Despite widespread pushback, including a letter from two members of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, the University of Connecticut will be opening the doors of a learning community for African American freshman and sophomore males.
On Aug. 27, when the latest additions to the Husky family move onto campus, 43 freshman and sophomore male students will be moving into the new Next Gen dormitory for the Scholastic House Of Leaders who are African American Researchers & Scholars (ScHOLA²RS House).
“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.”
Many students and outsiders, however, do not view ScHOLA²RS House as a logical or good step for UConn to take in its efforts to assist the minority population. As soon as the living, learning community was announced in late January, there was an immediate reaction across the UConn campus and the country.
The hang up – according to many posts on Reddit, Facebook, YikYak and other social media platforms at the time – 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 ThePressure on the UConn Reddit forum.
In late March, after the social media storm had mostly died down, a final piece of fuel was added to kick off the fire again when Gail Heriot and Peter Kiransow, both members of the Commission on Civil Rights, wrote a letter addressed to UConn President Susan Herbst detailing their objection to the learning community.
“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.”
However, the university did not budge in their plans for the ScHOLA²RS House.
The small environment of ScHOLA²RS House will allow these students to have personalized plans with their advisers that could include getting involved in research earlier, connecting to faculty or just making sure they do not get lost in the shuffle of a large university like UConn.
And that is the true goal of ScHOLA²RS House.
In 2015, only 55 percent of African-American male students at UConn graduated within six years, the lowest of any racial group at UConn, according to spokesperson Stephanie Reitz.
“There has not been support in place designed specifically for African-American male students,” Reitz said. “This initiative helps address that.”
Julia Werth is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.