Although the United States Commission on Civil Rights voted against sending a letter to the University of Connecticut regarding its latest learning community – Scholastic House of Leaders who are African American Researchers and Scholars (ScHOLA2RS House) – two of its members said that the university’s proposed community was too concerning not to act.
“We are deeply concerned that ScHOLA2RS House was established for the purpose, and will have the effect, of racial separation of African-American male students from others living in University of Connecticut dormitories,” wrote Gail Heriot and Peter Kiransow, both members of the Commission on Civil Rights, in a Monday letter addressed to UConn President Susan Herbst.
The UConn administration has remained firm in the face of concerns and attacks on the ScHOLA2RS House, from students to outsiders, since it was announced in January.
“We've been glad to answer all questions from the commission staff about the initiative as a whole, and will continue to be available with any information requested of us,” university spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said. “This learning community will not be separate or segregated, nor is it specifically limited to one race. Any male undergraduate student – not only black students – enrolled at the University of Connecticut and eligible for on-campus housing can apply to live in this learning community.”
The learning community was proposed and will be led by assistant professor Erik Hines from the Neag School of Education.
The university says the purpose of the learning community is to increase African-American male retention and graduation rates, as well as to increase the number of African-American males pursuing graduate degrees.
“The University of Connecticut is putting forth a good faith effort that we see nationally having to do with black males,” Hines 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.”
Despite the stated intentions of the ScHOLA2RS House, Heriot and Kiransow expressed concern about unstated intentions of the learning community in their letter to Herbst.
“It is hard to avoid the conclusion that ScHOLA2RS House was intended to promote racial isolation on campus,” they wrote.
UConn is not the only university to establish such a community on its campus. The University of Minnesota, UC-Santa Barbara, UC-Davis, Harris-Stowe State in St. Louis and Texas A&M all have similar programs.
In 2015, only 55 percent of African-American male students at UConn graduated within six years, the lowest of any racial group at UConn. Facing such a low rate, UConn elected to follow in the steps of other universities.
“Although retention and graduation rates at UConn are high - 83 percent of students graduate in six years - there has not been support in place designed specifically for African-American male students. This initiative helps address that,” Reitz said.
The commissioners, however, wrote that they did not believe a separate dormitory was the correct way to go about rectifying the problem.
“We cannot understand how race-separate 'learning communities' help achieve its ideals of 'meaningful diversity' or prepare students to work in a racially diverse marketplace,” Heriot and Kiransow wrote. “If the University of Connecticut is correct that meaningful interaction among students of different races improves the quality of education for all, it should not be in the business of promoting racially separate learning communities.”
UConn will be proceeding as planned with the formation of ScHOLA2RS House in the new Next Gen Hall this coming fall.
CORRECTION (3:20 p.m.) – An earlier version of this story said UConn will not be proceeding as planned with the formation of ScHOLA2RS House. The university will be proceeding as planned, and no changes to the program have been made.
Julia Werth is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.