Faced with alarmingly low graduation rates for black males, the University of Connecticut is trying something it calls bold -- and critics call segregation.
The school's main campus in Storrs has launched a program slated for fall in which 40 black male undergraduates live together in on-campus housing. Proponents believe the students can draw on their common experiences and help each other make it to commencement.
“Forget about this nonsense and just treat students without regard to skin color,” President and General Counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity Roger Clegg told Insidehighered.com. “If there are students of color who are at risk or who could use some access to special programs, that’s fine, but schools shouldn’t be using race as a proxy for who’s at risk and who’s going to have a hard time as a student. There are lots of African-American students who come from advantaged backgrounds. And lots of non-African-American students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
ScHOLA²RS House – which stands for “Scholastic House of Leaders who are African American Researchers and Scholars” – was designed so UConn could more effectively marshal resources for black males, similar to other learning communities at the school that live as a group. When ScHOLA²RS House launches, it will be located in a new facility, Next Generation Connecticut Hall, along with seven other learning communities.
Niger Innis, the national spokesperson for the Congress of Racial Equality, said UConn may be unintentionally creating an atmosphere where black students are “the other.”
“If they wanted to go to an all-black institution, there are plenty of historically black colleges that still exist,” he told FoxNews.com. “But if they want to go to an institution that is racially diverse and integrated, then racial diversity and integration is part of it. To have a university-sanctioned segregation or separation is, to me, a bit troubling.”
Some minority students have expressed irritation at the narrow focus of ScHOLA²RS House.
While black females are “encouraged” to apply to other learning communities, according to the UConn website, that solution doesn’t appear to satisfy everyone.
“My immediate thought was ‘What?’” Haddiyyah Ali, an Africana studies and political science major, told Daily Campus. “I know there had to be a lot of research that went into it…but just for me coming from a student perspective, my initial thought was, 'What about black women and girls – what about us?'”
Vice Provost Sally Reis rejected critiques of the program.
“It’s no more segregated than putting individuals with an interest in entrepreneurship together because they have common interests,” Reis told FoxNews.com.
But while students with interests in engineering and public health and female students with a focus in math, science and engineering majors also have their own learning communities, a race-based cluster is new.
Erik Hines, a UConn professor set to serve as faculty advisor to the ScHOLA²RS House students, said that while the only current race-based group was for black males, the administration could add learning communities based on other races, genders or cultures.
“We have all types of learning communities,” he told FoxNews.com. “If they bring forth a proposal to our Office of Programs and Learning Communities they will be considered by our executive director.”
Hines said about 13 students had already applied for ScHOLA²RS House. Male students “who identify as African American/Black or mixed-race will be prioritized in selection, however any student interested in engaging in topics related to the experience of black males in higher education is invited to apply,” according to the UConn website.
“In predominantly white institutions, some of the experiences that African-American males face on campus is a little different than some of the other populations,” Hynes said. “In some of your courses you can be the only African American male in your class. It could be stressful and that’s a huge burden to shoulder.”
Reis pins most of the pushback so far on “misinformation.”
“I’ve actually heard people saying, ‘You’re building a dorm for African-American males only?’” she said. “We’re not building a separate dorm. It’s not even a separate floor. It’s a portion of a new residence hall.”
Puppetry major Isaac Bloodworth told Daily Campus that opposition could be rooted in racism.
“The white portion of the University of Connecticut is probably not ready for it,” he said. “You have people who are going to go against it because they are just racist and they see this as a form of segregation or that we’re getting better things than they are.”
Editor’s Note: The headline on a previous version of this story has been changed to clarify the application and admission standards for ScHOLA²RS House. As noted in the original story, male students who identify as African-American will be prioritized in selection. Interested students of other races may also apply.