Segregation now; Segregation Forever: Western Oregon University students pushing for BIPOC center

Black, Indigenous and people of color at Western Oregon University (WOU) in Monmouth are advocating for the establishment of a Freedom Center for their exclusive use on the top floor of the school’s Academics Program and Support Center building.

“It’s a place for BIPOC students by BIPOC students that allows them to have safe spaces, accessibility [and] resources,” Makana Waikiki, the proposal’s lead advocate, told Oregon Public Broadcasting. Arlette Tapia, Director of Multicultural Advocacy with the student government, added, “It’s very devastating as a student, as a student of color, to see that we have to fight for these things.”

There are, however, good reasons why the university should resist. Portrayed by its advocates as a step forward, the Center would more likely be a step back in encouraging diversity and inclusion.

WOU’s total enrollment is 4,526, 33% men and 64% women. The students are 61% white, 18.6% Hispanic or Latino, 3.81% Asian, 3.04% Black and 1.18% American Indian or Alaska Native. About 34% of students are minorities or people of color.

The Freedom Center Proposal says, “Students of color are marginalized and diminished on campus, and the Freedom Center will be a place where students will feel safe to be themselves.” WOU’s Faculty Senate President Dr. Leigh Graziano echoed that view in an email to WOU leadership. “When we make decisions to not create space for voices of color, we only underscore our lack of genuine commitment as a university to antiracist practices that actually make our campus culture more inclusive,” she wrote.  

But in reality, the Freedom Center, would just reinforce separatism and tribalism, the exact opposite of what a liberal education is supposed to transcend. 

If diversity is so important to academic success, why would WOU facilitate construction of an identity center that will spur division and encourage BIPOC students to self-segregate?

It’s a contradictory effort that only weak-kneed hard-left academics overly eager for student approval and worried about being labeled racist could endorse. In fact, it sounds suspiciously like something segregationist Alabama Governor George C. Wallace would have pressed for in less flowery language.

“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. “The bitter struggle to break down racial distinctions in education lasted for decades, yet now universities are reintroducing segregation.”

The supporters of these wayward efforts often try to 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. But 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.

If WOU capitulates to the students and faculty encouraging the Freedom Center, they will be delivering a self-inflicted wound to the school. In short, the Center wouldn’t be a way forward, but a step back, way way back.

Segregation today…Segregation tomorrow: it’s back.

Alabama Governor George C. Wallace made his objective clear:

“segregation today…segregation tomorrow…segregation forever.”

Some black students at prestigious U.S. universities now seem to be endorsing that vow themselves, embracing division instead of diversity. In a contradictory effort, they are arguing for inclusion while espousing policies that support separateness.

A protest at Princeton ended Thursday night after the Black Justice League at the school made multiple demands, including that the school provide cultural space for black students on campus.

The school’s president, Christopher Eisgruber, agreed to discuss all the demands, but quickly capitulated to the “cultural space” ultimatum.

Student protests at Yale have had a similar impact.


Nicholas Christakis, the master of Silliman College at Yale, was surrounded by angry students after telling them to allow others to exercise free speech. One young woman launched into an expletive-ridden rant and told him to ‘shut the f*** up’.

Ignoring the bad behavior, Yale’s president, Peter Salovey, promised a doubling of budgets for four already established cultural centers, including an Afro-American Cultural Center.

Founded in 1969, the Afro-American Cultural Center provided a model for other more recently established ones.

Yale attempts to justify the cultural centers by saying they “…foster a sense of cultural identity and educate people in the larger community. They also act as optional social centers and community bases for students of a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, supplementing the social environment of the larger, pluralistic Yale College community.”

In other words, after Americans have struggled for decades to bring us all together, week-kneed administrators at universities across the country are acquiescing in, even heartily endorsing, racial separateness.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Black Student Union at UC Irvine recently demanded and secured an administration commitment to  create and fund a Black Scholars’ Hall and a Marsha P. Johnson Black Student Resource, Outreach, and Retention Center. The Black Student Union also demanded that the Center be  staffed by people picked by student representatives elected by the Black Students on Campus organization and three African-American Studies core faculty members.

“This seems reactionary and poorly thought out,” a reader commented on the Los Angeles Times’ website. “The only way the campus community and the institution benefit from diversity is to better integrate the African American and other underrepresented students on campus. This plan seems to facilitate and support isolating and segregating them.”

MIT has a community within a dorm called Chocolate City, “…a brotherhood of MIT students and alumni who identify with urban culture and share common backgrounds, interests, ethnicities, and/or experiences.”

At Brown University in Rhode Island there’s 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.

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, separate housing and activity centers by race.

No matter the justification, they are a contrivance that do damage to all students, their schools and American ideals.

Some academics, overly 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…on the basis of politicized racial identities,” wrote Amie A. Macdonald, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY.

This isn’t the way forward. It’s a way back, way way back.