Citing Human Rights Investigation, Beren Student Court Declines LGBTQ Club Case
The Beren Constitutional Council has decided against taking up a case by The YU Alliance against the Stern College for Women Student Council (SCWSC). According to the Alliance's petition to the Constitutional Council, student council presidents — including SCWSC President Aleeza Katz (SCW ‘20) — discriminated against the group when they decided to abstain from a vote to approve the Alliance’s club application on Feb. 9. The YU Alliance is an off-campus organization catering to LGBTQ undergraduate students at YU, and its application for official club status is currently in the hands of the university administration.
In the petition to the Beren Constitutional Council, The YU Alliance argued that the student council presidents’ decision to abstain from the vote on the status of a potential LGBTQ club on campus had violated the non-discrimination policy of the Beren Constitution, which the group called “an unprecedented move.” Citing Article IV of the constitution, the Alliance maintained that “council presidents inherently discriminated against The YU Alliance on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity.” The petition was submitted on behalf of the Alliance by Molly Meisels (SCW ‘21), president of the group, in an email to Chief Justice of the Beren Constitutional Council Shana Adler (SCW ‘20) on Tuesday, Feb. 11.
Eight days later, on Wednesday, Feb. 19, Adler informed the Alliance in an email to Meisels on behalf of the justices of the Constitutional Council that they had decided to “not hear this case before the student court.” They explained that they had been “made aware” of a report pending before the New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR) “charging the institution with discrimination against the YU Alliance,” and thus would “allow the New York City courts to decide how this issue should be handled.”
The day before the Constitutional Council responded with its decision, The Jewish Week had reported that on Friday, Feb. 14, the Alliance filed a report with the NYCCHR alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation following the student council’s decision to abstain from approving the club. In their report, the Alliance noted that “no other prospective club was subject to this.” A NYCCHR spokesperson declined to comment on the investigation, pursuant to the agency’s policy.
In an email responding to the Constitutional Council’s dismissal of their petition, the Alliance expressed confusion at the decision of the justices, arguing that the NYCCHR report was irrelevant to their petition and that by rejecting their case, the Constitutional Council was failing to enforce accountability. Clarifying their decision, the justices explained that since the claim the Alliance had filed to the Constitutional Council cited the “same incident and the same reasoning” as their report to the NYCCHR, and since “the wording of both the clause in the Beren Constitution and the New York City law code is nearly identical,” they had decided that it would “not be appropriate” for them to take the case. They further emphasized that the decision is “final,” urging the Alliance to “realize it was made by fellow students who thought through all the information we were presented with.”
“We considered the constitution,” explained Katz regarding the student council presidents’ decision to abstain, “and the reason why we felt confident and comfortable abstaining was because we did not feel it violated the non-discriminatory policy or the general constitution in any way.”
"The YU Alliance is immensely disappointed by the Beren Constitutional Council refusing to hear our case,” wrote the board of The YU Alliance in a statement to The Commentator. “We believe that SCWSC giving alternative treatment to The YU Alliance because of the fact that it serves LGBTQ students is a clear violation of the Beren Campus Constitution.”
Added the Alliance, “By declining to enforce the non-discrimination article of the Beren Constitution, the Constitutional Council has rendered that article effectively meaningless. While we recognize and appreciate that the Constitutional Council has the right to decline to hear cases, we feel that by doing so here, it has let the student body down.”
But Katz stands by the decision to abstain. “If we believed that it could have been seen as discriminatory and that that was our goal, to shut down the club, to shut down the conversation, then … we wouldn’t have made that decision,” she commented. “We value our students and we would not try to violate anyone’s rights.”
Yitzchak Carroll and Elisheva Kohn contributed to this story.
Photo Caption: Stern College for Women
Photo Credit: Yeshiva University