Should colleges and universities be in the business of operating racially separate “theme housing?” Two members of the United States Commission on Civil Rights —Gail Heriot* and Peter Kirsanow —have sent letters to the University of Connecticut and to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights criticizing UConn’s recent establishment of ScHOLA2RS House, a “Learning Community designed to support the scholastic efforts of students who identify as African-American/Black through academic and social support, access to research opportunities, and professional development.”
“We are deeply concerned that ScHOLA2 RS House was established for the purpose, and will have the effect, of racial separation of African-American male students from others living in University of Connecticut dormitories,” Heriot and Kirsanow wrote. “Up until a few weeks ago, the University of Connecticut web site explicitly stated that the applications of “student who identify as African-American/Black or mixed race will be ‘prioritized.’ This language, which clearly announces an intent to discriminate, appears to have been quietly removed after ScHOLA2 RS House attracted some attention from the press. We are concerned, however, that the new language may be simply a fig leaf…. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that ScHOLA2RS House was intended to promote racial isolation on campus. Moreover, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that it will in fact promote racial isolation on campus.”
ScHOLA2RS House, which is funded largely through a grant from the Booth Ferris Foundation, is hardly the first such dorm, merely the latest. As far back as the 1960s, schools like Beloit College and Cornell University began to cave to student demands for separate housing. There are similar programs at the University of Minnesota and the Universities of California at Davis and Santa Barbara, among others. But with limited manpower, Heriot and Kirsanow are focused on UConn, where the former said “it may be early enough for our letter to have some effect.”
*I work at the United States Commission on Civil Rights as Gail Heriot’s special assistant and counsel. I assisted with research and drafting of the letters cited in this post. The opinions expressed in this post, however, are my own and not necessarily those of the Commission or Gail Heriot.