Civil rights group challenges UConn over black-only dorm plans

A civil rights organization is protesting the University of Connecticut’s decision to create special housing for black males, claiming that such “self-segregation” is a disservice to African-American students.

“In a nutshell, as I read what is reportedly underway, and funded by a $300,000 grant, this is a not-so-subtle rationalization for self-segregation—by race and gender,” Michael Meyers, Executive Director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, declares in a letter sent Tuesday to UConn President Susan Herbst, the school’s Board of Trustees, and Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy. “In other words, this seems to us as a clever and disingenuous end-run around laws and public policies that disfavor and discourage the deliberate use of skin color and ‘background’ to induce, foster or arrange for places and spaces that segregate and separate by race.”

[RELATED: Segregated dorms for males ‘who identify as Black’ coming to UConn]

The NYCRC, Meyers told Campus Reform, was established in 1986 as a vehicle to “oppose ethnic and racial polarization,” with a particular focus on “responding to and rebuking all the rationalizations around segregation by race.” The organization’s mission, he added, is an extension of the work carried out by his mentor, a psychologist and civil rights leader.

“My mentor was Dr. Kenneth Clark, whose work the Supreme Court cited in the Brown v. Board of Education decision,” Meyers explained. “To his death, Dr. Clark worked toward integrated education, and we have taken up the mantle of leadership to ensure that colleges and universities don’t promote racial separatism.”

Meyers also noted that his opposition to segregated housing on college campuses goes all the way back to his experience as a student at Antioch College, where he and other students who opposed an all-black dormitory—black and white alike—were labeled “racists” for suggesting that segregated housing tends to promote racial divisions rather than heal them.

The UConn program, known as “ScHOLA²RS House,” is billed by supporters as an effort to improve the graduation rate for African-American males, which lags far behind that of the general student population. It will initially be open to 43 students, for whom it is intended to serve as a “safe space” where they can associate with individuals “who come from the same background who share the same experience,” as the program’s faculty director, Dr. Erik Hines, put it.

Hines subsequently clarified in an interview with Fox News that “any student interested in engaging in topics related to the experience of black males in higher education is invited to apply,” but Meyers counters that the caveat is a meaningless euphemism designed to provide legal cover.

“Dr. Hines, if he is quoted correctly, is countenancing and signaling that white and Asian and other non-black students are not welcome at ScHOLA²RS House,” Meyers asserts in his letter, adding that “the likely consequences of such racially-identifiable houses are severe and exclusionary, especially on non-black students, including they who might identify or want to identify with the so-called ‘black’ or African American experience.”

In short, he summarized to Campus Reform, the application process “is not truly open, because I can’t think of any white, Asian, or Hispanic student who would want to live in a black house, number one, or who would want to interfere with the program by doing so.”

Meyers concludes his letter by calling on UConn administrators not only to bring the university “into compliance with the spirit and letter of Connecticut and federal laws on matters of race and campus housing,” but also to reorient the school’s priorities toward open inquiry and research rather than promoting racial separatism.

“We in the civil rights community need educators and, notably, the leaders and presidents of public and private universities to practice what they preach—to foster the broadening of horizons, to help extirpate prejudice and to stamp out, not to perpetuate, racial myths and superstitions,” he writes. “That is the purpose of higher education, after all—not to provide so-called ‘safe spaces’ to minority students on predominantly white campuses.”

Meyers made clear to Campus Reform that the blame for such misguided efforts rests properly with administrators, saying, “To me, the idiocy is not the students who demand such things, because I’m sure they don’t understand the issue,” but rather the cravenness of most university and college leaders these days.

[RELATED: Occidental College president ‘happy to resign’ over student demands]

“It seems to me that the most important thing for these college presidents is to buy peace when confronted with these demands,” he noted in reference to the numerous presidents and chancellors who have resigned amid student protests in the past few months. “It’s disgusting.”

On a more general level, Meyers also questioned whether government is really an appropriate vehicle for promoting racial harmony, observing that Dr. Clark, as a result of his experience serving on the New York State Board of Regents, “had soured on the efficacy of the law alone to foster and achieve integration because he saw higher education officials make excuses for perpetuating and disguising segregation in different forms,” particularly after his complaints went repeatedly unheeded by bureaucrats reluctant to interfere with programs for black students.

“People are silenced by those who say that opposing these things is racist, but it’s not racist; it’s anti-racist!” he told Campus Reform. “We don’t even segregate people by sex anymore, and they want to segregate by sex and race! It’s ridiculous!”

Meyers is currently awaiting responses to his letter, which he described as a call “to take a stand against separatism, idiocy, and racial superstition,” and said he is “looking forward to having a meeting with President Herbst and the Trustees, and to seeing whether the governor will enforce the law, because he’s a Trustee, too.”

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