Segregated Housing: The Answer to Racial Tensions on Campus?

Universities are hotbeds for controversy, and most recently it's due to "segregated housing"—schools offering separate dorms for black students as safe spaces. It has become a matter of discussion on campuses across the country. This trend took off in California, but other colleges have followed suit, including the University of Connecticut, University of Iowa, Princeton University and Hampshire College.

When we see "segregated," we might be reminded of the Jim Crow laws and separate but equal, the legal doctrine that enforced racism through the segregation of facilities and institutions through the 1960s. So... what exactly are these colleges offering?

Robert Lopez, a spokesperson for CalState, said that the dorm space the university created is oriented around the black community, but “open to all students.” He also added that “this living-learning community focuses on academic excellence and learning experiences that are inclusive and nondiscriminatory.” The decision to offer this housing at CalState came after the Black Student Union pointed out the reccurring racist attacks on campus, and issued a set of demands to the university.

At UConn, assistant professor Erik Hines argued that their new living community for black men provides them the opportunity to connect with others who have shared experiences.

Another assistant professor, Tressie McMillan Cottom, teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University. She said that "it is not unrealistic, not alarmist" to suggest that some students might not be comfortable with living in a traditional college residence, and could be concerned about the effects it might have on their academic lives.

But programs like these will inevitably have their critics, who argue that they will “promote racial silos and degrade the quality of learning.” At public universities, opponents maintain that the school is using money to implement a program that many taxpayers might take issue with.

Gail Heriot and Peter Karsanow, two members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, wrote a letter to the Department of Education. “Meaningful interaction among students of different races improves the quality of education for all," they said. "[UConn] should not be in the business of promoting racially separate learning communities.”

So who’s right and who’s wrong? Only time will tell whether these housing communities will prove to be effective and inclusive. It's important to realize that college campuses are not immune to the racism that continues to plague the country. I think the most important takeaway is that we all want to feel secure on campus, so we need to find a solution. It might be these new housing programs, it might not—the first step is to have a conversation.

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