UConn completely blows off civil rights group complaint

The University of Connecticut has rebuffed a civil rights group’s complaints that it is promoting racial “self-segregation,” issuing a formulaic response that failed to address the group’s actual concerns.

Michael Meyers, Executive Director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, had initially contacted UConn President Susan Herbst Tuesday with a letter, which was also sent to the school’s Board of Trustees and Gov. Dan Malloy, arguing that the university is encouraging “self-segregation” with a planned residential program for African American males called ScHOLA²RS House.

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

“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,” Meyers writes. “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.”

Meyers received a reply promptly the following day from university spokesperson Stephanie Reitz on behalf of President Herbst, but was appalled to find that it was little more than a formulaic amalgam of talking points copied verbatim from statements UConn had previously issued to the press.

In fact, he told Campus Reform, the response was “a brush-off and a cut-and-paste job [aimed] at spinning something outrageously offensive and ill-conceived,” and did not even bother to acknowledge many of the points he had raised in his letter.

[RELATED: Civil rights group challenges UConn over black-only dorm plans]

Undaunted, Meyers sent a reply Thursday afternoon (bypassing Reitz and again addressing it directly to Herbst) reiterating his arguments and dissecting the inconsistencies in the university’s response.

First, he addresses UConn’s protestation that the program is being funded by a $300,000 grant from a private education foundation which has found “substantial” scholarly support for the concept, saying the NYCRC “could care less” whether the grant is public or private, and that it deserves “the strictest of scrutiny” regardless.

Meyers particularly objects to the school’s claim that the program will boost graduation and retention rates for African-American males, contending that UConn “invites groupthink and racial stereotyping” by making generalized evaluations of students based on race rather than assessing them individually.

“Ms. Reitz’ sole explanation for the comparatively lower retention and six-year graduation rates is racial—focused on these persons’ status, and the University’s identifying them, as ‘African American males’,” he points out. “All the African American male students are grouped as a whole as underachievers or less successful than other student cohorts—on the belief that the black male students have deficiencies as a group.”

According to Meyers, such generalizations are a form of “condescension” in that they have historically been used to justify paternalism toward African Americans, which implicitly relegates them to a subordinate position.

“I suspect that when I read the private education foundation’s grant’s terms, I will discern similar racial rhetoric, group blame, and paternalism towards ‘the’ African American male population at UCONN and other institutions of higher education,” he predicts. “Among such benefactors’ chief concerns and interventionist strategies is to address minority males’ problems through the deification of race, and through reinventing the discredited doctrine of separate but equal.”

Meyers turns next to UConn’s assertion that the ScHOLA²RS House will not, in fact, be “separate or segregated,” because while African Americans will receive priority in the selection process, participation will be open to any student who is interested in exploring the experience of black males in higher education.

Referring to Reitz’s justification that “there has not been support in place designed specifically for African-American male students,” Meyers says he takes that statement as an admission that the house truly is intended specifically for African American males, and chastises UConn for its duplicity.

“UCONN, and you as its president and educational leader, cannot have it both ways; you cannot say and announce the house is for African American males—and those who self-identify as African American males—and then ‘clarify’ that the house is available to others who may apply,” he states unequivocally. “The racial designation and racial identity of the proposed educational program, service, and facility are classifications that are improper, irregular, illegitimate, impermissible, and idiotic.”

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