In Defense of YU
“The grass is always greener on the other side,” as goes an oft-repeated quote that was adapted from the ancient poet Ovid. It is also a quote by which we, as humans, tend to live. We look to where we are not and fantasize about its wonders. We see the successes of others and the failures of ourselves and wonder why we are trapped in our current position. It is this idea of looking at what we lack that causes us to focus on the bad of our current situation.
Being a part of Yeshiva University in my fourth full semester, I have had the privilege of meeting many different people from various backgrounds, all with very different passions. While everyone has their own ideas, their own interests and their own passions, there have been some ideas that have remained fairly constant. One of those ideas, both on Beren and Wilf, from freshman and seniors alike, is that YU is a bad school. The claim is not that students cannot achieve while here, but rather that the administration does not strive to create an environment where students can pursue their dreams.
Of course, everyone has their own opinions, after all, as students we see parts of how YU is run that might not appear to be for the best. I’ve complained about YU as well, and I’ve used my own free speech to publicly call out YU policies and values, both to my classmates and even to members of the YU faculty. While meetings with advisors and deans do not always see immediate change they do make it clear that the administration listens to, and tries to implement student suggestions. Unfortunately, amidst the complaints, what is often missed is that YU is a good place to be. As we rant about the dual curriculum, course schedules, the different campuses, and the caf prices, what we often miss is how lucky we are to be in this school, which, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, does care about students. The administration’s attention, even if we don’t recognize it, is directed towards our success.
When complaining about YU, something that is often the target is the split values of the institution. What is missed with these complaints though, is that Yeshiva University is just that, both a yeshiva and a university. It values both our religious education as well as our secular one, giving us the tools to pursue both simultaneously. In how many other colleges can you walk up the stairs from a Gemara shiur to a master's level management course? Where else can one truly find classes that allow them to explore the philosophy behind the Rambam’s teachings right after completing Multivariable Calculus? YU seeks to allow its student body to grow in any area they want, whether they dream of sitting and learning Torah all day or of learning about stocks. In almost any other college in the country we would need to choose to pursue religious studies on the side, but here, your Judaic studies are a part of the schedule. YU wants us to grow both as Jews and as members of society, so we have a schedule that reflects that idea. We can each decide how much time to allot to our religious studies, because YU values our religious growth while recognizing that each student here values religion and secular studies to varying degrees.
Yeshiva University looks to empower its students beyond the classroom as well. How many times have you seen a WhatsApp alert for a club for something that you wouldn’t have imagined exists? Of course, having a venture capital club and an engineering club is great, but how many of us would have thought that there would be multiple volunteering clubs, a fantasy book club and even a club dedicated to bringing packages to campus? While many colleges have a variety of clubs, that doesn’t take away from the fact that YU gives its students the freedom to pursue what they want to pursue. We can shape our own majors, we can connect directly with alumni who have walked in our shoes, we can even travel to Israel and Vienna as part of school programming. What YU does for its students to let them lead, to allow them to interact with owners of sports franchises, to bring in members of United States embassies from across the globe,to let them Rise Up is something that might go unnoticed, but should not be unvalued.
YU is not perfect. They don’t offer every course each semester, their COVID policies make less sense than their multiple semesters of Hebrew requirement, the elevators at Beren work less often than their attempts to stop test cheating, and I hesitate to even mention the apparent contradictions between the Yeshiva and the university. That said, these problems should not blind us to the good that we are given here. The ability to explore career opportunities while being able to pick religious studies that match our personal level is not something to scoff at. Having a school that seeks out chances for its students and is eager to help them find their own passions isn’t a common thing. While many schools have great courses, professors, and communities, we shouldn’t let that take away from all the wonderful things that YU has to offer. Just as there are things that don’t make sense about YU and that we can complain about, we should also remember the good. Instead of only focusing on what we don’t have, let us look at what we do have and use the resources YU provides to pursue our dreams. We can and should ask about what we don’t have, but we should not let that be our only focus as we look at YU.
Photo Caption: Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus
Photo Credit: The Commentator