Politics & Policy

Segregation Returns to Campus

Banner outside New York University in 2009. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
It is neither ‘anti-racist’ nor progress to house students based on race.

Before the Supreme Court ruled, in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, the lower District Court in Kansas conceded that such policies were “detrimental” to minority children since they contributed to a “sense of inferiority.” In subsequent years, legislative milestones such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act provided practical and symbolic relief from such degradation.

Or that has long been the consensus view, anyway. For decades, some have fought to reframe segregation as a progressive cause, and in recent years, their “anti-racism” has found fertile ground on campus. Last year, the National Association of Scholars (NAS) published an investigation, “Separate but Equal, Again: Neo-Segregation in American Higher Education.” The report’s authors studied 173 public and private schools, pulling from all 50 states. They found that 43 percent of the schools had residential segregation, 46 percent had segregated orientation programs, and 72 percent had segregated graduation ceremonies.

Just last week, reports emerged that a small, student-led taskforce had succeeded in having New York University approve its first racially segregated resident floor, planned for the fall of 2021. NYU’s policy was first reported by Washington Square News, a weekly student newspaper, which explained how an undergraduate activist group, the “Black Violets,” had created an online petition outlining its “demands.” The campaign was started by two black undergraduates who claimed to have “noticed that their experience was different from that of their Black peers,” because they had had black roommates and their black peers had not. They came to believe that “in the classroom and in resident life, black students bear the brunt of educating their uninformed peers about racism.”  They concluded that “the university does not adequately provide for its Black students,” a complaint they expanded on in their petition:

Black students should not be forced to do the labor of explaining cultural touchstones (like hair rituals) and advocating for their humanity within their own homes. There is not one space on campus entirely dedicated to Black student life. Black Lives Matter cannot be reduced to a slogan sent in university-wide emails. Now is the time for NYU to create tangible change to support its Black students. We are hoping that Black Living communities can spark a new effort towards comprehensive Black inclusion across NYU.

This isn’t the first time the issue has been raised. In 2002, New York University debated whether or not to have opt-in racially segregated housing, ultimately deciding against it. As one of the students who opposed the proposal pointed out at the time “in the real world, [such self-segregation] doesn’t exist.”

In truth, student activism is often little more than a pretext. The administrators who enact such policies tend to be quite far to the left, and further still in that direction is an even bigger problem: critical race theory’s successful conquest of every major liberal institution from the New York Times to the Democratic Party. Nevertheless, in this instance, John Beckman, a spokesperson for the NYU denied that the university had given approval, telling Reason: “NYU does not have and will not create student housing that excludes any housing based on race.”

Still, the NAS data is alarming. In the name of “progress,” a pernicious and reactionary racial ideology is being established; in the name of “safety,” campuses are becoming dangerous breeding grounds for resentment and division; and in the name of “diversity,” segregation is making a comeback.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that NYU officials had approved the policy; it has been amended to reflect that that isn’t the case. 

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