By YU Observer Staff
On Sunday, February 9th, seven student council presidents from the Beren and Wilf campuses sent an email to the undergraduate student body regarding their decision to abstain from voting on the YU Alliance—a club for LGBTQ+ students and allies.
Following the “We Too, Are, YU,” march at the start of the Fall 2019 semester, a group of Yeshiva University undergraduate students formed an unofficial club called the YU Pride Alliance, with the hope of becoming an official YU club by the Spring 2020 semester. The club applied for club status with the Stern College for Women Student Council, the Yeshiva College Student Association, and the Yeshiva Student Union, with a shortened name—the YU Alliance. Two YU undergraduate students, Dov Alberstone, YC ‘20, and Molly Meisels, SCW ‘21, submitted the application.
The goals of the club are outlined in its mission statement:
“The Yeshiva University Alliance is a group of undergraduate YU students hoping to provide a supportive space on campus for all students, of all sexual orientations and gender identities, to feel respected, visible, and represented.
Conversation is at the heart of our community, in order to foster awareness and sensitivity to the unique experiences of being a LGBTQ+ person in YU and the Orthodox community, and to advocate for their unconditional tolerance and acceptance.
Our space will promote open dialogue for all, regardless of religious views and political affiliations. We ask students to be cognizant and respectful of the beliefs, experiences, and backgrounds of everyone in attendance at our functions.
At our events, please do not express assumptions about or hostility towards any person or organization.”
Board members of the YU Alliance say they’ve anxiously waited for club approval by the aforementioned student councils and the YU administration, as LGBTQ+-oriented clubs have been rejected in the past. Last year, student council presidents, Tai Miller, Nolan Edmonson, and Shoshana Marder, attempted to initiate an LGBTQ+ and allies club with student activists, but were rejected by Dean Chaim Nissel.
The student council presidents, representing the the Stern College for Women Student Council (Aleeza Katz), Yeshiva Student Union (Zachary Greenberg), the Student Organization of Yeshiva (Yoni Broth), the Torah Activities Council (Bella Adler), the Yeshiva College Student Association (Leib Wiener), Sy Syms Student Council – Wilf (Chayim Mahgerefteh), and the Sy Syms Student Council – Beren (Miriam Schloss), claim that they could not vote to approve or reject the club after meeting with Yeshiva University administrators, Roshei Yeshiva, the YU Alliance, and members of the student body. They said that according to the Wilf and Beren constitutions, their role as student council representatives is to “facilitate conversation between students, administration, and faculty.”
Therefore, instead of approving the club as any other club would be approved, they are making what may be the unprecedented decision to abstain from a vote. They have put the responsibility of club approval onto the administration, and assert that they cannot decide on approving a club focusing on LGBTQ+ issues because the matter is “too complex and nuanced” for students to handle. “We are not administrators, we are not rabbis, and we are not subject matter experts. While our role is to express the student voice, our role is not to determine major ideological decisions for the institution,” the presidents wrote. “This decision has larger implications outside of Yeshiva University. These implications are beyond Student Council Presidents and have been considered by those who have more experience in matters of this magnitude.”
The YU Alliance submitted a statement to the YU Observer on the student councils’ decision to abstain: “We, the board of the YU Alliance, are deeply disappointed by the lack of leadership demonstrated by the student councils’ decision to abstain from voting on the status of our club. The YU Alliance took all of the required steps and followed the proper procedures in applying for the club, and should be afforded the same treatment as any other potential club on campus. The student councils are entrusted with representing and serving the entire student body, but they have here abdicated that responsibility.”
No aspect of either constitution covers abstention in terms of voting on club approval. However, the Beren Constitution does cover discriminatory acts by members of the student government. Article IV of the Beren Constitution states, “the SGA [Student Government Association] shall not discriminate [on issues], including but not limited to: race; ethnicity; nationality; sexual orientation; gender identity; religious, spiritual and humanistic belief or lack thereof; age; disability; health status; political affiliation or ideology; or socioeconomic standing.”
Phillip Nagler, YC ‘20, the co-president of the Jewish Activism Club, a student group that gathered signatures from student leaders in support of the YU Alliance, told the YU Observer: “I think the message that the Student Council, the Administration, and the Roshei Yeshiva are sending to LGBTQ students is clear: ‘We do not care about you. We care about our jobs, our grad school applications, and maintaining the status quo.’ I’m not surprised about this as Vice President Josh Joseph refused to let any student leaders fighting for the LGBTQ student cause into his meeting with the student council presidents. We were not allowed to give our side of the story, which resulted in the council presidents being manipulated by the University’s suppressive agenda.”
The YU Alliance agreed with Nagler’s sentiment: “[…]we recognize that the student councils were put under immense pressure from the YU administration. The administration attempting to influence the student councils with regard to this decision is outrageous and inexcusable. YU ensures their students the rights to citizenship, expression, association, and freedom from discrimination. In attempting to interfere with student self-governance and in obstructing a club dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community, they have violated these principles.”
The student council presidents ended their statement with a promise for LGBTQ+ advocacy: “This is not the end of the conversation; it is a commitment to continued progress in creating a stigma-free campus towards LGBTQ+ students. We are maintaining open communication between the student body and administration. We will advocate for students on campus. We will cultivate love and mutual respect in our campus community because every single person who chooses to be a part of Yeshiva University deserves to feel that they belong.”
Shayna Herszage, SCW ‘21, Beren co-president of the JAC, shared her view on the presidents’ decision, “On one hand, I understand the difficult position the student council was in. But at the same time, if nobody is willing to stand up, change will never happen. Look at all of history—progress comes when someone takes a risk and stands up for it.”
“The YU Alliance condemns the student councils’ decision to abstain from voting and will take all possible steps — up to and including legal action — to ensure the safety of LGBTQ+ students at Yeshiva University. We call on the YU administration — to whom the student councils have delegated this decision — to approve The YU Alliance immediately,” said the YU Alliance statement.