YU Announces New LGBTQ Inclusivity Policies, Denies LGBTQ Club Formation
Yeshiva University released an official statement on LGBTQ inclusivity and several new university policies on the matter, emailed by Vice Provost of Student Affairs Dr. Chaim Nissel to undergraduate students on Thursday, Sept. 3. The statement also revealed that YU will not approve an LGBTQ club, a decision passed to administrators in February.
Among the newly announced policies, the university plans to update its “diversity, inclusion and sensitivity training” to focus on “diverse student groups, including sexual orientation and gender identity.” Administrators will receive initial training in the coming semester, and one for faculty, staff and students will be developed. The Counseling Center will also ensure that its staff includes a clinician with “specific LGBTQ+ experience.” Additionally, a “warm line” will be created in the coming semester for YU students to discuss or report concerns about “non-inclusive” harassment or bullying.
“This is a highly charged, highly emotional subject,” President Berman said in a statement sent to The Commentator. “We are the bearers of a 3000 year old Torah tradition. Our LGBTQ+ students are our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, family and friends. At the heart of our Jewish values is love - love for God and love for each of His children.”
The committee’s statement was undersigned by Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger, Azrieli School of Education Dean Dr. Rona Novick, Director of the Counseling Center Dr. Yael Muskat and Azrieli Psychology and Jewish Education Chair Dr. David Pelcovitz, all of whom were assembled by former Senior Vice President Josh Joseph last year to form a committee, at the request of President Ari Berman, to “address matters of inclusion on our undergraduate college campuses, including LGBTQ+.”
The committee explained that, while the Torah is “accepting [of] each individual with love and affirming its timeless prescriptions,” the requested LGBTQ club “under the auspices of YU will cloud [the Torah’s] nuanced message.”
“While the YU Pride Alliance is pleased to see the committee release a statement addressing matters present in our mission statement, albeit nearly a year after the committee was formed, we remain disappointed that YU continues to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” YU Pride Alliance Vice President Chana Weiss (SCW ‘21) said on behalf of the club’s 2020-21 board. “We have delineated that the ultimate course of action to achieve our shared goals will be the establishment of an official club for the YU LGBTQ+ community and we are deeply saddened that the YU administration is unable to recognize that.”
Weiss added, “The administration has failed to be transparent about which halachic ‘nuances’ are at odds with the club and, on the contrary, we stand firm in our belief that pikuach nefesh necessitates the creation of our club.” She also noted that a club application for the YU Pride Alliance was resubmitted for the upcoming semester.
According to two members of student government, the application was submitted 19 minutes before Nissel’s email was sent to undergraduate students, the same day the unofficial club was informed by the administration of their denial.
“Yeshiva University is wholly committed to and guided by Halacha and Torah values,” the committee’s letter began. It went on to explain that a team of administrators, psychologists and rabbis spent four months meeting with inclusion experts and YU students, alumni and roshei yeshiva, among others, to deal with this issue before the coronavirus pandemic. These new initiatives are a part of a “larger, ongoing, campus-wide effort” to support marginalized students, but it will first focus on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The campus conversation about forming an official LGBTQ club became pronounced in September 2019 when over 100 LGBTQ YU students, alumni and allies marched for equality. The year prior, then-student leaders reportedly met with President Berman and various administrators to discuss LGBTQ inclusion on campus, and a committee led by Joseph was later formed to focus on the issue.
Since the September march, the unofficial YU Pride Alliance met with student leaders and formally submitted a club application — under the new name “the YU Alliance” — to receive official YU club status. In Feb. of that spring semester, the student council presidents on both campuses abstained from voting on the club’s approval, passing the decision to the administration.
Weeks later, after the YU Pride Alliance alleged that the student council presidents discriminated against the group when they abstained from voting, the Beren Constitutional Council declined to hear the case because of the pending report to the New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR) on the matter. Citing their ongoing investigation of the matter, a NYCCHR spokesperson declined to comment on YU’s announcement.
Berman expressed, “I thank the committee for their detailed work in bringing the full plethora of our values to bear in formulating their initiatives, and I share in their optimism that their ongoing efforts will further enhance our beloved Yeshiva’s undergraduate culture of belonging.”
Editor’s Note: This article was updated to reflect the time and circumstances of the Pride Alliance’s new application for official YU club status.
Photo Credit: Leo Skier
Photo Caption: Last September, LGBTQ YU students, alumni and allies marched for equality in protest in Washington Heights.