Sodom and Gomorrah in New Haven? [Yale, housing, sex]

Rohit Khare (
Thu, 11 Sep 1997 23:33:27 -0400

Original News Report Of Controversy [All from the NYT]:

Orthodox Jews Defy Yale's Housing Rules


NEW HAVEN, Conn. - One of the most popular innovations on college campuses
across the United States a generation ago was the introduction of
coeducational dormitories and the elimination of rules that tried to keep
young men and women apart.=20
So it may provide an insight into current college life, as classes begin at
Yale this fall, that one of the most discussed topics is the claim by five
Orthodox Jewish students that those unrestricted living arrangements have
established a free-for-all that they compare to Sodom and Gomorrah.=20

A war of words between Yale and the Orthodox students has drawn extensive
local media coverage and national attention in Jewish newspapers. The
Orthodox students have demanded that they be excused from Yale's
requirement that all freshmen and sophomores live on campus. They say their
religion's rules of modesty, privacy and sexual abstinence until marriage
forbid them to live in residences where condoms, alcohol and shared
bathrooms are common.=20

Yale has refused, saying, in effect, that at some point, the atmosphere of
tolerance on campus must give way to an insistence that certain rules apply
to all students, including its requirement that lower classmen live
together in a community of scholars.=20

Experts on higher education say that Yale's dilemma is a common one on
campuses in the 1990s, as administrators grapple with demands from interest
groups of all types, including increasingly vocal conservative religious
groups, for accommodations, food and academic offerings that meet their
special needs.=20

``The challenge on campuses everywhere is: to what extent do we organize
everything we do for each ethnic and minority group on campus vs. to what
extent do we provide services for all students,'' said Arthur Levine, the
president of Teachers College at Columbia University, who studies campus
life as an education professor.=20

Some students and faculty members on campus at Yale say the debate raises
fundamental questions about how much universities should channel people
into shared experiences and how much they should encourage students to
maintain their own group identities.=20

``The university would be in chaos,'' said Ivan Marcus, a history
professor, ``if it bent over backward to accommodate everyone's

But Aviad Hack, an Orthodox Jew who graduated from Yale last June, said he
was alarmed when some other observant Jews he knew seemed to lapse in their
commitment to Jewish rituals when they lived in the secular culture of the
residence halls. Hack's brother, Elisha, a freshman, is one of those
involved in the dispute with Yale.=20

The open living arrangements that have been the vogue on campuses for years
have become uncomfortable for some students as interest in the conservative
traditions of Judaism and other religions has increased, said Richard Joel,
president of the Hillel Foundation, an international organization that runs
Jewish centers on campuses.=20

``There is a clash at universities across the country,'' Joel said,
``between a 20- to 25-year tradition of being as open as possible, with a
new consciousness of placing values at the core of individual lives: the
decision to live a life with modesty and privacy and a sense of sexual

The families of the Orthodox students at Yale have hired a prominent
Washington lawyer, Nathan Lewin, who said he was considering a lawsuit that
he described as one of the first to test whether private universities can
discriminate against students based on religion.=20

Although the Federal Civil Rights Act forbids discrimination based on race
or nationality by institutions that receive federal funds, it does not
mention religion.=20

Lewin is known in part for a series of cases he has argued - some before
the U.S. Supreme Court - that tried to establish the rights of Orthodox
Jews to follow the strictures of their religion in American institutions
like the military.=20

On campus at Yale, the debate has been unusually stark. Officials say they
are anxious to accommodate students' religious needs. But they also say
students who come to Yale know in advance that it is a ``defining
requirement'' of a Yale education that lower classmen live on campus.=20

Richard Brodhead, the dean of Yale College, said in an interview that part
of Yale's unique offering was the chance for students to learn about other
outlooks by living in the unique community. ``If you allow all groups based
on affiliation or conviction to separate themselves from the whole
university community,'' Brodhead said, ``you open the door to all kinds of
self-segregation that this place has worked very hard against.''=20

A Yale spokesman, Thomas Conroy, said the school saw no legal requirement
that it excuse Orthodox Jews from its residency requirement. ``We
understand,'' he said, ``that that aspect of the Yale educational
experience is not going to be attractive to everyone, and we understand it
means some prospective students will choose to go to school elsewhere.''=20

Although Yale shares a history of anti-Semitism decades ago with many other
elite colleges, even some of its Jewish critics say the current dispute
does not reflect anti-Jewish sentiment as much, perhaps, as a suspicion of
ultraorthodox religious practices in general.=20

Robert Leikind, the director of Connecticut's Anti-Defamation League, said
that Yale had done a great deal to accommodate practicing Jews and that he
did not believe Yale's position on the residency requirement was motivated
by anti-Semitism.=20

But he said the university's stance violated Yale's usually high standard
of fairness by making Yale's educational offerings and its residential
requirements a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. ``What Yale is doing
here,'' he said, ``is saying, `If you don't want it, don't come.' And that
is a terrible message.''=20

Yale requires all lower classmen except married students and those over 21
to pay a room fee of $6,850 a year. But school officials have not
disciplined Orthodox students who have paid for the room in the past but
lived off campus, paying twice for college accommodations.=20

This fall, however, several of the students have refused to pay the fee,
raising the possibility that Yale could bar them from receiving credit for
their courses. Although Yale provides single-sex floors in some residences,
the Orthodox students say members of the opposite sex are sometimes present
24 hours a day.=20

Some of the Orthodox students, who refer to themselves as the Yale Five,
and their parents describe the confrontation as a vital one. In an
interview between classes during the first week of school, a 19-year-old
sophomore, Jeremy Hershman, from Long Island, N.Y., said he was fighting
Yale on behalf of the Jewish people because the rules dictating modesty
were fundamental to their faith.=20

He dismissed Yale's claim that living in campus residences provides a
central experience. ``There is lots of room for interaction, outside of
bedrooms and bathrooms,'' he said.=20

Rachel Wohlgelernter, a 19-year-old freshman, said such things as immodest
dress, crude language and the presence of condoms violated what she said
was the spirit of Jewish law. ``They're symbolic of a moral looseness or
laxity that doesn't fit in a Jewish scheme,'' she said.=20

In a letter to Yale's chaplain, the Rev. Frederick Streets, appealing for
help on the issue, Daniel Greer, the father of one of the five students,
railed about what he said was Yale's explanation that morality required an
equal application of its residency rule to all students.=20

``No doubt, the learned of Sodom and Gomorrah also believed themselves
similarly cultured and well-intentioned,'' wrote Greer, an Orthodox rabbi
in New Haven. The letter was included in an information packet distributed
by the students.=20

Among other students here, the dispute has provoked a variety of reactions,
including denunciation of the Orthodox students for trying to shape Yale to
fit their demands.=20

But some quietly confessed that the permissiveness of residence life
sometimes made them uncomfortable. Others said Yale should be more
flexible. ``The college system can be great for the people who choose to
get involved, but it's definitely not at the core of everyone's time at
Yale,'' said Tristan Patterson, a senior from Los Angeles.=20

20:38 EDT SEPTEMBER 6, 1997

The Op-Ed Piece

September 9, 1997

College Life vs. My Moral Code

NEW HAVEN -- Many people envy my status as a freshman at Yale College. My
classmates and I made it through some fierce competition, and we are
excited to have been accepted to one of the best academic and
extracurricular programs in American higher education. I have an older
brother who attended Yale, and I've heard from him what life at Yale is=

He spent all his college years living at home because our parents are New
Haven residents, and Yale's rules then did not require him to live in the
dorms. But Yale's new regulations demand that I spend my freshman and
sophomore years living in the college dormitories.=20

I, two other freshmen and two sophomores have refused to do this because
life in the dorms, even on the floors Yale calls "single sex," is contrary
to the fundamental principles we have been taught as long as we can
remember -- the principles of Judaism lived according to the Torah and
3,000-year-old rabbinic teachings. Unless Yale waives its residence
requirement, we may have no choice but to sue the university to protect our
religious way of life.=20

Bingham Hall, on the Yale quadrangle known as the Old Campus, is one of the
dorms for incoming students. When I entered it two weeks ago during an
orientation tour, I literally saw the handwriting on the wall. A sign
titled "Safe Sex" told me where to pick up condoms on campus. Another sign
touted 100 ways to make love without having sex, like "take a nap together"
and "take a steamy shower together."=20

That, I am told, is real life in the dorms.=20

The "freshperson" issue of The Yale Daily News sent to entering students
contained a "Yale lexicon" defining "sexile" as "banishment from your dorm
room because your roommate is having more fun than you." If you live in the
dorms, you're expected to be part of the crowd, to accept these standards
as the framework for your life.=20

Can we stand up to classmates whose sexual morality differs from ours?
We've had years of rigorous religious teaching, and we've watched and
learned from our parents. We can hold our own in the intellectual debate
that flows naturally from exchanges during and after class. But I'm upset
and hurt by this requirement that I live in the dorms. Why is Yale -- an
institution that professes to be so tolerant and open-minded -- making it
particularly hard for students like us to maintain our moral standards
through difficult college years?=20

We are not trying to impose our moral standards on our classmates or on
Yale. Our parents tell us that things were very different in college
dormitories in their day and that in most colleges in the 1950's students
who allowed guests of the opposite sex into their dorm rooms were subject
to expulsion. We acknowledge that today's morality is not that of the 50's.
We are asking only that Yale give us the same permission to live off campus
that it gives any lower classman who is married or at least 21 years old.=20

Yale is proud of the fact that it has no "parietal rules" and that sexual
morality is a student's own business. Maybe this is what Dean Richard H.
Brodhead meant when he said that "Yale's residential colleges carry .=A0.=A0=
. a
moral meaning." That moral meaning is, basically, "Anything goes." This
morality is Yale's own residential religion, which Yale is proselytizing by
force of its regulations.=20

We cannot, in good conscience, live in a place where women are permitted to
stay overnight in men's rooms, and where visiting men can traipse through
the common halls on the women's floors -- in various stages of undress --
in the middle of the night. The dormitories on Yale's Old Campus have
floors designated by gender, but there is easy access through open
stairwells from one floor to the next.=20

The moral message Yale's residences convey today is not one that our
religion accepts. Nor is it a moral environment in which the five of us can
spend our nights, or a moral surrounding that we can call home.=20

Yale sent me a glossy brochure when it welcomed me as an entering student.=

It said, "Yale retains a deep respect for its early history and for the
continuity that its history provides -- a continuity based on constant
reflection and reappraisal." Yale ought to reflect on and reappraise a
policy that compels us to compromise our religious principles.

Elisha Dov Hack is a member of the Yale College class of '01.=20

The Official Response:

To the Editor:=20

Re "College Life vs. My Moral Code" (Op-Ed, Sept. 9) by Elisha Dov Hack,
who, along with four other Yale students, objects to living in a dormitory
on the grounds of religious belief: Yale has profound respect for students
who live with demanding convictions. Such students are found here in no
small numbers, and we go to significant lengths to accommodate their
concerns. At the same time, Yale College has its own rules and
requirements, which we insist on because they embody our values and beliefs.=

One of Yale's requirements is that undergraduates must live on campus in
their freshman and sophomore years. This rule embodies our belief that what
students gain by living together is an essential aspect of their education.
When students enter this community, their daily interaction becomes a
continual scene of teaching and learning: a place to understand creeds and
cultures different from one's own, to appreciate the humanity of those who
hold such beliefs, and to learn to work with others across lines of

To allow students to separate themselves from the full collegiate community
would be to impoverish this aspect of the Yale education. As important,
they would rob others of a chance to learn who they are and why their
convictions require respect. Yale has a long history of working with
students to accommodate their personal values, and we would happily explore
accommodation in this case.

Dean of Yale College
New Haven, Sept. 10, 1997

Rohit Khare /// MCI Internet Architecture (BOS) ///
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