California State University Los Angeles is defending a new special interest housing community for fall 2016 after the conservative press deemed it “segregated housing.”
The school ― like several others across the country ― offers special housing options to students, including a community for honors students or those who want to live with people of all gender identities. For fall 2016, the school introduced a new choice, the Halisi Scholars Black Living-Learning Community, after the Los Angeles campus’ Black Student Union penned a letter to the university describing racist attacks and “micro-aggressions” that left them feeling unsafe. The union’s list of demands included an affordable housing option for black students.
“Black students at Cal State LA have been, and still are, consistently made the targets of racist attacks by fellow students, faculty, and administration,” the letter reads. “These attacks come in many forms. Some are more overt and some subtle. Racially insensitive remarks, and micro-aggressions, by professors and students create a learning environment that is not conducive to the overall learning atmosphere.”
The description of the Halisi Scholars community says it was established for students “interested in issues of concern to the black community living on campus by offering the opportunity to connect with faculty and peers.” CSU set aside about 20 beds in its 192-dorm complex for students to apply to the community, and the spots filled up quickly.
But when the conservative press caught wind of the housing choice this week, multiple outlets decried it as segregated, “black-only housing.” Blogs like Breitbart posted photos of whites protesting desegregation in the 1950s.
School officials told The Huffington Post that those reports are overblown.
“This living-learning community focuses on academic excellence and learning experiences that are inclusive and non-discriminatory. This community is open to all students,” said Cal State L.A. spokesman Robert Lopez. “As I told other news organizations, such themed housing communities are nothing new and are featured at many universities.”
Indeed, several other CSU campuses have themed communities. There are similar programs already in place at University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University, which calls its “Ethnic Theme Dorms” student hubs that act as an “exploration of a respective ethnic/cultural identity.”
When the union listed its demands in November last year, the school’s University Times ripped into CSU’s touted diversity:
Though Cal State LA claims it stands upon its diversity, only 3 percent of incoming freshman are Black or African American. With the lack of Black student recruitment, [union president Sesley Lewis] notices that she is one of two, if not the only, African American student in her classrooms. She believes the BSU demands will provide tunnels of opportunity for African-American students.
It’s not clear whether the community was established in response to the union’s letter, or if its institution actually helps to curb the underlying problem of racism on campus.
But in an Instagram post, the union expressed that it was happy with the results, calling the housing “long overdue, but well deserved.”