On Newspapers and Community

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My involvement with The Observer began accidentally. I hadn’t been active in my high school’s paper and, as a pre-med student who cares little about breaking news, I had no interest in writing, let alone serving an editorial position, for my college paper. Then a YU Rosh Yeshiva made a statement regarding women’s Talmud learning that undermined the pride and love with which my peers and I studied Talmud each day. We felt confused, upset and misunderstood within our community. And there seemed to be nothing we could do to rectify the situation.

But then I realized that I could respond in The Observer and submitted an article replying to the statement. I can’t say the article brought about any real change. In fact, since then there have been other insensitive statements made by leaders of the YU community disrespecting women’s Torah learning. However, hundreds of students did read the article, and for a day, or maybe just a few minutes, it created a conversation about women’s Torah learning. The article received many comments from both friends and strangers. Some applauded me for my words, while others critiqued me for being far too liberal or not feminist enough. I read each comment with excitement, struck by the realization that it was the first time I felt part of a community at YU where students care and are interested in one another.

The Observer and The Commentator serve many purposes. News pieces keep our students informed about changes throughout the university, interviews allow for a better appreciation of YU’s students and faculty, while feature articles cover events and programming that take place throughout the week and opinions sections give students a chance to share their perspectives, thoughts and frustrations. Having a strong newspaper creates leadership positions and instills pride in the student body. But the main purpose of the YU newspapers, which encompasses all the reasons I have listed, is that they create a community within our school.

The newspapers have more readers than any YU program has participants. Events at YU tend to be monolithic, attracting a specific group of likeminded individuals. The newspapers, on the other hand, bring together a far more diverse group of students allowing them to, at least intellectually, interact and learn from one another. I read both The Observer and The Commentator each month with genuine interest and enthusiasm to learn more about what is taking place throughout our community and to better understand its members. Both newspapers have been an important part of my YU experience.

However, I fear that many students overlook the potential that lies within YU’s two papers. Instead of viewing them as community builders and meeting points, they view them as competitors. People often ask me if I mind that The Observer is sometimes disrespected. I don’t mind when people criticize The Observer and would be happy and interested to read constructive articles critiquing this paper. But the competitive rhetoric, extolling one paper over the other, is saddening because it represents a missed opportunity to create a stronger community. Competition is important in capitalist societies. But our newspapers are free and don’t need to compete over readers. Each newspaper helps create a community for both its individual campus and for YU as a whole, through sparking community wide conversations via sharing various students’ points of view and working to keep the student body informed about the university.  Our two papers could be supporting one another in the effort of building and creating a more vibrant community. Students often bemoan the lack of community at YU and dream of new initiatives to foster a stronger community. I commend them for their efforts but also want to remind each one of us that we already have a powerful tool in our hands. Let’s not throw this opportunity away. Instead, we should work together to view our papers with pride as representatives and creators of  a strong YU community.