Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Is College Segregation Declining? A Hopeful Sign

In recent decades, many colleges have instituted their own form of residential segregation, creating dorms with titles such as "Third World House" or "African Heritage House" on the theory that they provide a friendly environment for members of minority groups and those sympathetic to them. On the whole, it strikes me as an unfortunate development, promoting the idea that racial categories are of central importance, that an Afro-American student of physics must have more in common with an African-American ed student than with a fellow physics major whose ancestors came from China or India.

I recently came across a small scrap of evidence suggesting that this pattern may be in decline, not with those running dorms but with those living in them. A student about to start her freshman year at an elite liberal arts college was sent the name of the dorm she had been assigned to; a little online research found it listed as the college's African heritage house. Since the student was neither Afro-American nor especially interested in Afro-American culture, she called the college authorities to suggest that there had been some mistake. They explained to her that one wing of the dorm in question was being used not as part of the Afro-American theme house but as overflow housing .

The capacity of that dorm is about half the number of Afro-American students enrolled at the college. It follows that fewer than half of those students want to live in a theme house dedicated to their racial background--considerably fewer if we assume that some residents are not Afro-American and that a wing represents a substantial fraction of the dorm. And the fact that webbed descriptions of the dorm do not mention that it is only in part a theme house suggests that the number who want to live in an African heritage house may be declining.

Which, if true, is good news.


Mike Huben said...

"In recent decades, many colleges have instituted their own form of residential segregation...."

Cornell had such theme residences 40 years ago: not quite recent.

But you take a nasty and unjustified slant here: the driving force behind the creation at Cornell was student activism to SELF-SEGREGATE. A more accurate and less slanted view would be that colleges "permitted and assisted self-segregation of some minority students". Not as authoritarian as your take. That's quite different than segregation by excluding minorities from institutions populated by the majority: there are different benefits and harms.

If there is indeed less desire by minorities to self-segregate because society is more accepting, that's cause to rejoice. And I presume that it can be largely attributed to liberal indoctrination in equality and acceptance from an early age as well as liberal abolition of government and private support for segregation and bigotry through Great Society legislation.

Anonymous said...

I'm concerned by the great number of white Americans who use the language of "self-segregation." It is a method whereby the unstigmatized (namely, white Americans) victimize non-white persons while simultaneously legitimating the notion of personal tolerance. The idea is that those against the perceived self-segregation can say to themselves, "Hey, I'm tolerant, it's these minorities who need to be more inclusive." I find it interesting that such rationalization leads people to overlook a more depressing fact.

At the University of Virginia, some students decry minority self-segregation, especially at student cafeterias. There we hear white students utter with a quiet disgust, "Why do those black people always sit together?" The real question, however, is, "Why do those white kids always sit together."

Until the unstigmatized normals (read: white students) can inwardly reflect on their own prejudices, schools cannot fully address the issues of segregation--not the inappropriately and misleading notion of "self-segregation."