The Corner

Education

The New Segregation on Campus

Campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn. (Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters)

The National Association of Scholars recently released an important report, “Neo-segregation at Yale,” that traces the establishment of racially separate educational structures within Yale. This is a case where racially separate programs have been established for the first time, not reestablished. (Although few blacks attended Yale prior to the civil rights movement, some did. Yale’s first black graduate was Courtland Van Rensselaer Creed, who received his medical degree in 1857 and went on to have a prominent practice in New York City).

Yale never formally prohibited blacks from attending, but as the civil-rights movement gained steam the school sought to increase black representation. At first, Yale administrators sought to increase the number of blacks admitted without lowering academic standards but found themselves unable to identify as many qualified blacks as hoped. Demands from African-American students to increase black representation led to demands from other minority groups that Yale do the same for them. As was the case throughout much of academia, Yale resorted to admitting minority students who were less academically prepared than admitted white students. Unsurprisingly, many minority students admitted under the more lax standards struggled academically — indeed, one-third of the black students admitted in 1966 dropped out after their freshman year.

Yale, like other institutions, created several remediation programs to try to bring minority students up to the academic level of their white peers. Two of the longest-running efforts were a minorities-only orientation program and minority counselors assigned to care for students who shared their race.

In 1999, the minorities-only remediation program became a purely cultural program, called Cultural Connections. The NAS report notes that this may have been due in part to the desire to incorporate Asian-American students into the program. Unlike blacks and Hispanics, Asian-Americans as a group have academic credentials not merely equal to, but better than, their white comparators. Thus, Asian-Americans didn’t need academic remediation, but the race-based student groups and the university still wanted to ensure they identified as and participated in minority initiatives. Stripped of its academic purpose, Cultural Connections serves no purpose except to gather disparate minority groups that don’t necessarily share the same group interests (for example, Asian-Americans as a group don’t have the same interest in perpetuating the admissions preferences given to blacks and Hispanics) and create a sense that all non-whites are separate from and united against whites. As reported by the NAS, students involved in Cultural Connections admit as much:

Writing for The New Journal at Yale in 2002, a Cultural Connections attendee observed that Cultural Connections created “solidarity among disparate minority groups.” Another attendee observed that Cultural Connections connected members of “minority groups” to friends that formed the basis of “coalitions” that addressed “racial situations at Yale.”

Yale also has cultural centers and “cultural deans” for minority students. There are four “cultural centers” – the Afro-American Cultural Center, the Asian American Cultural Center, La Casa Cultural, and the Native American Cultural Center. These centers offer events such as “African Drum & Dance Class & Circle of Healing.” At least in some cases, these centers actually are increasing the amount of racial separatism they engage in.

Programming directed toward minority students doesn’t appear to have complete student buy-in. One student who participated in Cultural Connections because of his partially Native American background, commented, “I look white . . . When I entered a room, people would get quieter and look at me funny.” A black student commented that she didn’t think Cultural Connections helped minority students meet white students. Another black student said that whites questioned why the Afro-American house existed when it was unthinkable that a white counterpart would exist.

As has so often been the case in matters of race in education, none of these bright ideas appear to have improved race relations (this could come as a surprise only in academia). Nor have these bright ideas been confined to Yale — similar stories can be told at colleges around the country. Yale Professor Nicholas Christakis was famously subjected to a race-based harangue by a student mob because his wife (Professor Erica Christakis) had suggested that students should not be hypersensitive about Halloween costumes.

Yale’s segregationist practices have been in place for a generation before today’s students were born. Yet 40 years of neo-segregation seems to have increased, rather than decreased, racial resentment. Moreover, as detailed in Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor’s book Mismatch, neo-segregation has done nothing to close the profound racial academic achievement gap — the original impetus for academic segregation. Yet campus segregation has expanded from separate orientations to separate counselors to separate dormitories to separate cultural centers to separate academic awards to separate graduations.

Separate was once considered inherently unequal. Apparently, it depends . . .

The National Association of Scholars has done a public service in issuing this report. Given neo-segregation’s 40-year record of failure, all I can say is: End it now.

Peter Kirsanow — Peter N. Kirsanow is an attorney and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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