The recently announced ScHOLA2RS House was met with an overwhelming response from the UConn community including everything from excitement at the opportunities that will be provided to shock at the idea of housing based on race.
“I was not pleased, my immediate thought was ‘What?’” Haddiyyah Ali, a fourth-semester Africana studies and political science major said. “I know there had to be a lot of research that went into it…but just for me coming from a student perspective, my initial thought was what about black women and girls – what about us?”
The idea behind the ScHOLA2RS House is to give African American male students access to resources, professors and a living community that will help them graduate from UConn, before going on to graduate or professional school.
“This is the University of Connecticut putting forth a good faith effort that we see nationally having to do with black males,” Dr. Erik Hines, a professor in the department of educational psychology and the director to-be of ScHOLA2RS House said. “The living, learning community is one piece of the pie in terms of getting African American males to graduate and into grad school and professional schools.”
Few students deny that African American males have a more difficult time fitting in and finishing their degrees at UConn. The current graduation rate of 54 percent for the demographic reflects that. However, some students worry that a community limited to 43 students is the wrong way to go about it.
“Just this idea that 43 black men get retention programming and everyone else is left in limbo,” Ali said. “I will always contest to the fact that black men on the campus aren’t given enough resources, I will in no way dispel that fact, but my questioning isn’t if they need, but is if they need it in this way.”
There are other programs – such as federally funded SSS – that work towards retention, however, ScHOLA2RS House is the only one of these that provides a living community component.
“First of all, we received a grant for a living-learning community specifically,” executive director of first year programs and learning communities David Ouimette said. “It’s interesting this hang up on the living part. I don’t really understand the hang up.”
The hang up – according to many posts on Reddit, Facebook, YikYak and other social media platforms – is the idea that a community of black students living together is a revival of segregation.
“Had no idea this was a thing but it seems like a terrible idea. The fact that UConn is considering racially segregated housing is ridiculous. What a great way to ensure people don't leave their comfort zones or get exposed to people of different backgrounds,” wrote The_Pressure on the UConn Reddit forum.
Several current African American UConn students, however, don’t take offense to the administration’s idea, instead they think the idea may not be successful or safe because of the responses on social media.
“That shows you how people are thinking on this campus,” Isaac Bloodworth, a sixth-semester puppetry major, said. “The white portion of the University of Connecticut is probably not ready for it. You have people who are going to go against it because they are just racist and they see this as a form of segregation or that we’re getting better things than they are.”
Bloodworth, who attended the ScHOLA2RS House informational night last week, would have the option of living in the community next year as an upperclassman mentor. However, he has chosen to be an outside mentor instead of a resident because he fears for what could happen to a large, concentrated group of black men on UConn’s campus.
“My first thought was we can’t have a grouping of one type of ethnic group if the first response to the Paris bombing was to write on that kid’s door,” Bloodworth said. “Imagine having a group of people who are African American. What’s that same person’s first response in seeing a group of them in one place?”
Although Bloodworth is fully supportive of the many opportunities, connections and supports the ScHOLA2RS House residents will receive, he said he fears the living portion of the community could lead to a racial divide and the students being mistreated at UConn.
“I’m fearful of a lot of negative backlash,” Bloodworth said. “Not saying it can’t go good. It could just go completely fine and my thoughts are just totally skewed and jaded because of the society we live in right now.”
Bloodworth, Ali and other students, although wary of the ScHOLA2RS House proposal, admit that something must be done to assist the African American male population while at UConn if the graduation rate and the profile of graduate and professional schools is to change.
“Let’s go back to the research literature. Most students are going to persist in college if they are in a space that is comfortable for them,” Hines said. “We look at the living space as a place where they can meet other people who look just like them, who have shared experiences. But, that’s a small component of the other academic and service opportunities we want them engaged in.”
Despite not wanting to live in ScHOLA2RS House, Bloodworth believes the program would not succeed if it didn’t have the living community.
“I don’t think it would be successful without the living part. Nobody would want to come cause it’s like an extracurricular thing,” Bloodworth said. “It wouldn’t be as strong if they don’t live together, it is a really weird caveat.”
ScHOLA2RS House, as a combination of a living community, retention program and research project for Neag is still looking for residents and mentors for next year when it along with the other seven learning communities that will be sharing space in the NextGen Residence Hall opens its doors. For more information contact Ouimette or Hines at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Julia Werth is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.