By Anonymous Yeshiva College Student
To the Editor:
I read your editorial “On Sexism and the Gottesman Library” with great concern about the state of affairs at YU’s libraries. The rampant sexism and misogynistic attitudes that the article attributes to Wilf students were deeply troubling, and the dismal picture the article paints of them is only underscored by the crude statements attributed to them in the piece.
But how seriously should we take the article’s conclusions? To answer this question, it is necessary to evaluate the reliability of the survey that forms the bulk of the piece. For the majority of the article, percentages of survey respondents from one campus or the other who hold varying beliefs about Beren students using the Gottesman Library are laid out as evidence of the supposed gender disparities and sexism that you’ll find if you step into the library. But will you really find these attitudes among the majority of the Wilf student body? A critical look at the survey reveals that it was conducted in an inherently unscientific way and that the article’s analysis of its findings is therefore entirely unpersuasive.
To begin with, the survey was both sent as an email to all YU undergraduate students and posted on Facebook, where those who don’t attend (and never have attended) YU were able to respond as though they were YU students. The group in which the survey was promoted, YU Marketplace, contains countless individuals who, while associating with the broader YU community, were never students here.
This wouldn’t be an issue if the survey responses could be verified in some way to ensure that only responses from YU students were counted — but as responses were entirely anonymous, responses to this survey could not be verified. Not only that, but no mechanism existed to prevent potential “trolls” or fake respondents from filling out the survey multiple times. In theory, then, one person who had never stepped foot into either of YU’s libraries could have responded to the survey dozens of times, posing as both Wilf and Beren students and thus making it practically impossible for anyone to accurately interpret the survey results.
This is the biggest problem with the survey: there is no way for readers to know if the responses are in any way representative of the YU student body. In fact, I personally know of people who filled out the survey multiple times as a joke. One of their responses was quoted in the editorial as representative of a commonly held belief among Wilf students, when in reality the intention of the response was, according to this individual, to point out the absurdity of the anonymous online survey format that allowed them to respond over and over again in the first place.
Other, more minor issues abound. The conclusions reached from the survey are not presented in an unbiased manner, with the survey’s methodology presented alongside the results. Instead, the results are presented in the middle of a highly opinionated editorial, and the conclusions drawn from those results seem to be driven largely by the author’s agenda. The accuracy of the survey as a whole is thrust into doubt when it is presented alongside the clearly one-sided, agenda-driven opinion of the article. In addition, with the survey methodology not clearly spelled out, vital information like the total number of Wilf and Beren respondents is absent, making lines like “this sentiment is shared by half a dozen others” practically useless for evaluating how widely shared a belief is. Other segments of the respondent population seem to be entirely missing from the piece, most notably the 44% of Beren students that are not contained within the 56% mentioned in the fifth and sixth paragraphs of the piece (“25% of Beren students who responded…” and “31% of Beren students who responded…”).
Furthermore, as the survey itself consisted entirely of an empty text box, the idea of lumping responses together to conclude, for example, that “67% of male respondents believe that female students study in Gottesman to meet men, consider them distractions to their learning and religious growth, and/or view them as their personal sexual entertainment” is simply irresponsible journalism. Who’s to say whether the responses were grouped together accurately, when each response was written in the respondent’s own words? Aggregating text responses when reporting survey results is always dangerous, and it would leave the reader in doubt about the survey’s conclusions even if the survey presented no other problems.
My point here is not to reject your editorial’s thesis outright. I do not know whether sexism is pervasive at YU’s Gottesman Library, and if an objectively reported, scientific survey concluded that it does, I would agree wholeheartedly that something must be done to eliminate it. Until such a survey is conducted, though, I will have to remain in doubt, and I would encourage my fellow readers to not be too hasty in condemning large swaths of our school’s population based on one unreliable survey.
A Concerned Reader (Yeshiva College, graduating 2020)