Oumou Kanoute, a Smith College student was eating lunch and relaxing in a common area on campus when a college employee called the campus police because she seemed “to be out of place”. Lolade Siyonbola, a Yale University student was taking a nap in a common area of her dorm when a fellow student called the police. Reginald Andrade, a 14-year employee of the University of Massachusetts Amherst walked to his office at the Whitmore Administration building, carrying his gym bag and someone called the police. All 3 are examples of poor race relations on college campuses and as a result, some well-intentioned people are suggesting the wrong race relations solution.
All 3 people are American Blacks who unfortunately are the latest examples of the persecution that a lot of black students feel at traditionally white colleges. These 3 examples along with the countless other racially bias incidents all seem to stem from racial ignorance on the part of American Whites. A small percentage no doubt stems from straight out racial prejudice, but for the vast majority of incidents that stem from racial ignorance, some of the race relations solutions will ultimately make things worse not better.
In 2016 the Black Student Union at Oberlin University asked for the creation of exclusively black “safe spaces” on campus. At the University of Arizona a coalition of self-described oppressed students, including the Latino student association, Black student association, Asian student association, LGBT student association, Native American student association, want safe spaces for each unique identity group. The black students also want a residence hall to themselves.
At the University of California Los Angeles, the Afrikan Student Union is insisting upon an “Afrikan Diaspora floor.” The students say “black students lack spaces where they feel safe and comfortable, the Afrikan Diaspora floor is a way for us to connect more to other Black students, the Afrikan Student Union, and the Afro-Am department. The floor should be branded as a safe space for all Black students.”
At New York University students want an entire floor of a mixed-use building entirely dedicated to Students of Color. Students at the University of California Berkeley want “the creation of an African-American Student Development Resource Center with a designated office space as well as space for hosting events, at a central campus location. This center is to be under the purview of the African-American Student Development Office. The resource center will serve as a space on campus for Black students to gather, host programming, and to offer support to Black student organizations, all contributing to community building, increased stability, and a greater feeling of belonging at the university.”
These are just a few examples of American Black college students across the country demanding that they are segregated from their American White peers, by calling for the creation of “safe spaces” on campuses meant only for so-called students of color. The emotions that have produced this race relations solution are very understandable, black college students are sick and tired of being sick and tired of the racial slights and outright mistreatment they encounter on majority white college campuses.
But the logic behind the “safe spaces” race relations solution is not understandable. Because the majority of these racial incidents are caused by the fact of lack of exposure by American Whites to American people of color, and the lack of exposure by American Whites to the culture of American people of color. All people, black or white, gravitate towards what we know and are familiar with. All people, black or white, resist, deviate and unfortunately sometimes denigrate what we don’t know and are not familiar with.
Exposure to not separation from provides the opportunity to eliminate prejudice misconceptions about facts, people, and culture we are not familiar with. Ironically the #1 prime location in America for the exposure to new, different, and the previously unknown is supposed to be institutions of higher learning. Colleges are not only the place for the free exchange of philosophical thought but also the free exchange of race and culture, which can’t take place if students are being segregated.
Secondly allowing students to segregate is a step back from the 2 steps the American Civil Rights Movement enabled American society to take forward. There would and should be a huge outcry if American White students made the demand for white only dormitories. American Blacks segregating themselves now is just as discriminatory as American Whites segregating themselves in the past prior to the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement.
The hurt, pain, embarrassment, and injury to self-pride is real that American Black college students sometimes encounter on majority white college campuses, and it’s appropriate that special or extra measures be taken to counteract them. But segregation is not one of them. An appropriate race relations solution can be found at George Mason University.
Incoming black freshmen at George Mason have the opportunity to attend another orientation created specifically for black students, they are still required to go to the university’s regular orientation as well. The event is called the “Black Freshman Orientation” and is hosted by the Black Student Alliance. The aim is to make incoming black students feel welcomed at the majority white Virginia based university.
A Welcome 2 Mason website states “This event is dedicated for the incoming freshman who identify as black or are supporters of black people. The Black Freshman Orientation will offer ways to be involved at Mason not only with the black organizations but also Mason as a whole. This event allows incoming students for an outlook on how the Black Community at Mason is like.”
On a separate Mason website, Get Connected at Mason, the orientation is described as a chance to network. “The Black Freshman Orientation is a Black Student Alliance event that occurs annually at the beginning of the school year. This year, the Black Student Alliance will be collaborating with other on-campus organizations to make the experience even more valuable and enriching for all who attend,” this event is exclusively for the freshman class at George Mason University. At this event, the freshman class will be able to get the ins and outs of GMU, learn how to navigate the campus, as well as learn about the different resources and organizations available to them on campus.”
Michael Sandler, director of strategic communications at George Mason University, says that while the Black Student Alliance holds the event it is open for any freshman student, white or black, to attend.
Even with the significant race relations gains the Civil Rights Movement created within American society racial missteps continue to occur, progress toward total elimination of them will not be accomplished by segregation but by more integration. Integration of thought, culture and of people of different races.
The reality is that black college students will graduate into a world where they won’t be able to segregate themselves into a black only society. They like their fellow white college student colleagues will have to navigate in an American society with changing demographics, causing it to increasingly become more and more diverse. Which is why it’s just as important for white college students as it is for black college students to learn during their college years to COEXIST!!!
Isaac Newton Farris Jr. is the nephew of Martin Luther King, Jr. and serves as Senior Fellow at the King Center. Growing up in one of the most socially and politically active families has given him a unique perspective on current events. Drop by his website for straight talk free of one-sided political spin.
Originally published at isaacnewtonfarris.com on September 20, 2018.