My first interaction with the concept of segregated housing came in my freshman year from a friend of color on campus. They confided to me once, while discussing the topic of race, “Sometimes I wish there was housing just for the students of color…it’d be so nice to just have a place where you could chill with your people.” I was pretty taken aback with this concept, as the idea of outright segregation was something of the Jim Crow era.
Then, a few weeks ago, I saw a news article about Cal State introducing segregated housing as an option for black students, and I was completely blown away. On the one hand, the concept intrigued me; providing a safe space for students of color, I feel, is absolutely imperative as their bodies are constantly under threat. This is especially true of college campuses, where their intellect and right to even be on campus may also be under constant question. However, I could not get past the eerie connection to Jim Crow and wonder about how this decision will affect their relationship with the rest of the student body.
According to the Tribune article, Cal State’s idea does not exactly mimic “segregated” housing, but rather has created a space that is centered around the black community and “… focused on academic experiences, and ones that are inclusive and non-discriminatory.” The addition of black-centered housing is the result of a list of demands given by the campus’ Black Student Union when student protests were popping up all over college campuses last year.
It’s clear that many conservative news outlets have exaggerated the issue to compare it to the Jim Crow era. However I feel that this is an important issue to consider regardless. Are spaces like Multicultural Houses not sufficient enough in providing a safe space for students? What are the potential consequences of having segregated housing? As important as it is to have these spaces for students, I worry that too much separation will reduce intergroup contact even more. Beverly Tatum’s book “Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” calls out how kids (and college students) tend to befriend those within their racial group, as it is familiar and there is a lack of understanding between groups. Additionally, being the minority, Black kids feel the need to band together with people who understand them better. With all-Black housing, that may reduce contact even more.
On the other hand, the need to band together is probably very strong on Cal State’s campus. With only 4% of the population being Black, they are a very small minority on a campus with over 24,000 students. I sympathize heavily with this sentiment, and the need for a safe space for students of color. Both anecdotal evidence and many empirical studies indicate that people of color experience higher stress levels by just ‘existing.’ There is a greater fear, and consequentially a greater trauma, that occurs as the result of just being in a Black body. The Harwood (2012) article “Racial microagressions in the resident halls: Experiences of students of color at a predominately White university” is perfect evidence of this – students of color at PWI’s do experience microagressions in their dorms, in addition to the rest campus. Therefore, a safe-space for students to escape to while they sleep may be crucial.
Overall, I think I lean towards the inclusive housing model as it does provide the students with what they need. It validates the experiences of Black students, and appreciates their stories. By providing them with a housing alternative, the Cal State fulfilled the requests of Black students – from the students themselves – rather than debating the issue amongst themselves to determine what they think is best. If the Black Student Union came and demanded these things, I think it is imperative to listen to their requests and rationale, as their opinions are the ones that matter most in this situation. Also, students will still intermingle in other areas on campus, and any student with interest in black issues could hypothetically live in the special interest housing.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree with the university’s decision?