COMMENTARY: Segregation in university housing is not limited to race

Kalyn Johnson

Nearly 60 years of racial segregation ended in the United States in 1950 thanks to two major Supreme Court decisions leading to the “separate but equal” doctrine. It was a time in the United States where races were not to mix and even dating someone of a different race could cause trouble.

A few weeks ago, California State University at Los Angeles made headlines when it had introduced “blacks only” housing. The false story was heavily publicized by The College Fix, and picked up by several other news outlets. The entire situation puts the idea of segregation back in the spotlight.

We tend to only think about segregation when it’s in the realms of race, but does it exist within gender and academic status? While multiple outlets were talking about race, all I could think about was gender and academic status.

I mean, I’m black so maybe I should have been focused on race and it looked like CSULA was taking a page from the 1940s handbook, but I wasn’t. Everyone was worrying about race yet no one was looking at the current state of the university’s housing.

The word segregation tends to spark uneasiness in many people, but when the word is boiled down it means to separate one group of people from another, or as Merriam-Webster defines, “the practice or policy of keeping people of different races, religions, etc., separate from each other.”

Our country is no stranger to segregating people by race. We automatically think of race when we hear the term, but that isn’t all it is. It boils down to separating groups of people based off of something as simple and as complex as skin color; simple as the color of someone’s skin, and as complex and the history of injustice behind that color.

WKU has housing that separates students based on their gender, academic status or Greek status. In no way am I saying this is a bad thing. After all, it is grouping individuals together who have similar interests. Students are simply offered the possibility of living with like-minded people or to live outside those boundaries. CSULA was doing the same thing.

Robert Lopez, spokesperson for CSULA, told the New York Times, “This living-learning community focuses on academic excellence and learning experiences that are inclusive and nondiscriminatory.”

Furthermore, communities focused around race and gender are not new nor unusual on college campuses in America. As the Times also points out, other California campuses such as U.C. Davis, U.C. Berkley and others offer similar residential communities.

We’re so quick to jump on something when it comes to separating races, but not when it comes to gender or academic status. Maybe it’s because of the history this country has with race, or because we’re so used to seeing housing that separates the genders and is exclusive to those who meet an academic status.

At the end of the day, CSULA was looking for a better way to keep its students safe, happy and excelling academically, just like WKU’s housing department. CSULA didn’t go through with the ‘racial’ housing and we should think more complexly about what the word ‘segregation’ means and what it means outside the realm of race.