Yeshiva University has taken a step that appears to affirm that it is religious first and a university second. The school’s study body stripped an online student newspaper of funding over a column that discussed a sexual encounter between two students. The attack on free speech and free press occurred after the students rightfully refused to censure their own newspaper and writer. It is a shameful act by Yeshiva that puts the university squarely in the category of intolerant, orthodox institutions — a blow to many faculty and students who have struggled to make Yeshiva something more than a school teaching Jewish values.
The column was published this week on December 5th by the YU Beacon. The article titled “How Do I Even Begin to Explain This” is written by an anonymous female author who describes a sexual tryst with a young man inside a Manhattan hotel room. She identifies herself as a 20-year-old modern Orthodox Jewish woman who attends Stern College for Women. Stern is one of the university’s three undergraduate schools.
What is fascinating is that the article is a soulful exploration of faith and guilt with the writer saying “The only thing I learn is how to do the walk of shame the day after.”
To their credit, Simi Lampert said she and coeditor Toviah Moldwin refused demands to change the article or retract it.
Matt Yaniv, Yeshiva University’s associate director of media relations, insists that the school did not pull the funding because they receive their funding from the school’s student government.” However, the university admits to facilitating and “mediating” the meeting on retracting or censuring the article. I would have expected the university instead to make clear that it consider content-based restrictions to be anathema and take a stand in favor of free speech. I fall to see the distinction between having the students make the decision to pressure the newspaper as opposed to the University itself. Free speech should be protected from majoritarian retaliations.
Regrettably, editor Toviah Moldwin, YC ‘13 has resigned, stating “[t]he publicity surrounding this incident was a result I neither desired nor anticipated, and I fear that some of this publicity may have put YU in a negative light.” I can’t say that I understand that decision because I fail to see (as does Moldwin) “both sides of [this] issue.”
The Editor-in-Chief Simi Lampert published a response that is well-reasoned and a credit to the school that no longer wish to be associated with them:
his article does talk about sex. Yes, sex. And the premarital kind, too. Yes, this is assur (a sin according to Jewish law). No, we don’t encourage or promote the act of premarital sex. However, it happens. It happens in our community, and we as a community prefer to pretend it doesn’t happen. This much can be ascertained by the amount of comments objecting to a public discussion of a Stern woman having sex. The only way we can address the issue in any way—to fix it, to make sure it doesn’t happen, to make sure if it does happen, protection is involved, etc—is to talk about it. That is why we posted the article—so people would talk about it. And talk they did. . . .
To all those upset by the article, I apologize. But I do not regret the decision to post it. This is the reason the Beacon was founded in the first place– to be a platform for every student, not just the majority. The Beacon will continue to adhere to this mission and welcomes writers and topics from across the board. Conservative or liberal, frum (right-wing religious) or atheist, we want you to have a place to say what you believe, in a way that will help start conversations.
While the university insists that the newspaper agreed to go independent, it is hard to believe that the newspaper preferred not to receive funding. It is clearly the restrictions suggested on its content that led these student journalists to take this step. There is no condemnation from the University or promise to support the newspaper in the interests of free speech. There is nothing but conspicuous silence. It is equally distressing to see students playing such an ignoble role in limiting free speech. It is not the newspaper but this governing student body that has tarnished the reputation of their university.
What is astonishing is that the column actually speaks of the regret from the encounter. She tells a cousin “I made a stupid mistake.” Not as big as her fellow students — and the University.