Separate but equal: a discredited idea re-emerges at Reed College

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“We envision a vibrant, safe, and inclusive living environment…,” says Portland’s Reed College.

So much for that.

Like many other colleges and universities in the United States moving away from true diversity, Reed has approved an exclusive residential living space, Students of Color (SOC) Community, in the school’s Canyon House.

According to Reed, The SOCis an intentional living community for returning students of color to heal together from systemic white supremacy, recover the parts of ourselves and our cultures that have been stolen through colonization, and dream new visions as we build vibrant, loving community together.”

With schools blasting out their commitment to diversity, why are so many heading down the path of separateness? Why such sophistry by week-kneed administrators in their efforts to justify “separate but equal” facilities?

Controversy has already erupted over other “themed” residential housing programs, with schools establishing separate living quarters for groups such as Native Americans, LGBTQ, non gender-binary, Asian/Pacific American,  and so on.

Two members of the United States Commission on Civil Rights —Gail Heriot and Peter Kirsanow, recently sent letters to the University of Connecticut and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, lambasting UConn’s establishment of ScHOLA2RS House, a “Learning Community designed to support the scholastic efforts of students who identify as African-American/Black through academic and social support, access to research opportunities, and professional development.”

“We are deeply concerned that ScHOLA2RS House was established for the purpose, and will have the effect, of racial separation of African-American male students from others living in University of Connecticut dormitories,” Heriot and Kirsanow wrote. “… It is hard to avoid the conclusion that ScHOLA2RS House was intended to promote racial isolation on campus.  Moreover, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that it will in fact promote racial isolation on campus.”

“…we cannot understand how race-separate “learning communities” help achieve its ideals of “meaningful diversity” or prepare students to work in a racially diverse marketplace. Rather, by limiting students’ exposure to persons of other racial and ethnic backgrounds, they are more likely to do the opposite,” their letter to UConn said.

Cal State Los Angeles is embroiled in the same issue.

In November 2015, Cal State Los Angeles’ Black Student Union sent a list of demands to William A. Covino , the school’s (president). One of the demands was for “…the creation and financial support of a CSLA housing space delegated for Black students and a full time Resident Director who can cater to the needs of Black students. “

 

In response, this year the school debuted the Halisi Scholars Black Living-Learning Community.

The Black Student Union posted on its Instagram account,…we have finally launched our Black student housing that we demanded from President Covino back in November. The Halisi Scholars Black Living Learning Community is intended for the students on our campus that identify as Black/African American. “

Cal State LA says it is not sponsoring a segregated housing community because “This community is open to all students”, but students who identify as African-American are prioritized in selection.

 After Americans have struggled for decades to bring us all together, universities across the country are acquiescing in, even heartily endorsing, racial and ethnic separateness.

When the University of Oregon recruited Bobbie Robinson and Charles Williams as its first black athletes in 1926, they weren’t allowed to live in university dormitories. All students of color were required to rent housing off campus.

It was a long struggle, but universities across the country eventually opened their dormitories to residents of all colors and cultures. How ironic that many universities have now turned back the clock by establishing separate housing by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and more.

It’s all being done under the guise of building cultural bonds, uniting people with shared values and strengthening identities.

At Brown University in Rhode Island there’s Hispanic House and Harambee House, which is “…focused on perpetuating a sense of community, academic excellence, and leadership for all people of African descent.”

Harambee is Swahili for ” pulling or working together.” But self-segregation isn’t pulling people together; it’s pushing them apart, capitulating to pressure and reinforcing separatism.

Some academics, perhaps eager for student approval, argue that faculty support for self-segregation is a good thing because it stimulates bonding. “We teachers have an opportunity to stand in solidarity with our students who call for programmed houses on the basis of politicized racial identities,” wrote Amie A. Macdonald, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY.

“…anyone concerned with the long-range goal of securing broad-based freedom and autonomy should be committed to the continued existence of racially defined communities on the grounds that different racial identities provide people with different experiences of the world,” Macdonald said. “The preservation of racially defined communities of meaning secures the continued diversity of interpretations of the social world, thereby providing a richer array of know/edges from which to construct social, political, aesthetic, spiritual, and scientific accounts of our experience.”

Except for the fact this is very professorial, it sounds suspiciously like something Alabama Governor George C. Wallace would have said in less flowery language to affirm “segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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