By: Hannah Pollak  | 

Make Some Space: The Beren Elevator Problem

Students often complain about the unideal 245 Lexington elevator situation. It's annoying. It is. Having to wait for so long and be late to class is not great. Having to squish way beyond full capacity in an elevator with students and professors is not the most pleasant experience. And while some don't mind a quick workout in the middle of the day, most would rather not have to go up several flights of stairs to make it to class.

I don’t mean to dismiss all the discomfort this situation causes, but I'd like to focus on a more fundamental issue.

We often speak of being welcoming and inviting as central values. We believe that the key to building a community is embracing what makes each individual special and making everyone feel included and wanted. Every human being is created in the divine image and should therefore be respected and cherished. Additionally, a place where Torah is learned and lived should be extra welcoming. Torah is every Jew’s heritage and ought to be accessible to all.

What should be obvious ideals are undermined by Stern’s tedious and inaccessible elevators. Two elevators are not enough, especially when one of them frequently breaks, leaving only one to serve the entire busy building. There are even times when both elevators break and for a few hours those who are physically unable to use the stairs would be stuck for hours. What might a student or potential applicant who has a physical disability feel when she sees that Stern’s elevators are barely functional? Besides the frustration that comes with not being able to go to class, can she possibly feel welcomed and wanted? Does she feel that the university and Stern community appreciate her presence? 

As an institution,  this issue has to be urgently addressed. A school that represents “Torat Adam” has to make sure that we all feel welcome in the institution. The first step is to make the facilities friendly and accessible (or at least not unfriendly and inaccessible). I know the university is working on it, but the current situation is unacceptable. I hope those in charge find an efficient and effective way to solve this issue. This is not simply a practical problem for students with physical disabilities, but a more fundamental flaw. A Torah institution ought to be inclusive definitionally and structurally. 

As a student, it's hard to do much to actually fix the elevator problem. However, I believe it still presents a call to action. The elevator problem transcends the lack of elevators. In fact, as we confront this problem and wait for its solution, we can do some introspection. The lack of elevators perhaps reflects, on a macro scale, some ways we can improve our attitudes toward those whose needs are different from our own. Perhaps the next time I want to kvetch about how inconvenient the elevator is, I could think about how those who fully depend on them feel, along with all those who for different reasons and to different extents feel marginalized and inadequate. As I reflect upon the unideal elevator situation, I can try to be extra friendly and nice or make space for others in response.


Photo Caption: Stern College for Women

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University