By: Avi Hirsch | Editorials  | 

Your Voice is Vital to the Success of YU

At the heart of our mission at The Commentator lies the fundamental belief that an informed and engaged student body is necessary to the success of our university. When students take an active role in reading, discussing and contributing to the news and opinions found in this paper, their voices have the potential to be heard by those with the power to cause positive change.

Our readers’ vested interest in YU’s success, as well as our own, is born out of our shared experiences at this school, our desire to see ourselves thrive in this environment and our recognition of and gratitude for the good YU has done for us. And it is this shared interest that ought to compel us, as concerned “citizens” of this university, to involve ourselves in our school’s affairs in whatever ways we can, with the goal of bettering this institution.

But when students at YU care enough to try to change it, they are often faced with a challenging task. YU is not perfect. It can be stubborn and reluctant to change. Initiatives that seem simple and straightforward are slowed to a crawl by layers of bureaucracy, while administrators that sit in buildings a short walk from each other can waste months trying and failing to communicate their views on a plan of action with one another. It is this bleak picture that leads many students to give up hope of ever making meaningful progress in fixing the parts of YU they see as broken.

Last year, while researching an article on the state of recycling at YU, I spent months searching for answers to a few basic questions: Does YU recycle? Where is the recycling stored? I spoke with administration members ranging from the housekeeping staff to the heads of facilities and operations at the university.

I had planned for the article to be written in a week or two; it ended up taking months to complete. I don’t know if the numerous contradictions I was told were caused by a failure of communication between those responsible for recycling on campus, or if they were intended to hide the dismal state of recycling from my prying eyes; either way, the process dragged on.

But I noticed something strange happening as the piece was nearing completion. An NYC recycling sticker appeared on a bin in the basement of Belfer Hall where recycling was supposed to have been stored. Bags of cardboard began to be stored in that same area, and a week after the article was published, a sign reading “GARBAGE ONLY NO RECYCLE” was fastened to the trash compactor’s gate.

These admittedly minor changes happened because of the constant pressure exerted on those who had the power to change things. This is the most effective avenue for progress. Complaints exchanged between friends in the university cafeteria, usually directed at the abstract concept of “YU,” do nothing but increase resentment for this institution. Scathing opinion pieces can be cathartic and often generate controversy, but are also, more often than not, counterproductive — angering those in charge and generating tension between the administration and the student body that hinders progress.

Internal pressure will not always be effective. Over the course of last year, members of student council pressured President Berman and other administrators to release a statement addressing LGBTQ+ issues on campus. Despite months of dialogue, the effort was ultimately fruitless. The upcoming “March for LGBTQ+ Representation,” organized by the YU College Democrats, was the next step for students frustrated by inaction on this front. Five demands, issued by the march organizers, point to specific ways they believe YU can be made a more inviting place for those LGBTQ+ students who feel unwelcome.

Putting aside the merits of their individual demands, this protest, like many others in YU history, comes after a long and arduous process for those students who cared enough to speak up about what they saw as an injustice. There is no guarantee that the march will be any more successful than their past efforts. But there is already evidence that the administration feels pressured to do something. In an interview with The Commentator, President Berman announced the formation of a dedicated team of “rabbis and educators,” led by Senior Vice President Dr. Josh Joseph, to address “matters of inclusion … which includes LGBTQ+.” For the march organizers, this is only a small step forward, but it comes after months of constant pressure and dialogue with the YU administration.

Generating change at YU isn’t easy, but the challenges inherent in shaping YU into a better place make it so much more important for all students, not just student leaders, to be involved in this process. YU is supposed to support freshmen as well as seniors; it ought to facilitate the success of a philosophy major as much as a marketing major, a JSS student as much as a rabbinical student. As such, every student ought to play a role in representing their own interests at YU, whether by meeting privately with administrators to express their perspective or by passionately speaking out for real and meaningful change. The Commentator’s mission is, in part, to serve as a platform for all students at YU to make their voices heard. But this platform is just one tool that students can take advantage of as part of the continuing process of pushing YU forward. Lasting results most often come about through purposeful, long-term, concerted efforts. Staying resolute in the face of pushback can be tough, but it is ultimately vital to the success of YU.