As time goes by, it seems as though we are regressing into a distant past. A past where the races were kept separate because society thought that mixing was bad. At least that’s the view that seems to be emerging from the US, where in New York, students at NYU have submitted a petition calling for separate accommodations based on race.
Whilst there have been some misleading stories about the demands of the students, it has managed to spark a debate. The students who proposed the housing measure have managed to receive over 1,000 signatures from their fellow undergraduates, and have managed to point out that this is not the first time universities have considered or even implemented similar policies.
The proposed measure looks to protect black students and reduce ‘racial turmoil’ providing a space free from the so called burden of ‘educating’ fellow students on racism. The students state in the petition that ‘Through our personal experience, we recognise the value of living with another black student and having a safe space where we felt free to express ourselves to the highest degree. Too often in the classroom and in residential life, black students bear the brunt of educating their uninformed peers about racism.’
On the surface, nothing seems wrong with this statement. Nobody should have to continuously repeat the same talking points about racism again and again, especially in the US, where so much literature already exists. But to demand separate spaces because of the colour of your skin surely undermines the whole point of going to university.
At university, one is meant to challenge oneself through learning new things and moving outside one’s comfort zone. That includes meeting people who may not look like you or share your ideological view points (within reason), and thus allowing you as an individual to challenge not only your own views but other people’s views as well. Allowing for growth and development. This petition suggests that the students do not want to do this, and thus want the university to change everything for them. A possible solution is to instead pool together their resources to make the proposed black universities a reality.
Furthermore, the petition and its implementation, if it is indeed implemented, could well be illegal and could actually lead to worsening racial relations. Academic research has found time and again that segregation does not improve social cohesion. Segregation is likely to increase group mentalities and an ‘Us v Them’ mindset. In a university context, particularly one like NYU which is expensive and an elite institution, students are more likely to be similar to each other than the average American, this may be proven wrong, but it seems like a stupid risk to take. If NYU follows up on the demands of this petition, there is a risk that other institutions may follow suit, and a return to the dark days of actual segregation could be upon us.
The petition may be well meaning, and there are valid concerns that need to be addressed, but as with some aspects of protests taking place in the US now, the actual implementation of the petition would only lead to further division and chaos. These students may need to realise that everything in life is not easy and sometimes they will need to do things which they consider tiresome, but ultimately, working with and being with other students of different colours may help them in the long run. Segregation has never been the answer.