By: Yitzchak Carroll and Elisheva Kohn  | 

Student Council Abstains from LGBTQ Club Vote, Leaving Decision to YU Administration

The student council presidents of both campuses have abstained from voting whether or not to approve an LGBTQ club — the YU Alliance — on campus, effectively deflecting the decision to the university’s administration.

The decision was announced in a statement via email to the student body, signed by YSU President Zachary Greenberg (SSSB ‘21), SOY President Yoni Broth (SSSB ‘20), Wilf SYMSSC President Chayim Mahgerefteh (SSSB ‘20), YCSA President Leib Wiener (YC ‘20), Wilf Student Life Committee Senior Co-Chair Yossi Zimilover (SSSB ‘20), TAC President Bella Adler (SCW ‘20), SCWSC President Aleeza Katz (SCW ‘20) and Beren SYMSSC President Miriam Schloss (SSSB ‘20).

Citing the matter’s “larger implications” beyond the university’s walls, student council presidents have decided to abstain from voting on the status of the YU Alliance. In their statement addressed to the YU student body, student council presidents argued that “the decision about a club focusing on LGBTQ matters at Yeshiva University is too complex and nuanced to be voted on by student council presidents,” and that their “role is not to determine major ideological decisions for the institution.”

“This is not the end of the conversation,” concludes the statement in reference to the decision to abstain, “it is a commitment to continued progress in creating a stigma-free campus towards LGBTQ+ students.”

According to Broth, all seven student council presidents, as well as Zimilover, unanimously agreed on the decision on Thursday night, Feb. 6. (Note: Zimilover currently serves as managing editor of The Commentator.) The statement was drafted by Wiener and Schloss and edited with help from the other student council presidents.

Currently, the YU Alliance is a student-run organization that does not receive funding from YU’s student councils and holds its LGBTQ-related events off-campus, as it has not received approval by the student councils to operate as an official, YU-sanctioned club. On Jan. 30, Molly Meisels (SCW ‘21) and Dov Alberstone (YC ‘20), board members of the Alliance, submitted a club application in order to receive official club status from the university. Prof. Daniel Kimmel, assistant professor of sociology at YU, agreed to be a faculty advisor for the club.

The Alliance released a statement condemning the student councils’ decision, citing several laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. “The student councils' decision to abstain has reinforced a hostile environment, further marginalizing the LGBTQ+ community and sending the implicit message that they are not openly welcome at YU,” wrote the YU Alliance, arguing that they “took all of the required steps and followed the proper procedures in applying for the club,” and should therefore “be afforded the same treatment as any other potential club on campus.”

The day before deciding to abstain from voting on the status of the YU Alliance club, student council presidents met with Vice President Josh Joseph to discuss LGBTQ matters on campus. According to Wiener, Dean of Students Chaim Nissel, Counseling Center Director Dr. Yael Muskat, RIETS Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger and all student council presidents except Katz were present.

“We discussed many of the concerns of the students and rebbeim whom we had met with and what steps the university was taking to address these concerns,“ Greenberg said about the meeting. Broth added that Joseph “spoke of plans that he had to create a more inclusive environment,” but Broth declined to elaborate on the specifics of the plans discussed.

The Wilf Campus General Assembly — which includes student council presidents and the Senior Co-Chair of the Student Life Committee, in addition to the Beren student council presidents — vetted club applications for the spring semester on Thursday, Feb. 6. According to Greenberg, the YU Alliance club had submitted a club formation petition for consideration, which was supported by more than 50 student leaders.

Following the student council’s abstention, the matter has been sent to the university administration to decide on the proposed club’s fate. As of the time of publication, neither Joseph nor a university spokesperson responded to The Commentator’s inquiries.

Commenting on the rationale behind the student council’s decision, Broth remarked, “Our job as council presidents is to help the students, not determine the hashkafa and ideology of YU.“ Broth also shared that after speaking to RIETS roshei yeshiva, whom he assumes “these decisions are definitely run through if not based upon,” he concluded that there will “very very likely not be a[n LGBTQ] club.”

The student council’s decision to abstain may result in significant ramifications for the university. Section 296(4) of the New York Executive Law bars an educational institution from “deny[ing] the use of its facilities to any person otherwise qualified … by reason of … sexual orientation.” A senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) previously told The Commentator “it would be discrimination for the university to not permit a gay club ... I would say with fair confidence that they need to let the club exist.” As of the time of publication, the New York State Division of Human Rights, which is tasked with enforcing the state’s anti-discrimination laws, did not respond to The Commentator’s inquiries.

On Feb. 3, students of Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law published an open letter to President Ari Berman in The YU Observer in support of “undergraduate YU students in their efforts to secure an LGBTQ+ student group” on campus. That same day, The Commentator reported that the Jewish Activism Club (JAC) submitted a petition in favor of the formation of an LGBTQ club on campus to Joseph. Commenting on student council’s recent statement, JAC co-President Philip Nagler (YC ‘20) said, “I think the message that the student council, the administration, and the roshei yeshiva are sending to LGBTQ students is clear: ‘We do not care about you. We care about our jobs, our grad school applications, and maintaining the status quo.’”

“I think that having a place for LGBTQ students is extremely important in order to provide for their own mental health and well being,” commented Wiener. “How the administration, roshei yeshiva, and students decide to manifest that place is up to everyone to figure out through dialogue and most of all action.”

Matters regarding the LGBTQ community on campus have been especially contentious since the beginning of the academic year. In early September, President Ari Berman told The Commentator that he formed a commission of rabbis and educators, led by Joseph, “to address matters of inclusion on our undergraduate college campuses, which includes LGBTQ+.” On Sept. 15, students, allies and activists held a march and rally for LGBTQ inclusion on campus, along with a slate of five demands which included the creation of a gay-straight alliance club at YU.

“The YU Alliance condemns the student councils’ decision to abstain from voting,” wrote the Alliance in its statement, “and will take all possible steps — up to and including legal action — to ensure the safety of LGBTQ+ students at Yeshiva University.”

Avi Hirsch contributed to this story.

Photo Caption: The Wilf Campus plaza, with Furst Hall on the left and the Gottesman Library and Glueck Center on the right.
Photo Credit: Yeshiva University