Students Challenge Co-Ed Housing

* Orthodox Jews Plan to Sue Yale For Failing to Grant Exemptions

Five Yale students are preparing to file a lawsuit charging that Yale's co-ed rooming policy prevents them from following the tenets of their beliefs as Orthodox Jews-that unmarried men and women should live separately.

Nathan Lewin, counsel for the five students, said the group will likely file suit against the university. Lewin would not comment on what basis the suit would be filed, but did confirm that the students' first amendment right to religious freedom would be a component.

"We have advised Yale that we would be filing suit unless there's a satisfactory policy," Lewin said.

The five students-first-years Rachel Wolgelernter, Batsheva Greer and Elisha Dov Hack and sophomores Lisa Friedman and Jeremy Hershman-are fighting a residential requirement for first-years that has been in place for years.

In an the op-ed piece, "College Life vs. My Moral Code" that appeared in The New York Times Monday, Hack expressed disillusionment with a rooming system that allowed her brother, also an Orthodox Jew, to live at home in New Haven during all four years at the college.

The policy has since changed and mandates that she must live on campus not only as a first-year, but also as a sophomore.

Although the floors in some dorms at the college are single-sex, Hack said co-ed bathrooms and hallways send a "moral message" that runs counter to the religious tenets of Orthodox Judaism.

Common spaces within the dorms are co-ed and several bathrooms in each dorm are designated as co-ed facilities.

"We cannot, in good conscience, live in a place where women are permitted 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," Hack wrote in the op-ed.

According to Lewin, all five students were aware of campus policy before they began classes at the college.

Yesterday, Dean of Yale College Richard H. Brodhead replied to Hack's piece with a Times op-ed of his own: "Dormitory Life is Essential to a Yale Education."

"Their daily interactions becomes a continual scene of teaching and learn- ing, a place to understand creeds and cultures different from one's own... and to learn to work with others across such lines of difference," Brodhead wrote in the op-ed.

Brodhead was not available for comment.

Lewin-who has argued several religious freedom cases before the Supreme Court-said the students' requests to live off-campus were denied by campus officials outright.

Lewin said this was due to an "almost inflexible residency requirement" mandating that all single students under age 21 live on campus.

Lewin said that the possible lawsuit is focused more on Yale's refusal to extend an exemption than the specific violations of same-sex housing dictated by the Orthodox movement.

"Nobody is asking Yale to change its policy in the dorms, or the dorms [themselves]," Lewin said, stressing that the students are seeking exemptions-not changes.


Tom Conroy, a spokesperson for Yale, said yesterday that college officials attempted to negotiate a means for the students to satisfy their needs while living on campus. However, he said the students refused the college's previous offers and Yale currently stands firm in its endorsement of the residential requirement.

"Yale defines itself as a residential university," Conroy said. "If a student segregates himself or herself from that, they're denying themselves the benefit of interaction as well as denying others the chance to be exposed to their culture."

Conroy said the college's contention is that the residential requirement poses no threat to students or their well-being.

"The university is extremely confident that its residency requirement policy is legal and not in violation of any statutes," he said. "We view any claims against it as unfounded."

Conroy said that Yale will not negotiate any exceptions to the residency requirement.

"Yale is saying we won't discipline these students as long as they pay the [rooming] fee," Lewin said. "Not that Yale's saying it's so important to live on campus that they won't give you a degree."

"If your age excuses you, I don't know why your religion can't," he added.

Although all five students are currently enrolled at Yale and paying for room and board, none of them are living on-campus, but they are able to eat kosher meals provided through their room and board fee.

In addition to the potential suit, the students are currently requesting full compensation for board payments-about $6,800 per student.

Could it Happen at Harvard?

Some students dining at Hillel last night said the Yale case has already sparked controversy among the Jewish community on campus.

"I can see where [Hack] has a problem," said Shalom E. Holtz '99, a leader of the Orthodox minyan, of prayer group, at Hillel.

"I have known people who went here and had similar problems," Holtz said. "I can picture it happening here."

Holtz said he sees the issue as a clash between traditional Orthodox beliefs and the modern world.

"These are people who want to preserve their Jewish identity while interacting with the Western world," Holtz said.

Holtz said he wrote a letter to Jewish Week press in New York supporting the students soon after reading Hack's article.

While Harvard's housing system differs slightly from Yale's-with official single-sex bathroom rules-all first-year Orthodox students are required to live on campus, although they are placed in Hurlbut, Thayer and Matthews.

The three buildings are the only first-year dorms currently accessible by key during the sabbath, when Orthodox Jews are required not to use technology such as key cards.

Lewin said Harvard's policy might leave the University vulnerable to a similar suit.

"Where [concerns] have come up in the past is students asking for a closer proximity to Hillel," said Thomas A. Dingman, associate dean of Harvard College for Human Resources and the House System.

Dingman said the College has attempted to accommodate the needs of Orthodox students without separating them from the housing lottery.

"It's been difficult for students in the [Radcliffe] Quad to honor the sabbath rule not to use transportation [in order to get to services]," Dingman said. "But this year we've organized earlier shuttle service and in the past we have worked with Hillel to organize walking groups."

Hillel Chair Adam M. Kleinbaum '98, a Crimson editor, said that he believes the University has made a concerted effort to respect the beliefs of Orthodox students.

"The University has been very sympathetic to student concerns," he said.

Kleinbaum saw the recent problem and its resolution as characteristic of College policy.

"The College in general is very good about letting us do what we need to," Kleinbaum said.

Zachary L. Shrier '99, an Orthodox student at Harvard, said that the suit-which has given rise to innumerable questions concerning Orthodox daily practices-has caused many to question their beliefs.

"You can like the cause and hate what they're doing, or you can hate the cause and like what they've done," he said.

Students said that the possible lawsuit has led them to reexamine their faith.

"Every Jew has to decide for himself or herself how to interpret the law and to apply it to their own practice," Kleinbaum said. "I think [the potential suit] has raised issues of modesty that are constantly on the minds of many Orthodox Jews.