The Undergraduate Student Government passed a resolution Wednesday night in opposition to the University of Connecticut’s new learning community for African-American men.
The Scholastic House of Leaders who are African American Researchers and Scholars, abbreviated ScHOLA2RS, is a campus learning community consisting of 43 men. Any male undergraduate can apply to live in ScHOLA2RS House, but preference is shown to first- and second-year students, as well as those expressing interest in Black studies, according to the learning community’s website.
ScHOLA2RS House is part of an effort to increase the graduation and retention rates of African-American men at the university. In 2013, the graduation rate of African-American men was 54 percent, according to UConn Office of Institutional Research data.
“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,” university spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz told The Daily Campus on March 22.
Gail Heriot and Peter Kiransow, members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said in a March 21 letter to university president Susan Herbst that ScHOLA2RS House was established for the purpose of “racial separation of African American male students from others living in University of Connecticut dormitories.”
USG commuter Sen. Haddiyyah Ali said ScHOLA2RS is an unacceptable solution for the graduation rate problem. She authored the legislation presented to the USG.
“If they (African-American men) are at such a risk that they have to retained, then they need some real support,” Ali said.
Ali is opposed to learning communities focused on race. Communities like Women in STEM or the Veteran Community are based on common interests and experiences. “African-American men that are scholars” is too vague a category, Ali said.
Another major issue with ScHOLA2RS is that the grant comes from outside UConn, Ali said. This means that the community will only be able to house 43 students maximum, according to Ali.
“A learning community shouldn’t be a place where you can just dump a bunch of black men. We have to hold the people responsible accountable,” said Matthew Byanyima, an ex-officio senator for Global House.
This issue goes beyond the ScHOLA2RS House, Ali said.
“We have to address this at a university level rather than targeting 43 people, to find out why people feel unsafe on campus.” Ali said.
ScHOLA2RS House not only creates a poor situation for those living in the community, but also for African Americans who chose not to live in ScHOLA2RS House, Ali said.
“For me as a black woman, if I’m not safe on this campus because of my skin color, that’s a major concern,” Ali said.
The issue of the community’s name was also cited as a concern with how the group is treated. The spelling ScHOLA2RS only serves to demean and undermine the credibility of black students, Ali said.
“Despite how you feel about learning communities, you can look at the name and say it has no legitimacy. I think it is inappropriate for the mission and makes me question the people in charge,” parliamentarian Kassandra Pugliese said.
The statement of position was nearly unanimously supported, with one dissenting vote in the Senate. Ali and USG will be working with vice provost Sally Reis and Erik Hines, the faculty director for ScHOLA2RS House.
Jackson Ballenger is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.