By: Jonathan Levin  | 

Faculty-Organized Town Hall Discusses LGBTQ Issues

A faculty-organized town hall on Wilf Campus featuring LBGTQ students discussing their experiences drew over 50 students and 15 faculty members last month.

The event, held March 14 in Furst Hall, featured a panel with four students moderated by three professors, and was aimed at creating an open and supportive space where students and faculty could discuss LGBTQ issues on campus.

“The university has said many times in its public statements that they love their LGBTQ+ students and are committed to making them feel safe and supported,”  Professor of English and French Rachel Mesch, an organizer and panelist at the event, told The Commentator. “Unfortunately, that is often not what our actual students feel. As faculty, we wanted to create a space in which students could share their experiences about the real challenges that they face both inside and outside of the classroom, so that we can all learn from those experiences.”

The four students shared their experiences as LGBTQ students on campus, and together with the three professors who moderated the event — Mesch, Associate Professor of Psychology Jenny Isaacs and Associate Professor of Jewish History Jess Olson  — offered advice for students interested in supporting LGBTQ students. (The Commentator has excluded the names of the student panelists on request, given the sensitive nature of the subject).

The panelists told participants, who included rebbeim, deans, professors, alumni and students about several positive and negative experiences they had on campus as LGBTQ students.

One student, sharing a negative experience, shared that after he told his chavrusa that he was LGBTQ, the chavrusa stopped showing up, and another student, struggling through tears, told students that he felt unsafe after finding out that a few students had shared a picture of him and his partner on a chat, mocking them.

Some of the panelists also shared positive experiences as well, telling participants that many rebbeim have been supportive and provided a listening ear. Panelists also mentioned that many students were supportive as well.

The panelists, who added that there were various approaches within the broader YU LGBTQ community regarding halakhic questions and even the current lawsuit between the university and the Pride Alliance, suggested several ways students and faculty could help make campus a more supportive environment.

Some of the ideas mentioned by the panelists included suggestions that students and professors use more gender-neutral terms — a proposal that garnered significant debate among attendees, as well as suggestions that students push back against offensive language or slurs if they overhear them and that class discussions about the lawsuit should be avoided, given the suit is not “hypothetical” for many closeted LGBTQ students.

Both Mesch and Isaacs also mentioned at the event that they, along with other professors, were working on organizing a voluntary LGBTQ sensitivity training for faculty, which was announced by Yeshiva University to faculty last week and will take place later this month.

Both Mesch and Isaacs planned the event, with input from students and other faculty members. They hope to run a similar event on Beren Campus and future events on Wilf Campus, depending on student interest. Both told The Commentator that they felt the event was a success.

“It was an incredible evening of sharing …” Mesch shared with The Commentator. “I felt there was true dialogue and engagement, despite people coming from a range of vantage points and backgrounds. I believe there was a sense of relief in the room that we could acknowledge that there is an LGBTQ+ community that is very much a part of the YU community.”

“I felt that the event,” added Mesch, “reflected the best parts of what I have appreciated about teaching here over the last 16 years — the genuine kindness, compassion, and concern that YU students express for their fellow students, and a real openness to learning about others' experiences when granted the opportunity.”

The event was not organized or affiliated with Kol Yisroel Areivim. Kol Yisroel Areivim, originally announced by the university as a new LGBTQ student club and later as a framework, has yet to hold an event. As of publishing, it is not on club lists.

Editors note: This article was updated April 11 to reflect the correct spelling of  Professor Isaacs’s name.

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Photo Caption: A faculty-organized town hall on Wilf Campus featuring LBGTQ students took place in Furst Hall last month.

Photo Credit: The Commentator