructors at NYU Berlin began offering tips and demonstrating teaching methods, they incited a change of perspective on the part of the participants: they initiated the workshop with a dialogue in Korean. Suddenly, the participants found themselves in the shoes of those who cannot understand one word of the language on which they nevertheless must rely. This experiment was not only a good precursor to the many hands-on activities to follow, but also sensitized the participants to the situation faced by those who learn German and are trying to cope with everyday life in a new country without any previous knowledge of the language.

The participants quickly realized that teaching German as a foreign language is only possible with much patience and intercultural sensitivity, as well as through a playful approach and the active inclusion of the learners. Through their competence and delightful, lively engagement, the NYU Berlin instructors succeeded in easing the participants’ concerns in the face of this great task and in helping them to discover their own individual talents and resources. Moreover, the participants learned how to foster the flexibility in their lessons which is ultimately far more valuable to those seeking refuge as mere language acquisition alone. As German instructors, the volunteers at UNIONHILFSWERK are not seldom the first intensive social contact to the individuals who are just as characterized by their experiences of having fled as by their curiosity for their new start here in Germany, who have a lot to learn but, more than anything, have a lot to offer. NYU Berlin will continue to offer this coaching to engaged volunteers at UNIONHILFSWERK in 2016 and warmly welcomes all refugees with previous German skills (A2/B1) to join.

– Hans Komorowski, Berlin



NYU Abu Dhabi Assistant Professor of Social Research and Public Policy John O’Brien Discusses Growing up Muslim in America

Andy Gregory, NYU Abu Dhabi Public Affairs, interviews NYU Abu Dhabi Assistant Professor of Social Research and Public Policy John O’Brien, and shares the conversation:


NYU Abu Dhabi Assistant Professor of Social Research and Public Policy John O’Brien spent three and a half years conducting ethnographic fieldwork with a group of young Muslim friends who grew up together in post-9/11 America. In his upcoming book, Growing Up Muslim in America he explores questions of cultural difference and discrimination faced by young American Muslims.

By looking at the ordinary lives of Muslim youth, his research asks the critical question: Is there something about religious Islam that makes it fundamentally incompatible with Western culture?

O’Brien says: “So much of their life is centered around normal teenage problems. These are normal kids with everyday concerns, like ‘I want a girlfriend, I want to be cool, am I gonna go to college?'”

So how does discrimination factor into everyday life?

My research took place prior to this latest wave of public anti-Muslim rhetoric in the US, so the reality on the ground may well be different these days. But when I hung out with these young men, they didn’t spend most of their time talking about politics, discrimination, or Islamophobia. Instead, they talked about music, girls, dating — what most people would consider “regular” teenage issues. As practicing Muslim teenagers they did face an additional layer of complexity, which involved balancing expectations of religious propriety with these typical adolescent concerns. But it was the management of these everyday cultural tensions like how to date while Muslim, for example, that occupied the majority of their attention.

Discrimination tended to enter the picture in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack linked with Islamic extremism. During these times, they faced increased harassment because of the perception that most or all Muslims support such attacks. This perception of Muslims used to be something primarily promoted by right-wing fringe groups but now mainstream politicians seem to have gotten into the game.

Do Muslims in the US sometimes feel compelled to act more American?

I think some Muslims do at certain times, and of course, acting “American” can mean many different things, from displaying an American flag after a terrorist attack to embracing urban American hip hop culture and music. But I learned that the key to these young people’s ability to feel both Muslim and American, in a way that worked for them, was flexibility — on the part of their parents, community leaders, peers, and even in their own heads. It was crucial that their parents were somewhat open to different ways of being Muslim, and this is an issue that Muslim communities in the US are talking more about these days. There are also different ideas about what it means to be American. We need to be open about both of these kinds of flexibility. Kids growing up Muslim in the US don’t necessarily want to be either Muslim or American. They are already both, and they seem to do best when the people around them work to understand that and give them space to be both.

Is there a crisis of identity happening?

Well, here’s the crux of the issue. Where many might expect to find some kind of identity “crisis,” I didn’t see one, after spending literally thousands of hours with these kids. These young men simply don’t see a need to choose between being American and Muslim. They are already both of these things from the start. I think the problem comes with other people’s expectations. When your parents say, “If you watch this TV show you’re not really Muslim” or if your friends say, “If you practice this religion you’re not really American,” then these two identities are experienced as in tension. But if all parties maintain a level of openness about what it means to be a Muslim and what it means to be American, then these combined identities are made more possible. And these young people are very creative in finding ways to do both.

Where do you think Islamophobia comes from?

Islamophobia has multiple sources, from colonial histories to current widespread stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims in the West. There is also intentional and relatively well-funded work by contemporary right-wing fringe groups — and now mainstream groups — in the US to depict Muslims in a negative light. One social condition that undoubtedly sustains Islamophobia is the general lack of familiarity among Americans with Islam and Muslim people. Most non-Muslim students in the schools where my research took place simply didn’t know anything about Islam besides what they saw on TV. The young men I worked with said their teachers would often say negative things about Islam or reinforce stereotypes. I think one part of the solution is to provide a better understanding of what Islam is and what Muslims are actually like, which is what my book attempts to do in a very specific way.

How will stereotypes be broken?

Ideally, everyone needs to be working on this at all levels of society. But one important arena is in informal social settings. Studies show that non-Muslims who know Muslim people personally are less likely to have Islamophobic ideas or resort to stereotypes. People who don’t have contact with Muslims can be more easily convinced by someone like Donald Trump that all or most Muslims are potential terrorists, and that we should therefore ban them from entering the US. If non-Muslims are exposed to enough different Muslim people, voices, and representations, then it will be increasingly difficult to stereotype Muslims or reduce Islam to one simple depiction.

What’s louder in the US: A collective voice for a peaceful Islam or anti-Muslim sentiment?

That depends in large part on whose voice you are listening for or able to hear. In many ways, the media in the US is structured so that extreme voices are more easily amplified. Islamophobic voices are louder, especially when people in a position of power like Donald Trump use their media exposure to sow fear. Interestingly, it’s similar to what leaders on the other extremist side do, like those in ISIS, or Osama Bin Laden. Non-extreme voices are the ones you don’t hear. For example, the leadership of the mosque I studied said they regularly put out statements against Al Qaeda that weren’t picked up by media outlets because it wasn’t considered exciting enough to be newsworthy. And then they’d see Bin Laden put out periodic statements that would be captured on every news channel. In contrast, kids living relatively normal lives as Muslims in America is not going to be a headline anytime soon.

O’Brien’s forthcoming book is entitled Growing Up Muslim in America.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and U.S. Ambassador to Italy John R. Phillips meet NYU Florence students


U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg met today with a select group of NYU Florence students in the living room of the historic Villa La Pietra at NYU Florence. Students had the extraordinary opportunity to address questions to the Justice about everything from theCitizens United ruling, planned parenthood, income inequality and raising taxes on the rich, to eminent domain and the Black Lives Matter movement. NYU Liberal Studies Freshmen Helen You and Ismail Ibrahim characterized their meeting with Ginsburg as ’empowering’.”Without her, I don’t think most of us [female students] would be thinking about becoming a lawyer, or a doctor,’ You said. “She kept turning it back on us”,  Ibrahim continued, “She kept emphasizing that it is important that like minded people work together to achieve what they think is right. The values of the constitution would only be ink on paper if citizens didn’t take them to heart and fight for them.”



Juan Raffo – NYU Buenos Aires Professor of Latin American Music – wins prestigious Music prize.

RaffoNYU Buenos Aires Professor Juan “Pollo” Raffo received one of the most respected awards for Instrumental Music and Fusion this past November 10th, 2015 from the Konex Foundation. This year was the fourth time the Konex Foundation has recognized artists of Popular Music for their activity and work over the past decade. Again, for the second time, Professor Raffo has receieved the award. In 1995 Juan “Pollo” Raffo, Pollo bieng his nickname since early adolescence, received his first Premio Konex Diploma of Merit in the category for Outstanding Jazz Group (1985-1995) with his band Monos con Navajas (Monkeys with Straight-Razors). This year the foundation granted Raffo the Merit diploma for instrumental and fusion music as an individual. Already honored by the prestigious merit diploma, Professor Raffo was also awarded the Premio Konex de Platino. The Platinum Konex Award distinguishes him from the others in his category.

Professor Raffo shared that the quintessence of the awards is the composition of the selection comitee. The judges are either previous award winners and active artists or journalists specialized in popular music. This structure encourages nominations and selections to avoid any possibility of contaminationg the awards and selections with alterior interests. One of the most sobering responses for Professor Raffo upon receiving the two awards was the personal congratulations he received from fellow musicians, composers, students, teachers, and former students from the music and academic community.

Composer, musician, pianist, and arranger of music; Professor Raffo realized his draw to teaching after studying under professors at the Berklee school of Music who were active musicians outside of the classroom and brought that dynamic into the classroom. Sindce the age of thirty he has been teaching in some shape or form, and since 2008 Professor Raffo has been facing the challenge of teaching music to non-music majors at NYU Buenos Aires.

In his course, Music of Latin America, the objective is to present students a point of view of a musician through the medium of music itself. This is undoubtly Professor Raffo´s forte. His classes can often be heard in the academic site– whether it be the class venturing to syncopate additonal beats over a 3/2 clave or picking up a rhythym to a traditional Argentine Chacarera.

He claims composition as a trade that is fifty percent intuition and fifty perent rationality. Moreover, he contends that this is conveyed in his classroom as his teaching style depends a lot on the pulse of the collective group of students. Part of the challenge with ecclectic groups that include Students from all over the globe, is finding the pulse. Fortunately, he believes that Music is a trade that is very accessible to even non-music majors which is synthesized in the many facets of his class and its participatory style, therefore acting as an efficient tool to finding the pulse.

The element of participation is key to Professor Raffo´s classes as students engage in the instruments by playing and listening. Not limited to only that, this semester students have written their own lyrics to popular Argentinian folklore music, Zamba. This semester the students also had the privilege to hear Juan “Pollo” Raffo perform live at Centro Cultural Kirchner.

Professor Raffo was quoted in the newspaper La Nación in 2013 in regards to his teaching, “I always say that a student is a colleague with less experiences.” Students at NYU Buenos Aires, as co-hosts to Juan “Pollo” Raffor in the classroom, are exposed to Latin American music in a way that challenges music to blossom in new ways and up its creativity as its spectators, at least the ones who have Professor Raffo for a semester, develop a potent awareness of Latin American Music.