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‘Centering the Black Experience’: University In Washington State Establishes Black Affinity Housing; Joining Similar Initiatives by Stanford and Cornell

A Washington state university has become the latest higher education institution to designate a dorm space for Black students.

Western Washington University has established a Black Affinity Housing program on the fourth floor of Alma Clark Glass Hall. According to a statement on the school’s website, Glass was the first Black student to attend the university in the winter and spring of 1906.

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“Residents in Black Affinity based housing are encouraged to participate in periodic community programming and dialogues intended to build community, promote learning, and support wellness centering the Black experience,” the website says.

“Staff will organize opportunities for residents to attend Black-centered events and general university programs as a group.”

The board of trustees at the Bellingham, Washington, university unanimously voted to name the dormitory after Glass in December 2020.

“Any student interested in Black Affinity Housing and committed to the goals of the program is encouraged to submit a request form, the website says, suggesting students of all races will be able to occupy the housing.

“WWU does not discriminate on the basis of race,” an FAQ answer reads. “No student is required to join the Black Affinity Housing community, and no student is excluded from joining it.”

The resolution to name the hall after Glass came after university student-leaders of Black Student Organizations submitted a letter in June 2020, asking school officials to reflect on how the names of on-campus building fail to represent the experiences of Black students.

Glass studied psychology, geography, physical culture, biology and botany at the university ad went on o become a founding member of the Seattle chapter of the NAACP in 1913.

Other institutions, including American University, Stanford University and Cornell University, have all adopted similar housing options.

Ujamaa Residential Housing at Cornell “celebrates the rich and diverse heritage of Black people in the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, and other regions of the world,” according to the school website. The housing has been around since 1972.

Stanford has also offered Ujamaa housing for students since 1970. “Ujamaa focuses on the histories, issues, and cultures of the Black Diaspora. The name comes from the Swahili word for ‘extended family,'” the website says.

After former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted in the death of George Floyd in April, American University President Sylvia Burwell wrote in a letter to the the community, “We are working to open Black Affinity Housing in the fall and advance a sense of belonging for the community.”

According to the website, Roper Hall is now the location of the housing program.

On Twitter, some users suggested Black Affinity Housing is a form of segregated housing.

One user asked, “So when did it become politically correct to push segregation? I’d really like to know.” Another added, “Colleges have been doing this for decades. Is segregation really what we want?”

After the University of Nevada, Reno was criticized earlier this year over separate housing, Executive Director of Residential Life, Housing, and Food Services Dean Daniel Kennedy defended the move, writing that the learning communities, “provide a sense of community and belonging and are grounded in the belief that learning is an active and dynamic process that occurs inside and outside the classroom.”

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