The University of Oregon’s Black Cultural Center: a step back

University of Oregon President, Michael Schill is excited about the $2.5 million Black Cultural Center under construction on campus. He shouldn’t be.

Portrayed by its advocates as a step forward, the Center, a response to demands by some black students after a 2015 demonstration, is actually a step back in encouraging diversity and inclusion.

Kingbrothers

 

Kevin Fletcher

Golden, Colo.

In an April 22 presentation to the Rotary Club of Lake Oswego, Schill said academic success and diversity go hand in hand, so completion of the new Black Cultural Center is a huge priority.

If diversity is so important to academic success, why is the university facilitating construction of an identity center that will spur division and encourage black students to self-segregate?

It’s a contradictory effort that only hard-left academics could endorse, arguing they’re for inclusion while espousing policies that support separateness.

“Civil rights leaders put their lives on the line working for a color-blind, non-race determined society,’ “ Richard Vedder, Professor of Economics Emeritus at Ohio University, wrote in 2018.  “The bitter struggle to break down racial distinctions in education lasted for decades, yet now universities are reintroducing segregation.”

 After generations of schools denied admittance to blacks and only under pressure eventually opened their dormitories to residents of all colors and cultures, how ironic that many universities have now turned back the clock by allowing, even facilitating, separation by race.

Gail Heriot and Peter Kirsanow, founders of the New American Civil Rights Project and Congressionally appointed members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, lambasted the reversion to separateness when opposing black housing at the University of Connecticut. Rather than expand the horizons of young black college men, this “safe space” will ghettoize them, they said. The same principle applies to other black identify centers.

Some weak-kneed academics, overly eager for student approval and worried about being labeled racist, 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…on the basis of politicized racial identities,” wrote Amie A. Macdonald, a professor at John Jay College/CUNY.

“The preservation of racially defined communities of meaning secures the continued diversity of interpretations of the social world, thereby providing a richer array of knowledges from which to construct social, political, aesthetic, spiritual, and scientific accounts of our experience,” Macdonald said.

This is very professorial, but it sounds suspiciously like something segregationist Alabama Governor George C. Wallace would have said in less flowery language.

wallaceinauguration

“In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw a line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” George C. Wallace at his 1963 inauguration as governor of Alabama.

There are also those who justify racially-based identity centers on the basis of research that affinity groups are a benefit to students who may not identify with the prevalent or dominant culture. The problem is that this is a slippery slope, leaning to justification for splitting  everybody into little niches, rather than reinforcing the common good. Furthermore, it’s one thing to facilitate a coming together of people with common interests; it’s quite another to encourage racial division.

As Kevin Fletcher wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “What is the purpose in the purported effort to achieve ‘diversity’ by colleges in the selection of their entering classes if the result is the segregation of these same students by ethnic group in student orientation programs, residential arrangements and graduation ceremonies?”

If racial divisions end up worsening on the University of Oregon campus because of things like the Black Cultural Center, it will be a self-inflicted wound.

In short, the University of Oregon’s Black Cultural Center isn’t the way forward. It’s a way back, way way back.

__________________

Peter W. Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars,  and Dion J. Pierre

a research associate at the association and primary author of its new report, “Separate But Equal, Again: Neo-Segregation in Higher Education.”, wrote an opinion column on this same topic in the Wall St. Journal on April 30, 2019. Because only WSJ subscribers can easily access their column, it is copied below:

Segregation by Design on Campus

How racial separatism become the norm at elite universities like Yale, Brown and Wesleyan.

 

In his inaugural address in January 1963, Gov. George Wallace of Alabama thundered: “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.” About “tomorrow,” Wallace was right. More than half a century later, racial segregation comes as easy as breathing to many American colleges and universities.

Wallace had in mind the exclusion of blacks from white-only institutions. Today’s racial segregation, by contrast, consists of ethnic groups walling themselves off within institutions. In the past two years the National Association of Scholars surveyed 173 colleges and universities, public and private, in all 50 states. We found 46% of schools segregate student orientation programs, 43% segregate residential arrangements, and 72% segregate graduation ceremonies. Though these arrangements are ostensibly voluntary, students can’t easily opt out. The social pressure to conform is overwhelming.

This kind of racial separatism on campus isn’t new. We pursued case studies of Yale, Wesleyan and Brown universities, where we found that black students began to organize exclusive groups with separatist agendas as early as the 1960s.

Begin with Yale, the subject of a 210-page study released by NAS this week. The Black Students Association at Yale, or BSAY, was founded in 1964 as the Yale Discussion Group. Black students started the organization because they felt Yale recruited them merely for show. The accusation may have been unfair but it touched something real.

In 1964 Yale’s newly appointed president, Kingman Brewster, declared an all-out “effort to cure racial injustice.” This meant discarding Yale’s old policy of admitting only highly qualified black students in favor of aggressive outreach to the inner cities. Brewster’s like-minded admissions dean, R. Inslee “Inky” Clark, openly set forth a plan to enroll black students regardless of their test scores or other evidence of academic achievement. Brewster and Clark believed they could turn anyone into a Yale man. (The university didn’t admit female undergraduates until 1969.)

The new zeal to boost numbers brushed aside hard questions about college readiness and cultural adjustment. The results were catastrophic for the students. More than a third of the 35 black students Yale enrolled in 1966 dropped out during their first year, and many others lagged behind academically and felt unwelcome.

To stem the exodus, Yale set up a summer remediation program for black students. It did little to encourage their academic success, but it unexpectedly reshaped relations between black students and the university. The program isolated the black students as a group and gave them a sense of solidarity and shared grievance.

Out of this seedbed sprang BSAY, which was Yale’s first racial identity group. BSAY found its voice by demanding that Yale provide an ever-greater number of accommodations, including separate advisers, a separate orientation, and a separate center in a separate building. BSAY also became the leading advocate for a separate curriculum—the African-American studies program—that entailed hiring new faculty members with appropriate qualifications. A new world began to open up at Yale bearing a strange resemblance to the “separate but equal” arrangements that the Supreme Court had ruled unconstitutional in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education.

Though this happened more than 50 years ago, the pattern set down in the turmoil of the late 1960s continues. BSAY’s goal wasn’t a university where racial difference ceased to matter, but a university that aggrandized race and celebrated separation. Brewster agreed to almost anything activists wanted, apparently hoping a golden age of racial integration would follow.

Instead, BSAY grasped that racial intimidation yields rich rewards. The intimidation expanded beyond BSAY itself to a broader coalition of identity groups. Yale now steers its course with a compass of group rights, with each group asserting its own demand to be compensated for past wrongs. The most famous example is the 2015 mobbing of Prof. Nicholas Christakis over Halloween costumes. Yale President Peter Salovey responded by praising the “affirming and effective forms of protest,” and the trustees soon set aside $50 million to meet protesters’ demands.

Yale is a private institution with abundant resources to deploy as it pleases. But Yale is also one of the templates for American higher education as a whole. Its readiness to appease racial separatists who hold the ideal of racial integration in contempt has become the campus norm.

Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., became one of the first schools to embrace residential segregation when it created the Afro-American House (now called the Malcolm X House) circa 1968. In 1972 Cornell began accepting black students to its Ujamaa Residential College, a 144-resident building for blacks who have “personal knowledge” of the black experience. Other elite schools, such as Columbia University (Pan African House), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Chocolate City), the University of California Berkeley (African American Theme Program), Stanford University (Ujamaa), and Amherst College (Charles Drew House), made similar arrangements. In 2016 the University of Connecticut opened the Scholars House for black male students. The crush of protests across academia in fall 2015 was driven by racial organizations composed of students primed to see themselves not as individuals but as members of persecuted racial groups.

Today’s campus segregation puts people in a racial box. And like other forms of segregation, it has been a major source of tumult in higher education across the decades. Institutions of higher education should stop deliberately balkanizing their student bodies, and work instead to unify them around the common purpose of seeking truth and knowledge.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s