Revisiting Coed Courses in YU

By: Shayna Herszage  |  November 27, 2020

By Shayna Herszage, Managing Editor

Yeshiva University prides itself on being an institution that provides single-gender undergraduate education in Stern College for Women, Yeshiva College for Men, and the Sy Syms School of Business on the Beren and Wilf campuses. However, the strictly gender-divided colleges often create issues because the courses offered are not always balanced. Considering that classes, at least for the foreseeable future, are not going to be in-person, it may be time to rethink blurring the lines of Yeshiva University’s gender separation.

To clarify, I am not arguing that the campuses and their respective courses should be entirely integrated. I know that Yeshiva University is not fully coed, and I do not think it should be. But what do we do when a student at Yeshiva College (YC) wants to take an education or nutrition course? The majors are markedly absent from the YC catalog. Similarly, what do we do when a student at Stern College wants to take an English course with no Beren campus equivalent? If Yeshiva University is offering the course to another undergraduate school, why should Yeshiva University provide a stumbling block in the path of a student pursuing an education and a career? In order to aid their students to the best of their abilities, Yeshiva University should consider allowing exceptions in such cases.

One of the primary arguments against allowing such mixing is that coed classes, even slightly coed, may be considered immodest. This notion must be revisited in the era of online classes because classroom socializing is no longer a factor. Students no longer talk among each other in the classroom before the professor arrives — instead, we are kept in the Zoom waiting room. After classes, we no longer interact in the hallway or cafeteria — we simply leave the Zoom call. From the beginning of the pandemic, students and professors alike have called attention to the impersonal, non-social quality of online classes. While we struggle with this issue of non-social education, Yeshiva University must take this time to grant new educational opportunities to students. If socializing among classmates is minimized as is, there is no longer a risk of possible immodesty.

Meanwhile, while single-gender classes have maintained an impersonal quality, coed online events have occurred on a regular basis as forms of extracurricular learning and socializing. Students of all colleges join serious, academic events such as the Crisis and Hope lecture series, as well as social, whimsical events such as Trivia Night. While events and classes have been starkly different from each other in the past, they now take on the same general form: people in boxes on screens. Coed events, however contested over the decades, happen on a regular basis. Considering that we already have coed events, allowing students to take online classes from the other campus when necessary would not be so strange. 

Upon reading this, many may argue: if we allow some students to take an online class meant for the other campus, we may lose the divides between the colleges and ultimately become a coed university. I can assure you this would not happen. These exceptions would be exactly that — exceptions on a case-by-case, as-needed basis. I, for example, would not need these exceptions because I am fortunate enough to have all of the classes necessary for my majors offered through Stern College for Women. However, some students — such as those with shaped majors or those with specific career goals relevant to classes that are only offered through the other campus — would benefit from the blurring of these divisions.

Allowing for exceptions to cross over between schools is not unheard of in Yeshiva University. For example, some undergraduate Yeshiva University students are permitted to take classes at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies for undergraduate credit. However, these exceptions are not given to everyone. Students must be of a specific class standing, and they must obtain permission from several faculty members from both Revel and their own college. The case-by-case basis of the permitting of undergraduate students to take graduate courses provides an example of how Yeshiva University should consider handling undergraduate courses: when a relevant course is not offered in a student’s own college but it is offered in another, it is in the interest of both the university and the student to consider permitting the individual to take the course.

If Yeshiva University allows students to take undergraduate courses offered on the other campus, it would be a change in tradition. However, Yeshiva University’s history is filled with changing tradition — such as allowing men to be on staff for the YU Observer, women to be on staff for The Commentator, and women to learn Talmud, to name a few. Yeshiva University is, in itself, a new look at tradition: rather than Torah or Madda (science), Yeshiva University revolutionized modern Jewry by combining the two as Torah U’Madda. Rethinking the tradition of having completely gender-separate classes may be daunting, but if Yeshiva University is acting in the interest of its students, as it should be, some adjustments are worth making.