We have been discussing the increasing reintroduction of racially segregated spaces on college campuses as well as the reduction of free speech protections. The latest controversy has arisen at California State University Los Angeles where the school has created alternative housing for African American students. I have long been a critic of such segregated spaces — even voluntary — as inimical to the mission of universities to offer inclusive, pluralistic institutions. I recognize the good-faith concerns behind such housing but, in the end, I feel such spaces are a step back from the progress that we have made since the 1960s.
Last year, the university’s Black Student Union protested frequent “racist attacks” on campus including “racially insensitive remarks” and “microaggressions” by professors and students. They demanded a “CSLA housing space delegated for Black students.” They described the space as cheaper housing that “would also serve as a safe space for Black CSLA students to congregate, connect, and learn from each other.”
Cal State LA spokesman Robert Lopez insisted that the Halisi Scholars Black Living-Learning Community “focuses on academic excellence and learning experiences that are inclusive and non-discriminatory.” Other schools have created spaces set aside for black students, including University of Connecticut as we have previously discussed.
The motivation of such spaces of laudatory but I view them as counterproductive. College students of all races must learn to thrive in a pluralistic society and not retreat into safe zones or segregated spaces. There is obviously a blurred line in such distinctions. Organizations that allow students with like backgrounds or shared values are healthy as part of the college experience. However, housing set aside on a racial basis is highly problematic in my mind as ultimately counter productive in achieving a fully integrated and respectful forum for learning.
The Los Angeles Times maintains that this is “nothing new” since universities have offered “themed” housing for years. This includes themed housing for Asians and other groups. That may not be new but does not make it a good practice. That fact that we call it “themed” rather than “segregated” does not change the fundamental question of the wisdom of separating students based on race. I have written about this trend for many years as a matter of great concern though I admit that I appear to be in the minority. For prior columns click here and here.