Sexism, YU and the Student Newspapers

By: Masha Shollar  |  February 5, 2017

Shollar FEB editorial

People like to talk about how we live in a data driven society, but I don’t think we really do. After all, every day, I see people ignore overwhelming data in favor of their own biases and misconceptions.

Take the view of women at this university, for instance. We are hardworking, passionate, and ambitious. However, this data is ignored in favor of what people would rather believe to be true. Historically, the school has been a boy’s club and, in so many ways, it continues to be one. The forms of sexism that are present at this school manifest themselves in an endless number of ways, but perhaps one of the most obvious is the perception so many have of this newspaper as somehow less legitimate. The impression some have of The Observer is a microcosmic expression of the sexism at YU.

I am biased, of course, but I think that we are a strong campus paper. I oversee a staff of incredibly diligent, intelligent and articulate women, who in turn use their skills to provide outlets for the student body on both campuses to share their voices, opinions, and experiences. And yet, for some in this school, we are still tertiary: the satellite paper, but not the real one. The very words I use here have, to some, less inherent worth than ones written in The Commentator.

This system of inequality is perpetuated by The Commentator themselves, who, in the “About” section of their website, bill themselves as “the official newspaper for the student body of Yeshiva University,” forgetting that they are one of two official university newspapers.

Instead of viewing our two papers as a chance to double the dissemination of information and a unique opportunity to work together across two campuses, some at The Commentator have decided instead to propagate the boy’s club mentality. We at The Observer are invested in working together: we desire more cross campus involvement and engagement because we are all students at one school, and because the presence of two newspapers gives us a chance for more engagement than at other schools. We should be sharing information, staff, and ideas, working together to disseminate information to the student body, as is our responsibility. This is not a capitalist, survival of the fittest environment where we must guard information and sources for profit, because student papers are not business schemes. So what justification could exist for isolationist practices?

For too long, this paper has struggled for legitimacy. I will not be able to solve the problem of sexism in the few months I have remaining as Editor-in-Chief of this publication. It is too entrenched to be weeded out so easily. But The Commentator does itself no favors by being an active participant in this continuing inequality. We as a staff are committed to building bridges, to taking the high road, and to doubling down on the point of a campus newspaper: to be a place for all students to share and to be informed.

When I first confronted the “About” section problem, I wondered if I should simply change ours  as well. But that would just continue the problem. Should I, too, misrepresent myself for legitimacy? I can’t. It’s beneath this paper, my staff, and my values.

To be honest, the real problem does not lie with The Commentator: they are a trickle-down manifestation of issues that begin at the very top of this institution. Our perceived illegitimacy may sometimes be bolstered by The Commentator, but it originates with the behavior of administrators at this school. Last month, both newspapers covered the aftermath of the Ben Shapiro lecture extensively, publishing multiple articles and letters to the editor from students and faculty. When President Richard Joel decided to make a statement regarding the speech, in which he backed the respective faculty letters condemning Shapiro’s remarks regarding the LGBT community, he chose to send his letter to The Commentator alone. I do not accuse the president of our university of malice aforethought; I think he simply forgot about us. But that is not any better than intentional exclusion. I take no comfort in the fact that our long-standing president forgot that there is a second newspaper, one that has existed since the late 50s. How can we expect legitimacy from our fellow students when it is not even afforded to us by our university’s president?

It feels ridiculous to have to write this piece, bizarre to have to remind students and administrators alike that we’re here. I often wonder how this is still happening, how we women must, again and again, ask for equality and respect. I’m tired of this—of watching my staff, month after month, as they spend their time working to make this paper a force to be contended with, and, month after month, being dismissed by this university merely for the fact that they aren’t men, that they don’t write for the “real” school paper. If it isn’t written about in The Commentator, somehow, it didn’t happen.  

And I have to wonder too, if this will accomplish anything, or if I’m merely yelling into the void. Some people, I know, will dismiss this immediately. They’ll look for any excuse to discredit me, brand me as another hysterical feminist looking for things to complain about. I’ll become another one of those women, who dare to make the radical suggestion that we deserve respect and equality.

All I can do is hope that the administration, The Commentator and my fellow students choose to afford us the legitimacy and respect that we deserve. The problems of inequality at this university won’t suddenly vanish, but it will be a step in the right direction, towards more honesty and inclusion.