From the SCWSC President’s Desk
“What is Orthodoxy?” my Muslim coworker asked me from across the room.
We were sitting in the designated interns area in the headquarters of a political campaign, working on a data entry project that involved an Orthodox Jewish directory. As the only female Orthodox Jew in the room, the question was clearly directed at me. I opened my mouth to answer, but before I could say a word, another intern decided to respond for me.
“They’re different because the women don’t do things,” he said authoritatively, as he went on to list all of the ways that Orthodox women are not regarded as equals. His words stunned me into silence, and I let the conversation drop even though I had a flurry of thoughts racing through my mind.
I was disturbed by the irony of the situation. This man was trying to point out the gender inequality in my community and claim that women are not given a voice, but in the process he was disregarding my presence and denying me the very right that he was presumably defending.
I was also angry that this person, who did not know me, felt that he could draw a conclusion about me based on his limited knowledge about the Orthodox community. And his conclusion was that since I am an Orthodox Jewish woman, I am repressed and submissive.
While this happened during the 2016 election, which was now over a year ago, I often think about this exchange when I consider my role in the Orthodox community and specifically at Stern College.
What my coworker did not understand about me or my community is that we do not value, and are not taught, to be passive women. This is especially evident at Stern College, a place unique in that it is filled with thoughtful, diverse, and empowered Orthodox women.
During my three years at Stern College, I have been inspired by the many women together with whom I have studied. I have watched the women on Beren set ambitious goals for themselves – personally, academically, and religiously. I have seen them organize popular lectures, win scholarships to study a wide range of topics, and take leadership positions within the school. I have seen them ask thought provoking questions, push themselves outside of their intellectual comfort zones, and evaluate their beliefs and the role of religion in their lives.
Beyond these accomplishments, I have been amazed at how the students on Beren refuse to stay silent. When problems arise at YU, the women on the Beren campus are quick to recognize them and to offer creative solutions. Women on campus have improved the student experience by challenging norms, instigating changes that have led to shifts in university policies. The women on campus see problems and refuse to turn a blind eye, instead taking the initiative to fix them.
In my capacity as president of the Stern College for Women Student Council, I have already seen dozens of women on campus take initiative, specifically to start new clubs, events, and programs. This semester, there are nearly 70 SCWSC clubs – 17 of which are new. These clubs were created by women who felt a void on campus and decided to take action and fill it. The Diversity Club is forming a space for students who have felt disenfranchised in the past. Both the Poetry Club as well as the Slam Poetry Club are providing students with new creative outlets that did not exist before this semester. The Meals on Wheels Task Force is offering opportunities for students to get involved in volunteer work that has not previously been present on the Beren campus. The groundbreaking work and initiatives that are happening today exist solely because of the vision, hard work, and perseverance of the women of Yeshiva University.
Despite all of this, I understand that there are real problems at Beren. It is a common sentiment on the Beren campus that the women are often forgotten in favor of the men on Wilf. It is understandably frustrating to students when so many events, especially the larger events, are concentrated uptown. Along with the presidents of TAC and Syms Beren, I am working to create more events on the Beren Campus. As for events that are located on Wilf, we are committed to ensuring that they are organized in ways that allow women to participate in as convenient a way as possible.
As student council president, I will do what I can to help the women on Beren continue to have their voices heard. In order to create a direct line between students and student council members, we are working on new initiatives including a forum that will be held in the near future for students to express their concerns and brainstorm creative solutions.
Ultimately, student council representatives should be viewed as an additional resource on campus. We are eager to help the women on Beren as they continue questioning the status quo, taking initiative, and looking to improve the overall student experience.