The University of Connecticut faces growing criticism as it moves forward with plans to set aside the wing of a campus dormitory for Black male students. Announced as a learning community, university officials insist the wing will provide a safe space for Black males and aid them in successfully completing college.
“Education takes place on both sides of the classroom door, and part of ensuring students’ success at UConn includes providing them with a living experience that they find to be enjoyable, supportive and inspiring,” Stephanie Reitz, a spokesperson for UConn told The Fix. “It’s also critical to retaining students so they want to return to UConn each year and complete their degrees.”
Grouping students according to race, gender, and other factors in residence halls isn’t new, however. Per Education Dive, Cornell University was one of the first institutions to create “self-selected segregated housing.” Other universities across America, like UC Berkeley and MIT, have similar arrangements.
Not everyone is jumping for joy, however. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights members Gail Heriot and Peter Kirsanow filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, calling the legality of the “learning community” into question.
According to an article published by Education Dive, Heriot and Kirsanow say the implementation of such a dorm is “heading in the wrong direction” and ” promoting the “ghettoization” of Black males. They also suggest the new program practices racial segregation and violates title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination on the basis of race at government-funded universities.
“I think all students are harmed by this type of racial isolation,” Kirsanow told Education Dive. “Universities are not places for ethnic navel-gazing, they should be places where our intellects are broadened, where our comforts are challenged, where our interactions include those who do not look or think like us,” he said.”
But Dr. Erik Hines, faculty director of UConn’s ScHOLA2RS House — which stands for Scholastic House of Leaders who are African American Researchers and Scholars — strongly disagrees. He shot down the notion that the dormitory wing was segregated and explained that the community is simply a space where “men of color can talk about the African-American experience on college campuses.”
The university’s ScHOLA2RS House “is a scholastic initiative to groom, nurture, and train the next generation of leaders to address grand challenges in society through the promotion of academic success in undergraduate programs at the University of Connecticut and in competitive graduate programs,” according to the program’s website. Students of any and all races are welcome to join, and the program is specifically designed to help Black males feel more connected.
Niger Innis, the national spokesperson for the Congress of Racial Equality, told Fox News that UConn might be unintentionally isolating these students, creating an environment where Blacks are seen as “the other.”
“If they wanted to go to an all-Black institution, there are plenty of historically Black colleges that still exist,” he said. “But if they want to go to an institution that is racially diverse and integrated, then racial diversity and integration is part of it. To have a university-sanctioned segregation or separation is, to me, a bit troubling.”
The UConn ScHOLA2RS program will launch in the fall and be housed in a new facility, Next Generation Connecticut Hall. It’s one of 19 other learning communities on the campus based along the lines of culture, gender, race, similarity, etc., according to Education Dive. Hines says that about 13 students have already applied to the program.