By Daniel Ganopolsky
Most, if not all, of us FTOC (first time on campus) students are familiar with one of Yeshiva University’s policies, which states that we must dorm in one of the residence halls during our first-year on campus. Commuting from home or renting an apartment somewhere in the neighborhood is not an option.
The most significant objection students have to this policy is the cost. As per the Yeshiva University undergraduate Wilf housing website, living in the Rubin or Morgenstern Halls each costs $9,500 for both semesters and the Muss Hall costs $6,800 (but does not include air conditioning). The Beren campus rates range anywhere from $9,500 to $12,300. On top of these rates, students who dorm are also required to enroll in one of three meal plans starting at $1,500 per semester. First-year students have no other choice but to pay these prices in addition to the cost of tuition.
The current housing policy was originally implemented in 2016 along with many other sweeping new changes to dorm life and its costs. At the time, Yeshiva was 38 million dollars in debt and was struggling financially. At his last Beren town hall meeting of the year, Student Molly Pocrass asked if the rumors regarding raising in housing prices were true. President Richard Joel confirmed the price changes and said “the school should not be sponsoring what is essentially luxury housing for students who are being given assistance with tuition,” (qtd. in Haller). The school was in debt and the price hikes and policy changes were an attempt to lower the deficit at the time. But unlike tuition, the cost of housing is not subsidized or eligible for financial aid. First-year students are forced to pay an additional $13,000 out-of-pocket. Many of us are consequently left with no choice but to take out loans that we otherwise would not need to. Alternative options, like living at home or splitting an apartment with five roommates, can significantly decrease the cost of our Yeshiva campus experience. Off-campus housing also leaves us with more meal plan flexibility. We can cook our own food or buy cheaper pre-cooked food, allowing many of us to avoid the cafeteria’s outrageous prices.
On the other hand, I think that as students we need to realize that housing in New York City is always expensive and Washington Heights is no exception. The Residence Halls, unlike the caf, are reasonably priced if we were to compare them with similar living situations in New York City. Therefore, I am not advocating for Yeshiva University to get rid of this policy nor lower their housing rates. The solution is for Yeshiva to open the room and board expenses to be eligible for financial aid. The university would still receive the money they need to cover the costs of operation and other high expenses, but at the same time students would be able to cut costs and minimize their loans.
Originally, I assumed that making housing costs eligible for financial aid was a legal issue. However, after a quick Google search, I learned that FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid) covers the cost of room and board for students in institutions of higher education. The financial aid package Yeshiva offers should cover these additional costs as well. If housing and a meal plan is a mandatory expense for students, then these costs should be grouped with the tuition costs. Institutions like Columbia University cover room and board with financial aid, and Yeshiva University should not be an exception.
The second concern many students have, myself included, is related to the social conditions and interactions we have by living on-campus. Dorming requires the students adhere to Yeshiva University’s strict dorm rules and regulations as outlined in the housing contract we had to sign. Rules such as “being a full time-student in good standing”, We must accept the housing assignment given to us, we must agree to not remove any existing furnishings nor install any large appliances, and agree that “the University may enter the room assigned to you, whether or not you are present, to conduct an inspection, make repairs, show the room or apartment or to maintain health, safety and security, and standards of conduct, or in the event of emergency”, among many other rules. These strict regulations put a significant limit on the independent decisions students must learn to make when they live on their own. In my opinion, the college experience consists of two main factors. The first is gaining an education to expand your knowledge in any given subject matter for future employment opportunities or simply learning for pleasure. The second part of the college experience is growing and shaping yourself into an independent adult. Graduating with a degree might land you a job, but it won’t teach you how to make decisions about housing, picking roommates, cleaning, or cooking to name a few.
As a resident of the Rubin Hall, I make many living decisions on my own terms. However, I do not have total autonomy. I can’t fully decorate my room the way I want it because it might lead to some wall damage. I can’t talk too loudly in the hallways because I might disturb my floormates (who can literally hear everything through the walls). I have to share a bathroom with 30 other floormates. I can’t Drink wine for kiddush on shabbat. I can’t drink a beer with my friends either. I constantly feel like a half-adult. The housing policy allows me to make my own decisions, but only if the administration agrees with them. Even the services that are provided for us, like having our bathrooms cleaned for us at least once every day by the University staff, create unhealthy and unproductive dependencies. Don’t get me wrong, I sincerely appreciate all the work the staff does for us, but even something seemingly minimal like cleaning the bathrooms for us unfortunately reinforces a lax attitude towards how we treat the bathrooms. We end up leaving them dirtier and consequently never have to learn to clean up after ourselves. A post-Yeshiva world does not include staff to clean our bathrooms for us, and having to abide by these rules further diminishes our opportunity to learn the crucial skills we need for our post-college adult life.
Even though I’ve painted a relatively grim picture of the consequences of living on-campus, I think there are many underlying benefits. Having to dorm with all these restrictions may not be ideal for independent character and self-development, but we are presented with the baby steps to get us started. For most students, dorming is a more independent living situation than sleeping at home or even spending the year abroad in yeshiva – where madrichim [advisors] supervise us. Our first-year is a stepping stone to a more independent and adult lifestyle and we should use it to our advantage. We need to utilize this semi-autonomous time to develop ourselves and prepare for full-scale independence. Dorming gives us a blueprint and taste of how one could live, as well as introduces us to future roommate prospects. Without the prep, leasing an apartment or picking an apartment mate can be a very stressful and extremely mentally draining activity.
All the more so, I think living on campus with all the new students has many benefits you can’t get elsewhere. Dorming creates an active community and warm atmosphere on campus. For example, the Rubin 3 Resident Advisors (RA’s) have been incredible in fostering a fun and warm atmosphere on our floor. We have had floor-wide dart tournaments, pancake breakfasts, and even have an upcoming floor shabbaton. Students from all corners of the globe, live together and have an opportunity to participate in all these fun network building events. We get to share in our collective campus experiences. We learn from each other and support each other. As a result, this environment establishes Yeshiva University as a national university rather than a local commuter school.
When I first started dorming I was quite critical of the housing policy. I dreamt of renting an apartment with some of my fellow first year students and finally being able to live fully independently. But after spending a few months in the Rubin dorm I have come to appreciate dorm life. The convenience of having a shul [synagogue], cafeteria, pool, and gym all in the same building is unparalleled. Because everything is so close, I can spend more time studying with my floormates instead of walking five blocks to my theoretical apartment. In addition, I have made many new friends that I otherwise would not have if I was not dorming. Even though I am from New York City, I would definitely prefer to dorm instead of traveling from home or renting my own apartment.
Spending our first year on campus in the dorms is a great middle step. As we slowly shift from complete dependency on our parents to full self-reliance, dorming creates a safe transitional point in our college experience. This is not the final destination, but nonetheless it is a stop that needs to be explored. By offering financial aid for room and board Yeshiva will show that this policy is more than just a mere money grab. They need to demonstrate that the goal of living on campus is to establish connections between peers from all around the globe and foster a learning opportunity that can lead to lifelong bonds and a successful adult life. Fitting hand in hand with the overall goal of college, and especially that of a Jewish university with Jewish values that apply in school, at work, and at home.
I think the university should continue to uphold this rule despite its costs. Nevertheless, I think Yeshiva should do more to address and satisfy some of the concerns the student body has.