Open Letter to President Berman from Cardozo Students

By: Cardozo Students  |  February 3, 2020

Dear President Berman,

We the undersigned are members of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law student body and executive boards the following Cardozo student clubs and we support the undergraduate YU students in their efforts to secure an LGBTQ+ student group and echo their demands:

  1. Recognition of Yeshiva University Pride Alliance, a student group of LGBTQ+ and Allied students.
  1. Acknowledgment that events involving LGBTQ+ issues and speakers may not be denied and/or manipulated by the Office of Student Life or any other administrative figure on the basis of them being LGBTQ+.
  1. The introduction of a Diversity and Inclusion Administrator who would work on Title IX issues and the prevention of homophobic behavior on campus.
  1. The introduction of an undergraduate orientation session on acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ+ students, including a distribution of LGBTQ+ resources to incoming students.
  1. A statement from President Berman condemning any demeaning anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric of students, Rabbis, staff, or faculty members on campus.

Yeshiva University (YU) prides itself on being the “world’s premier Jewish institution for higher education,”[1] one that is “dedicated to advancing the moral and material betterment of the Jewish community and broader society, in the service of God.” In tax filings, YU affirms to the U.S. government that “their aim is to ensure that all who step foot in Yeshiva University . . . are transformed by the experience and create a brighter tomorrow.” [2] 

However, YU falls short of its duties to provide a moral education by marginalizing its LGBTQ+ students on its undergraduate campuses. While many students leave high school eager to explore new opportunities to develop their identities, the undergraduate LGBTQ+ students at YU face opposition in this regard. YU promises a “community which supports intellectual growth, learning from others, mutual respect and freedom of thought and expression,” [3] yet YU LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and allies experience a sometimes explicit and sometimes tacit denial of community.

While we appreciate and recognize that the administration has shown interest in discussing the possibility of recognizing an LGBTQ+ group on campus, we urge them to manifest this interest with action. We are encouraged by this administration’s expressed interest, the fulfillment of which would be a considerable stride toward ameliorating and reconciling YU’s past treatment of LGBTQ+ students. [4]

Support for LGBTQ+ students is, in a word, essential.

This support is essential to the intellectual life and health of any university. Every person has and is entitled to their own perspective on life, on matters of culture, of religion, and of state. However, by delegitimizing LGBTQ+ students, and by silencing the discussions that they seek to start, Yeshiva University is operating counter to the basic function of a university–as a place where the free exchange of thoughts and ideas is paramount. Institutional LGBTQ+ support is also essential, from a practical standpoint, to the maintenance of donor relations and the long-term financial health of the school: Every LGBTQ+ alumnus or alumna who is the victim of on-campus discrimination, and every ally who bears witness to the institutional dismissal of their classmates, is a lost donor and a hole in the alumni network.

Advocacy is essential to our practice as lawyers. Many of us will likely represent LGBTQ+ clients not only in civil rights cases, but in contractual cases, labor cases, housing cases, immigration cases, intellectual property cases, trusts and estate cases, and cases that touch on every facet of the law and society. LGBTQ+ individuals are present at every level of society and in every aspect of business, politics, and religion. Our future clients should look at a Cardozo law degree and not only associate it with wholly competent attorneys, but also attorneys with compassion and strong moral foundations.

In an effort to strengthen the LGBTQ+ community at Cardozo, OUTLaw (Cardozo’s LGBTQ+ student group) recently secured an office specifically designated for its members and for our undergraduate YU cohorts who identify as LGBTQ+. The office is a space that allows students who identify as LGBTQ+ to feel safe and open, and to exist in a place of acceptance.

Additionally, our undergraduate classmates are welcomed and encouraged to attend and participate in OUTLaw events. While the doors of Cardozo are open to all YU students, including those who identify as LGBTQ+, they deserve to be recognized and to feel safe on their own campuses.

YU’s support is essential to the LGBTQ+ students among us. Studies show that, in religious communities and within religious institutions, the delegitimization of LGBTQ+ experiences and people directly causes emotional trauma and physical self-harm. Judaism is about community, and queer Jewish people are being unjustly ostracized from their communities. YU LGBTQ+ students deserve to feel safe and be recognized on their own campuses. With that in mind, we echo the undergraduate students’ aforementioned demands and urge the YU administration to take action.

Signed Sincerely and In Solidarity,

Cardozo OUTLAW Executive Board

Cardozo National Lawyers Guild

Public Interest Law Students Association

FIRE (For Immigrants’ Rights and Equality)

Interactive Entertainment Law Society (IELS)

Cardozo Environmental Law Society (CELS)

South Asian Law Student Association (SALSA)

Women in Tech Law (WiTL)

Cardozo Democrats


Women’s Law Initiative

Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP)

Philosophy and Law Society

Family Law Society

American Constitution Society (ACS)

Unemployment Action Center (UAC)

Cardozo Startup Society

Art Law Society

Asian Pacific American Law Students

Association (APALSA)

Fashion Law Society

Sports Law Society

Suspension Representation Project (SRP)

Cardozo’s Intellectual Property Law Society

Antitrust Society

Cardozo Entertainment Law Society

LALSA (Latin American Law Student Association)

202 Individual Student Names 

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Appendix A – Declaration of YU Students

Molly Meisels, Stern College for Women, Class of 2021 :

For years, students and advocates have attempted to gain representation and equality for the Queer community at YU. We’ve been denied time and time again. We’ve tried our hardest to work within the administration to accomplish our goals. We’ve had meeting after meeting. We’ve pleaded our case dozens of times and for dozens of years. We’ve received close to nothing.

Yeshiva University is an institution of many voices. While we are a Jewish institution, we are more diverse in thought than you can believe. But some of our voices are forcibly muted to make room for the voices of donors and rabbinical figures.

YU has its own version of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. YU claims to stand on five pillars which they call the “Five Torot.” Right now, those pillars support some of YU, but not all of YU.

This is my message to YU:

YU, if you believe in Torat Emet — the pursuit of truth and humanity’s ability to discover it– you believe that the LGBTQ+ students at this university exist and that their paths of discovery cannot remain hidden in a closet of injustice.

YU, if you believe in Torat Adam — the infinite worth of each human being, as we are all created in a divine image — you believe that the same applies to the LGBTQ+ students requesting to be considered human beings at Yeshiva University.

YU, if you believe in Torat Chaim — the application of knowledge to impact the world around us — you believe that we not only have the right, but the responsibility to be here today.

YU, if you believe in Torat Chesed — the requirement to reach out to others in compassion — you believe that you are required to reach out in compassion to the LGBTQ+ community at YU.

And, YU, if you believe in Torat Zion — the purpose of humanity to transform the world and move history forward — you believe that you have the obligation to move forward under a banner of Judaism, to grant us the rights we deserve.

What we are striving to accomplish here is embedded in YU’s very mission statement. When you say that you are “rooted in Jewish thought and tradition” and are “dedicated to advancing the moral and material betterment of the Jewish community and broader society” you are protesting right alongside us.

Anonymous Student, Class of 2022:

I’m pretty new to YU, but other LGBT+ students are not. Shlomo HaMelech said that there is nothing new under the sun, and that includes queer people. My LGBT experience at YU has been a mixed bag—one of the first people I came out to was a member of YU’s faculty, and they were entirely non-judgemental about it. On the other hand, today in class a professor went on a minute- long tangent about how she wasn’t going to talk about marriage being anything outside of one man and one woman. She wouldn’t even say the word “gay,” “bisexual,” or even “alternative lifestyle;” she just called it “the other thing”. And I don’t even think she realized how hurtful she was being.

Courtney Marks, Stern College for Women, Class of 2021 :

Growing up I never really saw myself represented in the people I knew, the books I read, the movies I watched, the athletes I cheered on. I think that is why I could not come to terms with who I was for the better part of seven years, I did not know that people like me, people who are gay, even existed. We have to learn about sexual health, relationship advice, how to have kids all from the internet which is not a reliable source. As an entire part of society we are being neglected, and neglect can cause real harm. All people crave to feel community, to feel seen, to feel heard, and the LGBTQ+ community is not different. We want our voices to be heard, our concerns to be addressed, our community to be officially recognized as a part of this institution, so that the next LGBTQ+ freshman sees there are people who will love and accept them no matter what and there is a space here for them. The alternative to this accepting school is what we have right now which is unbelievable harm done to students’ mental health.

Anonymous Student, Class of 2022:

There are things that YU could definitely do better as an institution: because they don’t make any statements regarding their inclusivity of LGBTQ students and have not allowed a GSA to be formed on campus, this attitude of apathy (as opposed to homophobia) from the institution trickles down to the students (who are influenced by their family, parents, upbringing) and they get the message that the homophobia that they’re bringing into YU is OK.

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Appendix B – Declaration of Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Students

Yeruchem Altusky, JD Candidate, Class of 2022:

Yeshiva [U]niversity proudly proclaims themselves to be a community lends to the educational growth of its students. The vision being, that students will then take their knowledge and with it enhance society. There are events for various groups and societies held at the school’s multiple locations. Each event is arranged and geared to educate a given society, or addressed to the students’ overall well-being and growth. It is important that all students feel a part of the school, and valuable to society in general. The American dream of freedom allows people to make their own decisions. The LGBTQ+ is society of inclusion. A group that respects individuals and their choices. LGBTQ+ is a zone of comfort, of acceptance, and of encouragement for those who may not be getting these essentials elsewhere. This is what we advocate for, and believe is what allows individuals and groups to excel to their fullest. Making events and publicizing these great ideas to the public is all but a worthwhile contribution. Limiting the abilities for a group of such, would be holding back resources and opportunities to our friends, colleagues, and society.

Miles Taylor, JD Candidate, Class of 2022:

Feeling accepted can be difficult for LGBTQ people; often times, we come from families that don’t fully support or acknowledge our identities, making it challenging to feel fully supported. Being an LGBTQ student at Cardozo allows me to be fully supported for I am and not have to worry about “picking” who I choose to disclose parts of my identity with. Having LGBTQ- focused and friendly events on campus allows me to feel safe, respected, and recognized in a time where many of us struggle to find that same positive recognition and support elsewhere.

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[2] See Return of Organization Exempted from Income Tax Form 990, Yeshiva University, INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE 79 (2017), 

[3] Undergraduate Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, YESHIVA UNIVERSITY,

[4] A brief recitation of the past treatment of LGBTQ+ students on YU campuses is as follows:

In 1989, Yeshiva’s Albert Einstein School of Medicine (AESOM) student/faculty senate passed a resolution asking for housing and other benefits for lesbian and gay couples, but Yeshiva President Norman Lamm refused to approve the change. In 2001, after two lesbian medical students and the ACLU sued AESOM, the New York Court of Appeals found that its housing policy treated LGBTQ+ students disparately such that a housing discrimination claim could be brought against them. Yeshiva settled.

In 2007, Stern College for Women came under fire when they placed a newly tenured professor on indefinite leave after she came out as transgender.

Much of YU’s conduct, while not yet subject to legal action, casts a pall of discrimination over the university: YU’s administration tried to block the first openly gay member of New York’s assembly from speaking about LGBTQ+ related issues when she was hosted on campus. YU has dismissed academic extracurricular endeavors that even touch on LGBTQ+ subject matter. For example, YU outright rejected a paper entered in their Model UN program discussing state-sponsored discrimination of sexual minorities, claiming that it would “trigger” students on campus. Commentator Staff, Admissions Rejects Model UN Topic Paper on Sexual Minorities, THE COMMENTATOR (Oct. 28, 2018), minorities/.

Both closeted and openly gay students have penned numerous essays and letters in campus newspapers describing their lives at YU and the impact of this environment on their safety and wellbeing. Some have added their views to this letter. (See Appendices A–B, attached). Many LGBTQ+ students feel ostracized, unwelcome, and unsafe in their educational institution. These students have continuously called for and attempted to create an official place to call their own within the school; a place that would afford them recognition and safety. However, the YU administration prevents the LGBTQ+ students from gaining an officially sanctioned foothold in their own school and community. It is due time for change.

In September 2019, in the aftermath of a march for recognition of the YU Pride Alliance, an LGBTQ+ affinity group, signs were posted at the women’s undergraduate campus in solidarity with LGBTQ+ students –signs that were torn down within hours. The YU community, in response, doubled down on their claims that YU should reject an LGBTQ+ presence on campus. Prominent Yeshiva University alumni have publicly denounced the LGBTQ+ rights movement as challenging “the value system of the Torah” and have called for the school’s board to appoint religious overseers with the authority to stifle the freedom of expression that these students crave and deserve.