Recently, the Yeshiva College newspaper, The Commentator, published an article by Akiva Schick about the need for co-ed classes at Yeshiva University.
In its headline, the article cites the reason for this as “the need for varying perspectives.” Schick writes about students in his classes falling silent, “the fatal assent,” because of the similar views shared by the much of the YC student body. Another reason to hold co-ed classes, said Schick, is so that YC students will stop one-dimensionalizing women.
His argument is that women will add depth to the class discussions and introduce the other students to new perspectives, giving the men a view into something other than their sheltered existence which they’ve been attempting to expand, though they’ve failed due to their “inability.”
I cannot speak to the YC class experience, but what Schick speaks to is something that I have never observed in any of my courses on Beren campus, and certainly not in any of my literature classes, which Schick specifically mentions in his article.
Studies in The New York Times, National Education Association, UCLA, American Psychological Association, and more, all agree with Schick’s assertion: men do thrive in coed classrooms. However, all studies also found the overlooked component: that women learn best in single sex environments.
One Stern English major cited the studies and said, “I’m not going to sacrifice my education and self empowerment to help someone grow up.” Based on the responses from the many students I have spoken to, this is a sentiment shared by the women of Stern. While the men on the Wilf campus might be floundering without women in their classes, we are having quite the opposite experience.
As an English student who has taken many classes in which discussions play a vital role, I can honestly say I have never experienced the lull Schick speaks of, the one that seems to happen when everyone possesses similar opinions. More often, I have experienced English classes that run into the next class period, with professors both frustrated and proud that their first of many topics of discussion turned into an hour long debate, with as many opinions and perspectives as students in the class.
In addition to the varying perspectives, I have never felt that men were spoken about in a way that is “one dimensional,” or “objectified” them, and responses from professors, male and female, seem to agree with that statement.
One Stern student said, “I just studied King Lear and felt that in my class of 24 women, including a female professor, we did not have issues relating to the male characters as we understand how to connect to different perspectives.” The women on our campus know that, as long as you are willing to look outside of yourself and your experience to find an answer, you will most often be able to empathize.
Schick’s article makes it very clear that he does not believe the objectifying of women comes from a place of misogyny or sexism, but from a lack of female presence. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the definition of “egalitarianism” is not “the belief that men and women are equal—if women are in the room.” Maybe I didn’t read Merriam-Webster closely enough, because I definitely didn’t notice that last bit.
Perhaps the reason women are not struggling as the men are rests on the fact that the women make an active effort to not one-dimensionalize men or ignore any perspective. Even if someone doesn’t agree with a particular opinion, they will still mention it if they notice it has not been touched on. We will mention it for the sake of expanding the conversation, or as Schick says, for “the hunt for truth.”
I have been completely enlightened in many classes because of women bringing me out of my comfort zone with their eloquently phrased points, even—and especially—when they contend with mine and highlight a bigger picture, gender aside.
I don’t think it would be my place to say that men cannot see from other’s perspectives, but Schick does. And it is my place to say that at Stern, women are able to see from varying perspectives without the help, or mere presence, of men.
It also seems to me that Schick is choosing to focus on such a small change in perspective. Why not argue that we should have people of different religions, ages, and races in our classes? Wouldn’t that help to expand our perspectives even more? Even with women in YC classes it would merely be a selection of young, white, predominantly cis gendered and straight, Jewish students.
I could extrapolate that Schick would argue those points if he fleshed out his idea further, but even so, I found myself finishing the article looking for the point. Schick is not arguing the inherent value in a co-ed classroom, but is calling to have co-ed classes here, at Yeshiva University, which makes me question why he chose to study in a university where that is not the case.
Unfortunately, the only way to truly experience all perspectives would be to have a classroom of the seven billion people of the world, but short of that we have to accept that we cannot hear first hand perspectives: rather we must find ways to put ourselves there.
Schick’s argument rests upon the claim that having women in the class will add to his intellectual exposure, but he attempts to back it up with a claim that is antithetical to his point. He writes, “I have so far focused on how women are able to discuss women in critical ways that men cannot. Yet what about everything else there is to know?” His sentence implies that he wants to know what else the women discuss aside from critical thinking. He solidifies the intent by adding specifics examples of what he would like to hear from women; “Which themes from Gulliver’s Travels interest her the most?” or “What does the Stern student think about Hamlet’s insanity?” Though this seems intellectually open at first glance, Schick here has specifically stated that he wants these questions answered in terms that don’t highlight the intellect women have to offer but rather, “everything else there is to know.”
At Stern, our professors help us develop strong arguments that are supported by factual and/or textual evidence. This is a critical element in our education, and to ensure success in our academic pursuits, we cannot cite our feelings or offer anecdotal evidence as a form of reasoning. Rather, we must analyze the text and look inside ourselves and find a way to actualize and articulate our points through critical thought and intellect. Opinions have their place in the classroom, as long as they are critically thought out and connected to textual evidence. A gut feeling does nothing for a text-based class discussion.
Of course, opinions and feelings that are not rooted directly in a select text can still hold great value. I can appreciate when individuals recognize others’ intuition and feelings, even without the text: but this does not belong in a classroom discussion. The classroom should be encouraging critical thinking, rather than serving as a platform for all to aimlessly pour out their personal views on matters, relevant or not. With this in mind, it seems more fitting for Schick to sit down in a coffee shop with a Stern woman to discuss the “short stories and plays and memoirs she has written, and what experiences brought her to those words.” But this would be less of a classroom essential and more of a leisurely discussion.
Women are not an educational tool for the YC men to use, and to create co-ed classes merely for the purpose of broadening horizons would only seem to objectify women even more. Women and men are equal, not identical. However, we women have been taught to look at the world with open eyes, broadening our horizons through adjusting our own perspective. Perhaps instead of focusing energy on the thought to make two single gendered colleges co-ed, the men should look at ways to broaden their critical approach to texts and their own perspectives.