On Homophobia and Student Responsibility

By: Molly Meisels  |  May 8, 2020

By Molly Meisels, Editor in Chief

The YU Observer has spent a considerable portion of the year criticizing the Yeshiva University administration. The team’s uncompromising philosophy has been to let no injustice go unnoticed. As editor in chief of the YU Observer, I have been unwavering in my journalistic pursuit to champion for righteous causes. Upholding administrative reputation is always secondary to revealing administrative misconduct, and administrative misconduct should always be questioned by students. This is why the YU Observer held YU responsible for reallocating parts of the Stern College art floor to the Katz School of Science and Health, remaining silent about the part they played in covering up sexual assault, refusing to place Safe Space stickers for LGBTQ+ students in the Counseling Center, questioning the prioritization of halacha over humanity, and allowing professors with discriminatory practices to continue teaching undergraduate students. 

The administration has the responsibility to prioritize student needs over financial gain, rabbinic ridicule, and the fear of faltering admission numbers. When they fail in that responsibility, student journalists remind them of their promise to educate and protect their students.

However, the administration is not the only faulty party partaking in campus injustices. Many of our student leaders do the same. This is clear due to the role students leaders played in getting an anti-discrimination amendment rejected by the Wilf student body. Many of these student leaders won their elections on May 7. 

The YU Observer has been tentative about highlighting student-on-student prejudice in the past. We have been accused by student leaders of ruining student reputations by revealing discrimination against LGBTQ+ students and unethical student government practices. We have been accused of standing between these students and bright futures. But students must be held responsible for cultivating bias on campus. Throughout the year, I’ve given student leaders slight laxity. I attempted to balance sharing the whole truth and leaving student reputations be. While compassion for all students delayed my full condemnation of students’ intolerant actions, the time has come for that to change.

Due to recent events with student government and Canvassing Committee members attempting to sway the Wilf Campus election to hurt the LGBTQ+ community, I exposed the evident corruption and homophobia that many students were startled by. Student leaders, charged with fostering the well-being of the student body, were explicitly urging fellow students to vote against an anti-discrimination amendment up for election. The reason? To prevent LGBTQ+ students from obtaining a student organization. In this instance, I noticed that undergraduate students are responsible for their own actions. No longer could I escape their groundless prejudice. No longer could I ignore their bigoted actions just because they are students with futures ahead of them. LGBTQ+ students also have their futures ahead of them — futures that are always questioned due to homophobia and the lack of acceptance from the YU and Orthodox communities. For this reason, student leaders cannot partake in hatred and get away with it. 

LGBTQ+ students at YU have endured homophobia for decades. I’ve sat in dozens of meetings in my four years at YU, begging administrators and student leaders to listen to the appeals of LGBTQ+ students and allies. Instead of taking our pain into consideration, most meetings ended with tension. Some suggest that LGBTQ+ students should leave YU. When we plead that students’ lives depend on a club, many student leaders and administrators uncomfortably avoid eye contact. “Torah is Torah,” some say. That scapegoat phrase is simple to hide behind. Instead of confronting the plights of LGBTQ+ students, student leaders use Torah to prevent their access to the Jewish world. What they fail to mention is that Judaism prizes acceptance, pikuach nefesh (saving of one’s life), and equality. 64% of the Wilf student body (the statistic of those who voted against the anti-discrimination amendment) does not seem to adhere to these Jewish values. 

In a call for action spread around campus in the days leading up to elections, students shared messages that claimed the anti-discrimination amendment is dangerous. The Canvassing Committee member that the YU Observer exposed told fellow students, “This will be one of the amendments students can vote on this Thursday. It would legitimize a path for an lgbt club on campus. Consider this when you vote on Thursday.“ His message led to a slew of homophobic campaigning. “If you care about the ‘Y’ part of YU at all it is imperative that you vote ‘no’ for many reasons, but close to the top of that long list is that many roshei yeshiva and rabbanim have either said or implied they will leave YU if such a club exists,” said a message by another student. 

For some student leaders, caring for the lives and livelihoods of their fellow students — the students they run to represent — is secondary to caring about the hashkafic (philosophical) implications of accepting LGBTQ+ Jews. 

Student leaders are not children. They do not deserve to have their actions sugar coated and protected. They are in positions of power — positions they chose to take. Student leadership is not about fame or a resume-booster, it is about caring for student populations that need it most. Instead, many of our student leaders have used their positions to stomp on the progress that LGBTQ+ students have worked tirelessly to accomplish. 

YU student leaders yell slander when truthful articles are written about the unjust actions they partake in. My message to those yelling slander: if you want nice articles written about you, treat people nicely and do the right thing. It is not a student journalist’s responsibility to pen articles that paint you in a positive light. It is a student journalist’s job to record the successes and failures of your actions as a leader of the YU community. If you want history to remember you fondly and if you want your reputation to stand, stand on the side of equality.