The University of Connecticut is under fire this week after a report that it would create a living space segregated by race. The school is concerned about the lower graduation rate for black students. So it has arranged for black-only housing to try to maintain a more supportive environment. Others call is segregation and a return to pre-Brown v. Board of Education values. The university has insisted that it is not a separate dorm and that the reports have been overblown, as discussed on Snopes.
I have long warned about a trend toward segregated schools and classes based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. While advancing laudable goals, the means of the ScHOLA²RS House (“Scholastic House of Leaders who are African American Researchers and Scholars”) is troubling. While few would argue with special programs to help any struggling student, the creation of race-specific zones or housing is a substantial retreat from conceptions of race-blind institutions.
Vice Provost Sally Reis rejected such arguments and insists that “It’s no more segregated than putting individuals with an interest in entrepreneurship together because they have common interests.” Most people would see a considerable difference between having a dorm for business students and a dorm for black students. One is based on an immutable trait that has long polarized the nation and produced gross inequalities. The other is an intellectual interest that is shared across gender, racial or other demographic lines.
Yet, Erik Hines, a UConn professor who will serve as faculty advisor to the ScHOLA²RS House students, said that UConn may plunge even further into such segregated housing: “We have all types of learning communities. If they bring forth a proposal to our Office of Programs and Learning Communities they will be considered by our executive director.”
The university insists that it is not creating separate housing:
ScHOLA²RS House is a Learning Community designed to support the scholastic efforts of male students who identify as African American/Black through academic and social/emotional support, access to research opportunities, and professional development. The intent of this Learning Community is to increase the retention and persistence of students using educational and social experiences to enhance their academic success at UConn and beyond in graduate and professional school placement. ScHOLA²RS House will encourage involvement with the larger university community to foster peer and mentor relationships and will actively engage students in inclusion efforts at UConn.
It has specifically responded to media reports through Dr. Erik Hines:
Twelve students already have contacted us with interest in living in Scholars House. Participation is, of course, entirely voluntary and its programming will be open to all in the University community, not only black male students.
This living community will also be located in the new Next Gen Hall when it opens this fall, so Scholars House students will live among 700-plus other students from all backgrounds while at the same time having access to specialized educational and social experiences to encourage success in their college careers.
To correct misinformation that some have unwittingly spread, this learning community will not be separate, nor is the building only going to house this group of students. Rather, this will be one of several learning communities whose residents live in Next Gen Hall, along with other students who aren’t in learning communities.