The Heights Are Alive With The Sound Of Inequality
As a leading Modern Orthodox institution, Yeshiva University largely sets the tone for how Modern Orthodoxy is reflected in the world. For both Jews and non-Jews, each statement and every act committed by YU is under intense scrutiny and is often taken as reflective of the stance of the entire Jewish people. So when the model for the Jewish nation displays unfairness towards women and apathy for the arts, it's concerning.
It's easy to write certain things off with classic college excuses like, "budget cuts," or "a lack of interest," but at a certain point we need to take a step back and see the truth. Yeshiva University is suppressing the Stern College Dramatics Society, while Yeshiva College Dramatics Society is given far more opportunities to thrive.
I know that seems like harsh language, but anything more gentle wouldn't do the issue justice. Let's start with the basics here and get you up to date.
As people, we all have passions. As college students, passions are a luxury that not everyone has the time for. It's a sad reality that if you want to keep your GPA up, you can't do everything you want. That being said, it is incredible that Yeshiva College makes it plausible for students to have room for theatre by giving everyone who takes part in the productions one or two credits (per semester). The college not only gives people who are passionate about theatre a way of participating in performing arts without having to worry about losing precious credits, but also attracts other students looking for additional credits, thus getting a large number of people involved in production from all parts of the college.
Unfortunately, while Stern College is a part of the same organization, the same courtesy is not extended to the women. Instead of being given the promise of school credit, Stern Ladies involved in theatre are given the promise of long hours, hard work, and a total lack of appreciation. While males can get credit by merely ushering for seven performances, women can have rehearsal for four hours every night of the week for two months with nothing to show for it except blood, sweat, tears, and a hit to their other classes.
Fortunately, there are still women willing to be involved because of their burning passion for theatre. One student who only joined SCDS in her senior year and wished to remain anonymous said that if getting credit for her participation with SCDS were an option, it wouldn’t have taken her this long to get involved. Another student, who also requested anonymity, explained that the large time commitment with the play often hinders her schoolwork. “It’s a huge commitment and [being involved in SDCS] holds me back.” Both girls agreed that if credits were involved, they wouldn’t be having the same conversation. One of the students went on to say, "I really don't expect the guys and girls to have equal opportunity for everything, but the inequality here is just ridiculous. If both students are putting in the same amount of effort for the same outcome, then it’s clear that they should be treated the same way and should be given the same opportunity to gain something from it. The current system is encouraging girls to not be a part of something.”
In addition to one side getting credit while the other doesn’t, another big advantage YCDS has over Stern Dramatics is the simple fact that they have a space to be working in. Once upon a time, there were two theatres owned by YU- one on the Wilf Campus, and one on the Beren Campus. It was a beautiful time when both groups had access to small, but professional, theatres. In fact, both theatres were donated by the same person, an individual who valued the arts and wanted students on both campuses to have equal opportunity to follow their passions. Unfortunately, after Yeshiva University found itself strapped for cash, the higher-ups decided that the best solution was to sell one of the theatres.
Now yes, obviously real estate in Midtown is far pricier than in the Heights, yet there were numerous inquiries about women using the theatre in the Heights which were rejected. In the meantime, the women were stuck working in Koch Auditorium, or at Norman Thomas High School. Neither options were very satisfying. In Koch, the very same Koch that holds biology lectures and Shabbat meals alike, there is no access to lighting other than existing ceiling units and the construction floodlights that facilities kindly brought in. The brown carpet absorbs all sound and hinders dancing, and the lack of a stage makes an SCDS production feel like a skit being performed for friends, despite the caliber of the performance.
At Norman Thomas, there are multiple restrictions placed on how SCDS is allowed to use the space. Stern students aren’t allowed to enter the space until a certain late time, and they are kicked out at the strike of 10:45 (really 11:00, but the staff gets antsy), which makes 8:00 PM performances difficult because the entire set and all of the props also need to be removed after each night for lack of storage.
Thankfully, SCDS was able to smartly find ways to put on fantastic productions in both of these places, despite the pitfalls. But that doesn't make the circumstances any less ridiculous. It isn’t only female students who see the imbalance. As one unnamed Yeshiva College student said, “I'm consistently blown away with how good SCDS productions are, despite the lack of a real theater. If (SCDS) got even remotely equal treatment to YCDS, they would be unstoppable.”
Seeking unstoppability, SCDS and other concerned parties continued to ask the administration about gaining access to the Schottenstein Theatre. However, despite multiple requests and meetings with administrators, including one as recently as the Fall 2015 semester, this dream has not yet come to fruition.
Further complicating SCDS’s dramatic aspirations are their budgetary constraints. SCDS is funded and run by the Office of Student Life and is given a similar budget to any other club on campus, even though they have far more costs than other clubs, including purchasing rights to scripts and buying materials for sets and costumes. On top of finances, being run by the OSL also means that every single decision needs to be run through the office, a process which, as efficient as the office is, inevitably takes a while and slows down the production.
YCDS, on the other hand, is run directly through the Dean’s Office, as opposed to the OSL. Because of that, they are given a lot more leeway when it comes to decision-making. It is also widely acknowledged that, even if their semesterly plays have been reduced to annual performances, YCDS enjoys a much larger budget than SCDS for their productions. Such a disparity hurts SCDS tremendously.
Unfortunately, the discrimination that Yeshiva University perpetuates for the Dramatics Society speaks to a larger issue. A senior at Stern involved in SCDS said that she believes the inequality minimizes the number of women looking to get involved in the arts past college. Young women come into Stern with a passion, and leave believing that their unfair treatment at YU is consistent with the values of the Jewish community at large. These women learn to leave their passions behind with their innocent freshman dreams, never to be looked at again.
Yeshiva University, with all of its influence, is creating a reality where women cannot participate in the arts, at least not in the same capacity as men. Many students attend YU specifically so that they can practice and embrace Judaism, while simultaneously pursuing a full college experience and their passions. By suffocating SCDS and its women, our school is suffocating the artistic passions of young women in the Modern Orthodox community. Yeshiva University is thus subliminally sending a message that the Jewish community doesn't care to foster the talents and skills their women have to offer. This is not the world I want to live in and this is not the beautiful religion I am a part of, so why are we allowing YU to make it so?
*Names have not been included in this article due to the sensitivity of the subject.