California State University, Los Angeles, is facing controversy after the unveiling of its new housing for African American students. Called the Halisi Scholars Black Living-Learning Community, it serves as a cheaper housing alternative for African Americans to safely gather, connect, and really just experience each other. Cal. State L.A. isn’t the only college that is offering special housing for African American students, either. Many other universities, such as the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Connecticut, have also created ethnic themed living communities. Unfortunately, though, these types of communities are nothing but misguided attempts at satisfying the attention-seeking groups of students who advocate for them. They are unnecessary, and tend to highlight segregation among students.
The Halisi Community currently houses 24 students, all of whom are African American. That means 24 African American students are getting the chance live and learn from each other, but what about the rest of the campus’s African American population? The University’s demographics show that of the 23,439 undergraduate students admitted in the 2015-2016 school year, around 4% were black. That means roughly 990 African American students were admitted. If there are that many African American students left out of the community, what’s the point of having one? Now, having a place for African American students to congregate and connect is a reasonable and understandable request, but that can easily be accomplished by creating a club. In fact, the University’s website describes it as an enhanced community for students “interested in Pan-African history, culture and current affairs,” something that doesn’t require a living community at all. There is absolutely no reason for there to be a living community specially designated to Black students.
To further add fuel to the fire, the University has seen nothing but criticism since the unveil. The community is being called racist and the new wave of segregation. It is important to note that the Halisi Community is not solely reserved for African American students, but it is marketed toward them, which in itself just further underlines the irrelevancy of it. Why have a living community for African Americans if anyone can live there? Cal. State L.A. spokesman Robert Lopez came to the university’s defense, saying that it is just one of many “themed living communities” on campus. While this may be true, it is the only racially themed living community. That means, to avoid racial discrimination, the University would have to give separate housing to any racial group that requests it, which makes about five decades worth of equality progression worthless. It also goes without saying that if there was a community created for white people, there would be a national outrage. The University’s Black Student Union assures us, though, that it isn’t segregation, black students just want to live together.
So, why the need for a living community then? The unveil comes in response to a list of demands sent in last fall by the Black Student Union, urging the University to take action against an overwhelming slew of “micro-aggressions” and “racially insensitive remarks.” Other demands included “cultural competency training” for all staff and a requirement of at least two ethnic studies courses that students must complete to graduate. While many of these demands do entail actual progress towards social awareness and acceptance of African Americans, a lot of them also conveniently involve money. If the goal of this movement is bring about equality for all African Americans, doesn’t demanding “free tuition for Black and indigenous students” and “the creation and financial support of a CSLA housing space delegated for Black students” kind of defeat the purpose?
What it all boils down to is this: these ethnically themed living communities aren’t necessary. Ethnically themed clubs or unions can work just fine. And if an African American student wants to live with other American Americans, it’s easy to find roommates to live with without having to put a label on it. By voluntarily drawing lines between the color of our skin now, we’re paving the way for a future where that line is permanent.