We Are Not an Afterthought: Gender Inequality is Pervasive at YU
My experience as a woman at Yeshiva University has been overwhelmingly positive. I find myself inspired by my classmates, strong Jewish women who are pursuing a higher education. My classmates and I have had the opportunity to learn from female role models such as Dr. Naomi Grunhaus, Shoshana Shechter, Dr. Anne Peters, Dr. Schuk and Dr. Sharon Poczter, to name only a few. YU employs these women to educate and teach us to be thoughtful citizens of the world.
At YU I am given the opportunity to get an advanced degree in Talmud with its Graduate Program in Advanced Talmudic Studies. I can strengthen my appreciation for culture by attending operas and plays, by going to museums with my classes. There are numerous ways that YU has demonstrated it cares about furthering my education and the education of all its female students.
Unfortunately, my positive experience here has been clouded by a harsh reality. The attitude of and actions taken by our school — whether intentional or not — often brand its female students as second class citizens.
A moving editorial by The Commentator’s former Managing Editor Shoshy Ciment last February addressed the blatant disregard for and ill treatment of female students at YU. We have been silenced and fled from, labeled as outcasts. Though the injustices mentioned by Ciment are incredibly important and must be faced head-on, I believe that they are just a “front page” display of the deeply rooted sexist culture at our university.
Beren students have access to fewer and lower quality facilities. They cannot use the university gym or the pool, both of which are on the Wilf Campus. And when asked why this is so, little effort is made to give the women a proper response. We do not have a spacious and bright library on our campus where we can study. Our dark, low ceilinged beit midrash is not comparable to the beautiful houses of learning on Wilf.
The Torah learning opportunities for women, though expanding, are far weaker than those offered to the men. While the men have their choice of four different Torah study programs with options for high level shiurim, there is no equivalent morning program option for undergraduate women who desire more advanced study. Not being given these same opportunities devalues women’s Torah learning and further contributes to the unequal culture that YU’s women experience daily.
There are endless examples of how problems that could be excused as technical or logistical are actually overwhelmingly harmful specifically to women’s experiences as students at Yeshiva.
There is a scarce amount of Syms academic advisement on the Beren Campus. The most recent Syms Beren academic advisement sign-up page had three advisors for two and a half days a week. That is not enough availability for the two-hundred students at Syms Beren. This sleight marginalizes some of the most creative and hardworking students in our institution, telling them that they are not worth the time. It is tragic that a student should feel that way about her education.
Last year on Yom Hazikaron, over 100 of my classmates and I stood flabbergasted on the sidewalk in midtown as three full buses pulled away, taking about 168 Beren students to the tekes maavar, the ceremonial transition between Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut. It would be a gross understatement to call the lack of transportation for women to this event an oversight. Each of us standing on that sidewalk were hit with the reality that our presence was not important enough to warrant greater funding.
A less tangible, but equally important injustice is how the women are often marginalized in name. Yeshiva College, Stern College and Sy Syms School of Business for Men and for Women: each of these schools falls under the umbrella of Yeshiva University and should be referred to as such. Referring to Yeshiva College alone as “YU” effectively relegates Stern students compared to their YC peers, treating them as though they are not as essential to YU. While the forum of YU/Stern Confessions Facebook page is a valuable platform, its name ostracizes half the student body.
Though the separation of Stern from YU might seem insignificant, this phrasing actually makes Stern students an “other” in our community. A student who is “other” will not be motivated to have any school pride. A lack of pride drains positivity from the Beren Campus, making it an unpleasant environment to be a part of.
The lack of school spirit on the Beren Campus is often attributed to the many Beren students only spend three years on campus. I believe that the women of the Beren Campus lack spirit because they are constantly reminded that their school — both their follow students and the institution — has not fully embraced them as active and important members of the student body.
Each member of our institution must make an active effort to change this reality. While many women shuttle to events on Wilf, rarely do men give Beren events the same respect. Men, make an effort to show up to events on Beren Campus. Women, improve our culture by supporting and including one another. Support your classmates by attending the SCDS show or going to a basketball home game at Baruch. YU administration, assess the relative funding of each campus and take steps to fix any inequalities.
In a recent video released by ESPN, female reporters satirize the serious discrimination they face as women in sports. Discrimination is a battle that all women who wish to enter the workforce are forced to face. Unfortunately, my experience at YU has prepared me for these realities of the world. I hope that future female students will find YU to be a more accepting space to find herself before facing the challenges ahead.
Note: Changes were made to reflect the disproportion of Syms Wilf Students to Syms Beren Students.