By Molly Meisels, Editor in Chief
Many students have been calling for upgraded security measures on the Beren and Wilf campuses following a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in recent months and the Schottenstein Hall break-in on the Beren Campus on December 20, 2019. Additionally, student discontent with Yeshiva University’s facilities has been on the rise due to the increasing frequency of elevator malfunctioning on the undergraduate campuses. On Friday, January 31st, Josh Joseph, Senior Vice President of YU, and Randy Apfelbaum, YU Chief Facilities & Administrative Officer, met with The Commentator and YU Observer to discuss YU’s security developments.
The conversation began with the elevator malfunctions on the Beren and Wilf campuses, which have been concerning students and parents since May 22, 2019, when Shifra Lindenberg, SSSB ’21, suffered what she called a “free-fall” in the Brookdale Hall elevator on the Beren Campus. This incident gave Lindenberg a concussion from which she still suffers. In August 2019, Apfelbaum told the YU Observer, “The safety of our students is of utmost priority…YU has been making significant investments in building infrastructure…Over this past summer, every elevator has received an upgrade to its door locking mechanism.” However, since the start of the Fall 2019 semester, the elevators have continuously malfunctioned, particularly in a string of incidents last week when students, faculty, and staff members got trapped in elevators on the Beren and Wilf campuses. “I hate to say it, but it seems more and more students and even staff are experiencing this frightening situation. Not acceptable! We pay enough for tuition and they can’t keep our kids safe!” said one concerned parent.
In response to elevator concerns, Joseph shared with the YU Observer: “We are similarly frustrated about the reality [of the elevators] and we are working as hard as we can within the limitations that we have to get the elevators to be better than they have been. We are embarrassed and apologetic about how they have been behaving and we take responsibility for it. We don’t take it lightly.” Joseph and Apfelbaum promise students that they are working proactively on the elevators. “We’re doing a lot of things on a lot of different cars. We’re not able to get to every car. We did a lot over break, we’re doing a little bit now, we’re doing a lot over Pesach, and we’ll do a ton over the summer,” said Apfelbaum. He shared that attention has been paid specifically to Stanton Hall on the Beren Campus, the busier of the two Beren academic buildings.
When asked about the elevators in 215 Lexington Avenue, the other Beren academic building which YU shares with other companies, Apfelbaum discussed a need for signage to inform students on how to act if the building’s single full-functioning elevator is down. The building has another elevator which stops at some floors (five and six particularly, as they are the administrative floors), but not all – particularly the seventh floor, which has the Art History and English departments and the Writing Center. “We don’t manage that building, but I will make sure that they know that if our elevator shut down, the other elevator should stop at every floor,” shared Apfelbaum. He urges students to call security if they are having trouble getting off the floor of any building.
Students hope that the elevators will begin operating smoothly soon. Chana Weiss, SCW ’21, expressed to the YU Observer, “Whenever I’m in an elevator alone, I hold on to the bars to brace myself in case it free falls.” On a YU Observer Facebook post about the elevators, alumnus Mariah Nickowitz said, “I graduated in 2017. The elevators had problems when I first started and for years prior to that […] If I was a current student in this university I would probably walk out.” A YU security officer informed YU Observer editors that there are concerns among some of the security staff that a student or staff member will get seriously hurt by the elevator malfunctions.
Students are similarly concerned about security measures on campus following the break-in and fires in Schottenstein Hall. Joseph and Apfelbaum continued the briefing by sharing YU’s plan to increase security measures and make students feel as safe as possible following the Schottenstein incident. Apfelbaum said that the security staff was enlarged following the break-in. According to Apfelbaum, Beren dormitory buildings will be patrolled by security and a campus police officer consistently, and doors will all be fixed to ensure that they shut and lock properly. Additionally, a security vehicle will now be patrolling both campuses. “We have added a [security] vehicle for Beren. Beren did not have a vehicle before,” said Apfelbaum.
Students have expressed the desire for increased security measures. “I’m hoping for a revamp in our security’s protocol, awareness, visibility, and diligence. Safety of us [the student body] needs to be the school’s top priority,” said Yair Shavrick, YC ’21. Joseph asserts that the administration agrees with this sentiment for a security revamp. “We brought in a company called Kroll [last year], it’s a high-level international security firm, to do a review, so that we can have actionable things that we have to check off. It doesn’t mean that because they do the review, we automatically fix everything. That’s what we’re working for,” said Joseph.
He ensures students that his team is constantly working with local precincts and other law enforcement agencies to ensure safety on the YU campuses. According to Joseph, the Wilf Campus has had one police officer patrolling the grounds for some time. YU pays for that police officer. He said, “Unless there is some emergency that they have to be pulled away, they are there and they are there for us. They are visibly armed.” The administration has added an armed police officer to the Beren Campus security detail as well.
Some students have mentioned to the YU Observer that they fear other students will begin bringing weapons to school due to increased anti-Semitism. Other students have considered carrying pepper spray. Joseph responded to these fears: “There are laws in NYS and NYC about what you can and cannot carry. We rely on our students to be law abiding…If found anyone with an illegal weapon, there will be grave consequences. I don’t think we have any plans right now to do a metal detection system in the dorms.” Joseph and Apfelbaum claim that a metal detection system is in place for big events, such as Wilf basketball games and the Seforim Sale. According to a student working at the Seforim Sale, a metal detection system has not yet been put in place, although she said it could be in the works. A Wilf student has noticed that metal detection wands are used at the Wilf basketball games.
Some members of the YU community have called for lockdown drills and improved active shooter trainings. At the time of article publication, each student has experienced one active shooter training session during their time at YU (if they attended) – during orientations. No lockdown drill has been initiated yet. According to Joseph, all staff members do active shooter training regularly, but nothing beyond orientation training has been shared with the student body. However, Joseph and Apfelbaum claim that they are beginning lockdown drills for students in the dormitories. “We do it in orientations and I know we do a million things during orientations and it kind of just passes through, so no, we will do in-situ lockdown drills. We’re working out the logistics, but students will feel more comfortable if they know what to do, they know where to go,” said Apfelbaum. They did not give a timeline for when students will be given lockdown drills and additional training for the dormitories and academic buildings, but say that the RAs will be trained first. According to a Beren Campus RA, nothing regarding training or drills has been shared with her yet.
Having a safe and effective way to identify those who enter the academic buildings and dormitories has been discussed by YU administration. Therefore, they have set up an ID-swiping system for students, faculty, and staff in all buildings on the Beren and Wilf campuses. Not all the systems are operational yet, but Apfelbaum said he hopes they will be within a week or two. When asked about the long-standing protocol of Beren commuter students not having their IDs swipe for dormitory buildings, Joseph said that nothing will change soon in that regard, but it’s being discussed. “Our policy has not been for commuters to have access to the dormitories. I definitely think it’s something we can talk about […] For example: if someone is in 35th Street and they want to visit Brookdale, should they be allowed? You can say yes. Why would we separate for someone who is a commuter student? That was a question recently brought to the policy committee and I think it’s something they are taking into consideration,” said Joseph. “Again, we’re at the point of trying to be as tight as possible on security.” Commuters have called their lack of access “silly” and others see it as punishment for not living in the dormitories.
The chief issue raised by students after the break-in to Schottenstein Hall was regarding the administration’s communication system. During the incident, students did not know that an intruder was in their building and many flooded the hallways when they should’ve remained in their rooms. This was worsened by the fires which set off the fire alarms. Communication during the incident was aggravated by the string of emails sent to students by the administration about the incident, which students felt concealed the truth of administrative actions and the event at hand. Chana Ingber, SCW ’20, a resident of Schottenstein Hall who has been outspoken about her experiences during the break-in, shared with the YU Observer: “I’m hoping that YU and their security team continues to take the proper measures in order to ensure that the students both are safe and FEEL safe. I believe that the next step is an improvement in communication with the student body in regards to procedures and drills (rather than simply testing the alarms and then announcing it’s a test, after some students may have already panicked).”
Apfelbaum and Joseph agree that miscommunication was a big issue during the incident in Schottenstein Hall. “We’re addressing that with an alert system that’s separate from the fire alarm system. As we’ve seen, the fire alarm speaker system is not very good. We’re trying it out in 29th Street. If it works out well, we’ll put it in all the dorms on both campuses. We’re going to do extensive training with that alert system. Inside the RAs and GAs dorms there will be a sound, so it’ll wake them up if need be. It’s not something in the hallway, which you may or may not hear,” shared Apfelbaum.
Many students feel encouraged by YU’s security updates, which they say they’ve seen in the works. Courtney Marks, SCW ’21, a Schottenstein resident, shared with the YU Observer: “I feel encouraged seeing that they are stepping up security, but seeing the intense bars and metal doors reminds me why we need it […] I do feel like they are taking steps in the right directions. I want to know what the plan is for if someone else tries to break-in.”
Joseph claimed that going forward, transparency will be key, particularly across campuses. “It’s important that both campuses know what is happening. A great thing that [we now know is] to communicate to everyone about everything. Up until now the policy has always been to focus on where the problem has been and those who are most affected there. But just because they are most affected there, doesn’t mean that others aren’t,” Joseph shared.