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EDITORIAL: CU-Boulder flirts with return to segregation

By: The Gazette editorial board
May 18, 2017 Updated: May 18, 2017 at 8:08 am
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The Longmont Times-Call reported Tuesday on a quiet effort at CU-Boulder to create a special housing unit for black students, "black-identifying" students and their allies. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa, University of Colorado)

The University of Colorado has longstanding race-relations concerns, and resolving them has never been simple. The latest proposal, a special housing unit for black students at Boulder, provides no exception.

In pursuit of a just society, Americans have fought to end racial segregation. Examples:

  • President Harry S. Truman's executive order 9981 forced integration of the military.
  • The Supreme Court of the United States established school integration with its 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.
  • The Supreme Court said lower courts could desegregate schools by ordering busing programs, with its 1971 ruling in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
  • Colorado schools spent decades busing children around Denver so Colorado's largest city would not have white schools and black schools. Federal District Judge Richard Matsch ended the 21-year-old busing program in 1995, only after determining "the Denver now before this court is very different from what it was when this lawsuit began . " in terms of segregation.

Our desegregation achievements rest on housing laws. The Fair Housing Act, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, prohibits:

  • Discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin in terms, conditions or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling.
  • Advertising the sale or rental of a dwelling indicating preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.

Americans fought desegregation battles to establish a culture in which white people lived in apartment complexes and neighborhoods with black people and others from a limitless array of backgrounds.

Given this history, we are perplexed by a new push for racially segregated housing at the University of Colorado's flagship campus.

The Longmont Times-Call reported Tuesday on a quiet effort at CU-Boulder to create a special housing unit for black students, "black-identifying" students and their allies. The Times-Call quoted Ann Scarritt, director of the Leadership Residential Academic Program, explaining the need.

"There is a term used in higher education: predominately white institutions, of which CU Boulder is one," Scarritt told the newspaper. "Campus, itself, does not acknowledge that we operate from a very, very specific cultural norm, which is this dominant white, middle-class culture, and if you don't fit that, you're not at home.

"We're not addressing these issues very well, so at least we can have some kind of community where there is some type of critical mass. At least there's a space where you don't have to explain yourself . "

CU-Boulder poses well-known challenges for black students, and appropriate efforts should be made to address them. Black students comprise about 2 percent of enrollment at the campus, which resides in a city where black residents make up less than 1 percent of a population of 105,112.

Boulder became the country's epicenter of hate crimes in 2005, which led to discussions of enhancing diversity. That summer's hate-crime spree culminated in white racists jumping from a van to attack Andrew Sterling for walking on the sidewalk while black.

Advocates of race-based housing may mean well, but we question the value of more segregation as a way to enhance diversity.

Most black students at any American university will enter a predominantly white workforce that won't offer special sanctuaries. At universities, young adults of all ethnicities should learn that skin color has no bearing on character and intellect. Students should learn, work and live together as one.

At the very least, CU's proposal violates the spirit of our federal law that forbids housing promotions designed to attract or discourage members of a specified race. The university's top administrators, housing officials and diversity experts should proceed with caution, discernment and expert consultation. Their decision should favor diversity, acceptance and inclusion without regard for political pressure.

The Gazette editorial board

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