Editor’s Note: In Defense of the Gottesman Library Editorial

By: Molly Meisels  |  December 12, 2019
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By Molly Meisels, Editor in Chief

Yeshiva University students, all from the Wilf Campus, have criticized my “unscientific” practices in conducting a library survey for my November editorial, “On Sexism and the Gottesman Library.” They have requested proof of my findings, as they do not believe my results. It is important to note that we have received positive responses from Beren Campus students, with many saying the editorial legitimizes their experiences and makes them feel “seen.” While this obviously cannot speak to general opinion, it is significant nonetheless. A few weeks ago, the YU Observer received an anonymous Letter to the Editor, titled: “An Unscientific Survey Can’t Prove Sexism.” In my experience, this reflects the consensus amongst many uptown students towards my findings. Their opinions deserve to be addressed. 

Chief complaints have focused on the methods through which the survey was conducted,  especially seeing as it allowed for anonymous responses and was posted on YU Facebook groups and What’s App chats and was sent to YU email addresses. Wilf students have said that the anonymity was not “scientific” because we could not corroborate who was sending in the responses. The unfortunate reality is that there is no way to conduct a “scientific” survey at YU. We are students and our ability to obtain resources to conduct thorough surveys is severely limited, and due to our small student population, sample sizes are a joke. 

Both YU Observer and YU Commentator staff face the same issues when conducting surveys and are put in an impossible situation. If one conducts surveys which collect full names and email addresses (which the papers have done), at any point in the process, even if  anonymity is promised, one can never be sure of the respondents’ honesty. The responses may corroborate student status, but that is most of what it does. No student will respond to a survey honestly, especially on a contentious issue, if they are afraid that it can be traced back to them. On the flip side, anonymous surveys garner more honest responses, as respondents are not afraid of the repercussions. However, they do have the ability to be filled out by anyone, as corroboration isn’t possible. In these circumstances, it is up to individuals to make ethical decisions in the survey they are completing. Student journalists must choose which of these options they prefer. No mechanism is the perfect one. The YU Observer made a choice to use the latter option, as our topic was contentious and our staff wished to gain the most honest representation in our responses. 

The YU Observer recognizes that it is difficult to reach all students on the undergraduate campuses. In order to conduct a survey with the ability to be accessed by all students, we sent the survey to ystud and sstud email addresses, posted it in YU Facebook groups, and sent it to groups via What’s App. Not all students check their ystuds/sstuds consistently. Merely using this platform would limit our data set to certain groups of students. We did not want to limit student reach and if we did, we would be mischaracterizing the student body. 

Many Wilf students have been criticizing the YU Observer for using quotes that they submitted to the survey as “obvious” jokes. These apparent jokes, in reference to YU women utilizing the uptown library, included, “The less they’re wearing the better,” “I get to see hot t*ts and a** keep em coming,” and “Only the skinny ones.” Wilf students are claiming that I cannot characterize a subset of the student body by joke-like comments. On the contrary, “jokes” are just as indicative of student opinion and comfort-levels on campus as other forms of commentary. These “jokes” are intensely suggestive of the YU landscape. Students who find it funny to say comments such as the aforementioned in a survey conducted by a student paper, find it funny for a reason. They find it funny because either they don’t take the YU Observer seriously, or because these comments are ones which men on the Wilf Campus are comfortable and proud to be sharing. These “jokes” bear witness to the comfort levels students have joking about sexism and harassment. They aren’t funny, and if you are are sexist to a woman as a joke, you have still subjected her to sexism. Claiming that I cannot take survey responses seriously because students believe that making lewd comments is merely comedy, is ludicrous, as these opinions are just as real as ones not intended as jokes. 

The editorials I write are constructed thoughtfully. I do not intend to smear an entire population with my articles, and they serve the purpose of speaking to student opinion on issues which deeply impact large swaths of the YU population. Therefore, my editorials have bias, as all editorials do. Next time you read a YU Observer editorial, feel free to disagree with it, but be cognizant enough not to delegitimize those who thoughtfully and carefully compose a student newspaper whose sole purpose it is to represent all members of our student community.

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