By: Jared Scharf  | 

Campus Sexual Assault, Harassment Are YU’s ‘Top Priority,’ Dean Bacon Says

Yeshiva University is making sexual assault and harassment on campus its “top priority,” Undergraduate Dean of the Faculty Arts and Sciences Karen Bacon announced in an email to students on Thursday, Sept. 2. This came in response to an anonymous student’s article in The Commentator published on Aug. 25, in which she alleged that she was raped by another student this past year and that the university did not do enough to help her.

“Our student affairs professionals have already begun a series of meetings with groups of students to understand their concerns,” Bacon wrote. “The President has made this issue a top priority for the University, and he has personally attended these student meetings.” 

She also shared that she will spearhead this effort going forward and will be sharing updates after the holidays.

Among YU’s impending changes, Bacon said, the YU website will be updated to more prominently and clearly display the security resources available to students. 

“While we already have extensive protocols in place that we utilize and excellent professionals to compassionately attend to all claims of harassment and assault,” she wrote, “we understand from student conversations that there is more that we can do to better educate and secure our students, including a review of past experiences to glean lessons to be learned.” 

In her article, titled “I Thought Rape Culture Didn’t Exist at YU — Until I Was Raped,” the student alleged that she was raped by a male student from the men’s basketball team. “I felt completely lost and confused for the months following the rape,” she said. 

She wrote that after filing a Title IX claim through YU against the other student, the university “made” her and the other student sign a non-disclosure agreement before the university could conduct an investigation; the agreement pertained to what occurred during the investigation, not about the alleged incident itself. After a few months' wait, she said, “I received an answer, but not the one I was looking for.” 

The university’s first statement, which was published by The Commentator a day after the original article on Aug. 26, said, “As is our standard practice in sexual misconduct complaints, we immediately retained independent investigators to conduct a comprehensive inquiry into the allegations and a final determination was made based on a full evaluation of all available information.”

The day following its publication, the student's allegations received attention from several Jewish news outlets, including The Forward and the Jerusalem Post. That same week, “We Stand With Survivors,” a Facebook group with over 200 members as of publication, was formed in response to the news. While school-wide walkouts were planned at Wilf and Beren campuses, a group admin announced on Aug. 30 that they would be postponed “until after we hold a formal meeting with the YU administration about our demands for change.”

Bacon’s email was the second official statement the university made publicly since the article went live.

“YU’s initial response was really not a good one,” the student who wrote the article told The Commentator. “It was very much from a legal perspective of them putting a little bit of water on the fire.” 

The student felt similarly about Bacon’s email. “Their second response was also not the greatest,” she said. “I even had teachers and people from the school tell me that. They didn’t even respond to me or try to reach out.”

Her greater concern is what YU is going to do moving forward. “I don’t know how they’re trying to address sexual assault on campus because no one’s been doing anything,” she explained. “I heard there have been meetings, and everyone is saying they want to do things, but no one is taking any action.”

Over the last week, YU administrators began meeting with students to hear their concerns, Bacon wrote in her email. On Tuesday, Aug. 31, President Ari Berman and several other administrators met with resident advisors and student council members — in separate meetings for Wilf and Beren campuses — about the anonymous student’s article and YU’s procedure for Title IX claims, according to students at the meeting. Bacon said meetings will continue after the chagim.

As of publication, Associate Dean of Students Joe Bednarsh, who is YU’s new deputy Title IX coordinator as of a few months ago, did not respond to The Commentator’s request for comment.

Noa Berman (SCW ‘23) and Cayla Muschel (SCW ‘23), co-presidents of YU’s Students Against Sexual Assault Club, told The Commentator that while they appreciate YU’s recent efforts, they feel it’s not enough “to ensure the safety of the student body.”

In a joint statement, they explained, “Up until now, the university's actions have communicated more concern for their image than the safety of their students. Dean Bacon’s email and its proposed changes are not nearly enough.” However, both acknowledged that this is “a step in the right direction,” and they are “grateful to Dean Bacon for her efforts.” 

The main issue at hand, Berman and Muschel said, is how the university addresses cases of sexual assault and harassment. “The main concern going forward is that the university must create an environment where their students feel comfortable turning to the school for support,” they said.

Specifically, Berman and Muschel suggested YU create a “comprehensive action plan to hopefully prevent further assaults,” which would address students’ claims with “compassion and a student-oriented perspective.” 

A student council member, speaking to The Commentator anonymously, identified the same issues. “While I appreciate YU's efforts to do better in the future, this really is the bare minimum,” the student said. “I've unfortunately seen a lack of compassion from the administration when discussing this issue and hope this is just the start of real change.”

Another student leader, who also spoke under the condition of anonymity, felt differently about YU’s actions so far, saying “It’s very telling of the type of community that we are that members of the administration sat down with students to discuss their concerns regarding the safety of the student body.”

The student added, “After several productive conversations, the administration is working hard to assure that all students are aware of the university’s resources and protocols.”

“This isn’t new,” Berman and Muschel said about sexual assault at YU. “It’s only being publicized because of The Commentator article. People have been assaulted and raped at YU before.”

They concluded, “It’s our job to ensure that the community does its best so that it doesn’t continue to happen. We look forward to working with the university in good faith to create a better and safer YU.”

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University