Yeshiva University Student Body Refuses to Recognize Group After It Organized LGBTQ Protest

Demonstration by College Democrats group earlier this month had called on the university to allow LGBTQ events on campus, something organizers say is regularly denied

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Organizers gear up for demonstrations outside Yeshiva University, New York, September 15, 2019.
Organizers gear up for demonstrations outside Yeshiva University, New York, September 15, 2019. Credit: Danielle Ziri

NEW YORK — A Yeshiva University student group has not been recognized as an official club for the upcoming semester after it organized an LGBTQ rights protest earlier this month.

According to a report by student newspaper The Commentator, the renewal application by the College Democrats group was rejected by the presidents of the Yeshiva Student Union and Stern College for Women Student Council (two branches of student government). 

On September 15, the Yeshiva University College Democrats organized a protest demanding better representation for LGBTQ students on campus.

>> Read more: 'It feels like my own school hates me': Yeshiva University students protest for LGBTQ representation

Some of the protesters' goals included a condemnation of homophobic rhetoric on campus from the university president, Rabbi Ari Berman, and the ability to organize events involving LGBTQ people and related issues, which they say they has been repeatedly denied. 

The event was organized by the Yeshiva University Democrats in an unofficial capacity, which two student organization presidents took issue with and cited as their reason for denying the club its status renewal. 

“This actually started while the march was being planned,” Molly Meisels, one of the students who planned the demonstration, told Haaretz. 

At the beginning of September, Meisels received an email from YSU President Ariel Sacknovitz, writing on behalf of all student council presidents, that all events should be “run through the regular club channels.

“A club does not have the right to do anything in both official and unofficial capacities on campus,” Sacknovitz wrote. “An approved club of the YU student council is dependent on the student council: they cannot claim independence whenever it fits their mission.” 

But Meisels told Haaretz, “The whole point of the march was that [LGBTQ] events don’t get approved.”

“I know the [Yeshiva University] constitution backwards and forwards, and there is no such rule,” said Meisels, pointing out that the protest took place outside of campus property and that no advertising for the event was done on campus either.

Molly Meisels speaks outside Yeshiva University, New York, September 15, 2019. Credit: Danielle Ziri

“We did not send out emails to the student body through the email channels,” said Meisels. “Everything was done online. We hosted it with the YU College Democrats. We said that the student council at YU didn’t approve of it — that was very public information. We didn’t pretend that it was approved,” she added.

“The reason why it was hosted with the College Democrats to begin with is so that people who are closeted wouldn’t feel uncomfortable showing up as allies,” she explained.

In the email exchange before the march, Meisels promised not to host unapproved events in the future, and even said she would step down after the event. “They made me believe that that was fine,” she said. 

To dispute the decision, which Meisels said “came out of left field,” she is now filing a claim with the university's student courts. 

“We are trying to argue that it’s not in students' interest … it robs students of diversity of opinion,” Meisels added.

Sacknovitz did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

After the student council decision was made public, many groups on campus — including those of Republican affiliation — expressed their support to the Democratic club. 

The College Democrats of New York called the decision a “retaliatory action” and a “clear attack on students’ rights to exist as an LGBTQ+ person on YU’s campus and to freely express their political beliefs.”

The College Democrats of New York also called on the university to reverse the Student Council’s decision. 

The YU Democrats have also circulated an online petition for students to express their opposition to the council’s decision, which Meisels described as “cold.” 

“The negativity coming from students is hurtful, I’m not going to lie,” Meisels said. “It stings because whatever their opinions might be on the logistics of clubs, you have to look at the bigger picture: What was being fought for? What was the cause?” 

Meisels added that “not only is this a denial of this school’s own constitution, but also a denial of fundamental rights that students have on campus but also have in general.”