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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Nashim funding threatened

Published: January 20, 2006
Section: News

A group headed by Albert Cahn 07 and Robbie Schwartz 08 appeared in front of the Student Union Senate Dec. 11 to prevent the Hillel member group Nashim from receiving Student Activity Fee (SAF) funding for its annual talent show.

The group claimed that Nashim was in violation of discrimination laws and thus should not receive money from the SAF.

The Senate appearance came after Cahn and Schwartz (accompanied by Amelia Liebhold 08 and Noah Klinger 08) approached Nashim co-presidents Addie Shmuel 08 and Bonnie Gewanter 08 at Nashims Dec. 8 talent show, asking them if men were allowed to attend. The conversation, including the co-presidents responseNowas videotaped and shown to the Hoot.

I was worried that by funding the event the Student Union Senate would be making it easier to discriminate against students on this campus, said Cahn. I thought that the only right thing to do was to give Addie Shmuel a heads-up prior to [the] event, I told her that I was not certain, but that several students wanted to prevent the Student Union from funding the event.

Cahn also made allegations that the group had discriminated against a transgender student, who had been fired from their job because the organizers of the talent show did not want to respect their status as a woman. The transgender student chose to remain anonymous.

Nashim, which is a womens group partially sponsored by Hillel, has been a chartered club since its inception. The group currently has over 130 members, and according to Co-President Shmuel approximately 30 members performed in the talent show in question. The reasons for Nashims excluding men from attending the event, according to Shmuel, are not for discriminations sake, but for religious reasons.
Orthodox Judaism does not allow the men to hear women singing, said Shmuel. Its called Kolishah, the voice of a womanit does not allow unmarried men to hear women sing and to see them dance. Its also the reason men and women pray separately in Orthodox Judaism.

Its not just for Jewish women, but any girlits not as exclusive as you think.
Shmuel also responded to allegations about the transgender students alleged firing. [Co-President Bonnie Gewanter] had initially taken care of the sound [work] that we got through Student Production Services and the issue was that we requested a female person and they assigned a male person then they changed it to a female person and didnt tell the first person they had assigned, she said.
I didnt even know about the situation [with the transgender student], but I explained that there would be girls that would be uncomfortable, but he said that he didnt really mind, and that he would be paid as standbyhe was only upset because he wouldnt have gotten paid, until he was paid as a standby.

Shmuel also mentioned attempts at compromise: We also gave him the option [of] doing [the sound from] outside the room he could just set it up, and do it outside. But it just didnt [happen.]

The debate in front of the Student Union Senate, quickly became heated, as both parties refused to budge. A point of contention between many senators was whether or not to show Cahns tape of the proceedings, in which Liebhold asked whether or not men were allowed to watch the show.

Alwina Bennett, the Assistant Dean of Student Life, intervened in what she described as a stalledand a little acrimonious discussion, giving Nashim the $95 the group required for custodial fees from my budgetnot really a discretionary budget, but a very small amount of money I have to support womens programs, specifically womens history month on campus.

She added that, the women in the show pay the student activities fee also andbecause of their religious practices cant participate in many of the events that the fee supports.

Bennett recognized that the issue will not go away overnight, nor will it be solved to anyones liking anytime soon. The central question is how to balance all of the communitys needs and be fair to everyone who pays the fee. The answer I think lies with education and dialogue.

Bennett suggested that there were several questions the student body will need to answer in the days to come. What does it mean to be open to all students? Do all students need to have equal access to the activity or the event [via] participation? Is the ability to attend enough? Are most funded events [and] activities really open to all? How do we take care of minority needs within our community?

When asked by the Hoot if he was satisfied by the outcome of the events, Albert Cahn responded that he was not. It is clear that the Senate turned its back on the transgender students of this university, I can only hope that with time that they will come to right this error It was also clear that the Senate was more interested in doing what was politically convenient than what was just, he wrote in a written statement to the Hoot.

Shmuel was also disappointed in the verdict. Its disheartening because I dont want to go up to the Student Union and ask for money and go through this all over again, she said. Its sort of closing doors for usit provides a lot of opportunity for women who wouldnt get a chance to otherwise.

Editors note: Bonnie Gewanter 08 and Noah Klinger 08 are Hoot contributors.