By: Jonathan Levin  | 

YU Must Stop Thinking Like an In-Towner

This week, due to the start of Pesach, students will be filing out of the dorms on Beren and Wilf, returning home for break.

The day YU set for students' travels: Friday.

For students like myself, who live in the Tri-state area, the choice of a Friday for a travel date is inconsequential. Whether we take private or public transportation, we can leave after chatzot and make it home for Shabbat with plenty of time to spare. But for students who are not in-towners, YU’s choice of travel days — and this week is just an extreme case of this — makes traveling difficult. Students are forced into a near-impossible situation: Either miss important classes, such as lab, that they can’t afford to miss, or rush to get home before Shabbat, with the stress and risk of delayed flights or long flight times impacting Shabbat increasing with distance. For students who live in Latin America, and especially for students whose destination is across the Atlantic, balancing class, religious and family commitments eventually becomes impossible.

After speaking with dozens of out-of-towners, including over 20 for this article alone, I’ve learned just how inconvenient YU makes students’ travel schedules. Many are forced to take early morning or late evening flights to avoid the risks of missing Shabbat, and many must pay considerable sums of money (Friday flights are more expensive) and go through intense stress to make it home, often missing out on Shabbat preparations or family time. Many even need to make backup plans in case they can’t make it home. One student, taking a domestic flight to the West Coast on erev Rosh Hashanah — the one day YU set to travel home this year — needed to prepare backup Rosh Hashanah plans in case she couldn’t make it home. Some have missed chagim with family. More than one student has told me that they structured their entire course schedule for the semester around these late-night flights. YU just doesn’t give its students time.

“You have to go to transit to transit — you have to set aside your whole day,” said one student.” Others felt similarly.

“I’m so rushed and I’ve had to miss Chagim with my family because the travel window was so short,” said another. “Making the Friday before a holiday into a travel day makes me feel that YU disregards out of town students,” said someone else. “I have missed two Thursdays in order to make it home properly for the holidays so far, and I’m a first-year!”

For these students, attending class virtually is not an option, as without clear policies, many classes don’t offer Zoom options. Consequently, not only does YU’s choice of travel day cause significant stress to students and force them to choose between their grades, family and religion, but it also forces students to make unenviable decisions when returning after break.

This year, there is one day of class between Pesach and the following Shabbat, and out-of-towners, who often don’t see their families for months straight — a prospect inconceivable to in-towners — would love to be able to spend one extra Shabbat with their family, but to do so, would need to miss class.

“Thursday starts are the most ridiculous thing,” said another disgruntled student. “Would it kill them to let me spend an extra Shabbat with my family?”

“If you tell an out-of-towner, even from Wednesday, to come into class, you are taking them away from their family for that Shabbos,” said another.

Besides the considerable amounts of time required to travel, which can be anywhere from six to eight hours for domestic and Canadian traveling, increasing for students in Latin America or the Eastern Hemisphere, traveling costs large amounts of money. Unlike this year, whose calendar had remote instruction options the entire aseret yemei teshuva, next year's calendar will force students to return for three days (!) of classes.

For in-towners, that's groan-inducing. But for out-of-towners, that's catastrophic. It means students won’t be able to spend Rosh Hashanah at home. Students aren’t drowning in money, and many have had their parents save money for years to send them here, or are paying their tuition themselves. Unless students come from a well-off background and live somewhat “close by,” paying to come home for Rosh Hashanah is impossible.

“It is very reasonable for students to go home for the chagim, and that was one of the draws of coming to YU, but next year’s schedule is aimed toward in-towners only,” said one student. “Why can’t we have Zoom classes for that week instead of spending time and money on unnecessary travel?”

YU’s calendar makes things extremely difficult for students. “Enjoy spending time with your family during the chagim?” asked another student. “Prepare to become well acquainted with red-eye flights, jet lag, missing classes, uncompassionate professors, and unnecessary additional pressure during an already stressful and emotionally fraught time.”

As an in-towner myself, previously unaware of the difficulties facing out-of-towners, I’m sure YU is well-intentioned and isn’t trying to put students into impossible situations. Yet that’s exactly what YU’s in-towner mentality is doing. YU’s actions around travel days and class days are geared toward a student body that lives nearby, not the diverse student body that YU serves. The same mindset that led to these calendar choices is the same reason why one cafeteria on Beren is closed Thursday night and the other has reduced hours, and why there is limited food options on both campuses on Friday, compelling students to spend money in restaurants — which are particularly expensive for Beren students who live in Midtown — leaving many to openly question the university’s commitment to them. 

We are a university filled with students from across America and across the world. YU isn’t a university of just Teaneck and Five Towns residents. We aren’t a university of rich people. So why is YU consistently creating a calendar and adopting a mindset that disregards the needs of so many students?

YU needs to do better. It needs to stop creating a schedule aimed at a subset of its population and instead create something that allows all students to return home without stress, undue financial loss, loss of family time, or forcing them to choose between religion and class. YU must act to ensure that in the future, its calendar doesn’t create undue burdens for out-of-towners, including changing travel days and allowing virtual attendance during the aseret yemei teshuva. This can be done. YU changed this year's academic calendar to allow for virtual classes during the aseret yemei teshuva from a version that had in-person classes. They should do so again and keep at it, year after year.

If YU doesn’t act, I request that professors kindly show understanding to their out-of-town students, not just next year, but this year as well. By allowing out-of-towners to attend classes on Zoom the day before and after break, you will enable your students to avoid the stress and potential religious issues involved in rushing to get back home in time, and allow them to spend time with their families. As a community, we must speak up for each other, even if YU won’t.

YU is not a regular college. No matter our differences in background, hometown, ethnicity, religious heritage or observance level, we are all united by virtue of being members of the same community and people. This is the flagship Jewish university, not a regular college. As a community, we have a responsibility to each other, and we must drop our in-towner mentality and ensure that our schedule is considerate of everyone.