Diversity Acknowledgement on Campus

By: Sarah Brill  |  November 27, 2020

By Sarah Brill, Science and Technology Editor

Yeshiva University is a unique ecosystem of educational institutions and resources that prepares the next generation of leaders with Jewish values and market-ready skills to achieve great success in their personal and professional lives, endowing them with both the will and wherewithal to transform the Jewish world and broader society for the better.” 

This is Yeshiva University’s mission statement. Nowhere in this statement does it acknowledge or, better yet, endorse the idea that there is or should be diversity on campus. For reference, let us compare YU’s mission statement to NYU’s. 

“… [A]nd the university draws upon the diverse backgrounds of our faculty, staff, and students, ensuring its scholarship and teaching benefit from a wide range of perspectives. NYU takes seriously its role as an engine of social mobility, and stands out among the top US universities in its representation of low-income and first-generation students within its community.”

A few key phrases need highlighting: “teaching benefits from a wide range of perspectives,” and “NYU takes seriously its role as an engine of social mobility.” Having a diverse faculty is one of the key components that enrich a learning experience. If someone is taking a Judaic studies class and does not have a Jewish professor, the experience will not be as fulfilling. Similarly, taking a social justice and inequality class and not having a member of a minority group as the professor will be unfulfilling. 

I have heard from some students that putting “diversity” or “accepting/promoting diversity” is just a publicity stunt to get more students to attend the school. While that might be true, the student population can, at the very least, feel accepted by the university rather than feeling like an outsider when attending. Even if it is for publicity, words hold a lot of meaning. For NYU, they take social mobility as a serious matter, so serious that they put it in their mission statement. For YU, social mobility has included marching for the state of Israel and attempting to combat antisemitism within mainly New York communities. If that is the case, why doesn’t our mission statement actively make an effort to not only promote social mobility in our own community but in other communities, including minority communities, as well? 

It is quite hypocritical to think that a Jewish school does not even acknowledge diversity within their own community. 

Upon asking a group of YU students, male and female, if they felt there was racial diversity on campus, 100% said that there was not. When asked if the phrase “YU should aim to foster a diverse atmosphere” or a similar expression should be added to the mission statement, 60% said it should be added, and the other 40% had  reasons for why it should not be added. Anonymous, SCW ‘21, who replied “no,” said, “We don’t [foster a diverse atmosphere] so we shouldn’t say we do.” Rivka Lasson, SCW ‘21, expressed similar sentiment stating that this phrase should not be included because “It’s not really a diverse environment.” 

Yosef Rosenfield, YC ‘21, stated that “Yeshiva University shouldn’t include the phrase in its mission statement if that isn’t an actual goal of the university, which it probably isn’t. YU is a private institution and therefore doesn’t owe anything to society. It need not necessarily strive to foster a diverse environment, or accomplish anything for that matter. It presumably aims to simply serve its intended audience, which likely doesn’t care about surrounding itself with a diverse environment.”

It is disheartening to see that even students at YU believe that the student population is both not diverse and that our university makes no effort in creating a diverse atmosphere. 

On the opposing side, Kayla Lasson, Katz ‘24, stated that adding the phrase would “make people feel more welcomed.” In agreement, Fruma Landa, SCW ‘21, noted that the school should add the expression, “but only if they actually do that. If they do not intend to, they should skip it.” Additionally, Devorah Gurevich, SCW 23, stated, “I think it should, but only if the administration is truly committed to doing so and not just using empty words to make the school look good. Committing to this mission requires continuous education and improvement to make it a reality.”

Across the board, students are acknowledging that there is barely any diversity in our school, and the majority stated that a phrase acknowledging or accepting a diverse student population is welcome only if the school intends to keep that promise. 

It is incredibly hard for me personally as a racially mixed person to unabashedly express half of my identity in a Jewish school that chooses not to acknowledge diversity within the Jewish community. There are many Jews of color in the world, and for some reason, the Jewish community is holding an ashke-normative (a societal trend of favoring Ashkenazic Jews)  mentality. My question to the school is, why aren’t more Jews of color applying to the school? Is it because of this mission statement? Is it because not only is the student population not racially diverse, but the faculty isn’t either? Is this a subconscious choice? Is the school choosing to ignore its Jews of color on campus, or is this mere ignorance? Has our school taken the approach that a Jew is a Jew and therefore, it need not mention diversity, or do they fail to realize that this little discrepancy in the mission statement is marginalizing? 

A lot of people don’t recognize that while a Jew may be a Jew and we should respect them as such, there are a lot of preconceived notions surrounding the POC (People of Color) Jewish community. I have heard many Jews of color being called “converts” in the slur usage of the word on social media. I have heard people being called “fake Jews” because of the color of their skin, which is unacceptable. If the school truly takes the approach that a “Jew is a Jew,” then it should have no problem inserting that phrase. This would reflect undertaking the initiative to gain a more diverse faculty and student population and allowing students to express their ethnicities openly without fear of being judged. 

The Jewish community should strive to welcome everyone, convert, colored, LGBTQ+, and everything in between because it is true; “A Jew is a Jew.”

Whatever the reason may be that YU has not striven to promote diversity on their campus or in their mission statement, the YU Observer has yet to receive a response from Renee Coker, senior director of talent management and Title IX officer. 

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