Opinion

Truth of University Housing Segregation Leaks Out

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Posted: Sep 05, 2016 12:01 AM
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Truth of University Housing Segregation Leaks Out

After writing a piece in a local newspaper in California discussing three in-state universities who are facilitating and promoting segregation in student housing, it was fascinating to watch my e-mail and my Facebook page. Uniformly, virtually no one was aware that universities were promoting segregated housing. Uniformly, no one indicated they thought allowing minority students to determine not to be part of the general population of their universities with respect to housing was anything except a very bad idea. Uniformly, and sadly, I was lauded for writing about the issue.

What e-mails also revealed is that voluntary segregation of minorities in student housing is not remotely limited to the Universities of California at Irvine, Berkeley and Santa Barbara. This is apparently becoming the expected way to house students in campus housing throughout the country. Some schools are bold about their segregated housing such as Berkeley and Santa Barbara. Some are trying to accomplish their goals very quietly. At UCSB, where no ethnic groups is over 40 percent, the second largest ethnic group is Hispanic/Latino at 27 percent and yet there is a Chican@/Latino housing opportunity. Is it fair to say this is un-American?

These university websites are not shy about their segregated housing opportunities. Websites include pictures of residents of a single race living on a single floor of a dormitory. Berkeley's housing website includes a picture of Black students with the quote: "I enjoy being around peers who look like me."  UCSB's housing website boldly offers separate housing opportunities for Asian & Pacific Islanders and Black-African American Scholars, as well as Chican@/Latin@Scholars and a few other racial categories. UCSB's housing website features a housing opportunity in their Santa Rosa residence hall with a head note of "Black/African American Scholars" with the quote: "We are family; I got all my brothers and sisters with me."

The issue is not limited to California. At the University of Connecticut, their website leads us to "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." Look to the University of Connecticut and to your alma mater.

In the movie Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino gives a brilliant soliloquy in attempting to defend a young friend from being expelled from a boarding school. He compares bad decisions he has made in his life to the good decisions made by his young friend: "I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? It was too damn hard."

Many universities' inability to make proper legal and/or moral decisions with respect to segregated housing is not about ignorance of the right path. The right path, the legal/moral path of not permitting a segregation of the races is apparently "too damn hard" for university administrators. When campus Black Student Union leaders and other leaders of specific racial groups demand segregated housing, our universities are ignoring the law and/or their moral responsibilities and building and/or facilitating such segregated housing. 

There are legal questions in California: Given the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and California's Proposition 209, how is it possible that universities could be promoting, facilitating and rationalizing the creation and operation of segregated student housing? 

California's Proposition 209 first defines the "state" to include the "public university system" and then provides that the "state" may not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race in the operation of public education. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides that it is the policy of the United States that discrimination on the basis of race shall not occur in connection with programs and activities receiving Federal financial assistance and authorizes the appropriate Federal departments and agencies to take action to carry out this policy. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 makes it unlawful to discriminate against any person in the privilege of rental of a dwelling. It goes on to make unlawful so much as the printing of any notice or advertising that indicates any preference based on race in housing.

How did universities that were on the forefront of eliminating segregation become the facilitators of segregated housing? Such thinking puts society itself is in peril. Under what moral authority does a university say yes to segregated housing? At best, it is axiomatic that segregated housing achieves nothing good for society. 

The impact of self-segregation is two-fold. For the self-selected segregating students, they will miss significant opportunities to build strong multi-racial bonds during their college experience. For the remaining students, these students will be more segregated by the withdrawal of self-segregating students from general housing. For every minority student self-segregating, that is one less minority student living in the main population of UCI students. Self-segregation abetted by university housing policies and actions, in effect, results in greater segregation of all housing. It is simple math.

Segregation was a terrible wrong when it was demanded by a white dominated majority. Segregation in housing was a disgrace. If we change the race or ethnicity of those demanding segregation and facilitate it on college campuses today, it is no less a terrible wrong and a terrible disgrace. Society should not and cannot accept our finest institutions taking any role except trying to implement programs that make segregation in their housing stocks impossible. It is axiomatic that universities that are properly promoting diversity and inclusion in the classroom should not be promoting segregation in campus housing. However well meaning, there should be no accepting institutionally promoted and facilitated segregation.