Black students at Williams College favor self-segregated housing

The more I look at Williams College, the locale for Luana Maroja’s report on free speech yesterday, the more I’m convinced it’s a candidate as the Evergreen State College of the East Coast. My opinion comes from Maroja’s report (especially the behavior of students), a perusal of the student newspaper, The Williams RecordWilliams’s “yellow light” rating by FIRE, (among other things, Williams has a “bias reporting system” and the college “retains the right of refusal for any outside speaker/performer and/or their campus sponsor for any reason”), and the administration’s rejection of a student-invited speaker in 2015 because the college President said the speaker’s views were contemptible.

Among the things you’ll find in the social-justicey Williams Record are two articles about African-American students demanding that they be allowed to have their own residential space, where they’d live only with other African-American students (this is not a requirement for black students, but an optional ancestry-restricted dormitory). One article reports the discussion and the other (the op-ed below) reprises that discussion from the viewpoint of an African-American senior at Williams (click on screenshot):

“Affinity housing” is, of course, housing in which people of a given ethnicity can have a “safe space” to live, i.e., one housing others of similar genetic background (or social-construct background, depending on your views). In other words, it’s segregated housing, albeit voluntarily segregated.

Richardson, described as a “biology major and Africana studies concentrator, as well as co-chair of Williams’ Black Student Union”, calls for segregated housing not just for blacks, but for Hispanics and Asian-Americans (would “Asian-Americans” include Chinese, Japanese, and Indian students?). Apparently Amherst and Wesleyan also have “affinity housing”.

Richard’s justification rests on her claim that such housing provides minority students with “support”, “solidarity”, and so on. Here’s part of what she says:

Affinity housing would grant students who share an aspect of their identity the opportunity to live together in an intentional community with shared values and goals, allowing these students to feel supported and have their identities affirmed by those who live around them. This type of housing serves to enrich the campus life by providing educational, cultural and social programming for not just the residents of the house, but also the wider campus community, thereby promoting a stronger sense of solidarity among students of marginalized identities. It would also allow the DC to have closer ties to students’ residential lives, allowing them to better support students of underrepresented identities.

. . . The common argument against affinity housing at the College is the idea that one can learn from living around people of all different races, interests and cultural backgrounds. This is true, but is already an experience that every student has during their first year here through the entry system. Forcing students to live around people of other backgrounds for the full duration of their time at the College, based on the idea that they are to learn from one another, inherently tokenizes international students, students of color and students of underrepresented identities. Nevertheless, even with the existence of the neighborhood system, many students rarely interact with their neighbors outside of their pick group.

. . . By giving athletes their own unofficial spaces, without providing an analogous option for other identities, the College seems to expect us students to adhere to a “mythical norm” (a term coined by Audre Lorde that describes the characteristics idealized by society that hold power and bring about oppression) of straightness, whiteness and able-bodiedness. When we deviate from this norm, we are meant to educate others around us about our experiences as “ambassadors” of our identities.

Now I confess ignorance about what the “entry system” is, nor do I think that students should have to live around those with whom they’re not comfortable for the entire four years of college. But neither do I think a college should provide segregated living facilities for its students. My view is that if there is college-mandated housing for a period (at William and Mary, where I went, it was for two years, after which you could rent an apartment off campus), it should not be segregated by ethnicity. In other words, I object to college-supported “affinity housing”.

I can appreciate the positive aspects of affinity housing limned by Richardson, one of which is a greater sense of solidarity with her fellow black students. She, and apparently others, would be uncomfortable having to interact with those who “tokenize” them and commit microaggressions (such microaggressions are mentioned in the other article, though no examples are given).

But whatever advantages accrue to segregating college living, to me they’re outweighed by a college’s mission to expose people to other kinds of people and to other ideas. It seems to me that if you want people of different backgrounds to understand each other—and who can deny that with understanding comes empathy and appreciation?—then there’s no better way than to have them live together. Sure, by all means have “cultural centers” where students of different backgrounds can meet up and mix with similar folks, but “affinity housing” on top of that simply keeps groups apart during their entire college experience.

When I was thinking about this, I called up an old friend from William and Mary, one of two white students in our class (there was only one African-American!) who took advantage of the opportunity to spend a year at the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), a historically black college in Hampton, Virginia. That exchange involved living with a black student. When I asked my friend about his experience, and whether he favored “affinity housing”, he said the experience, while sometimes uncomfortable, was immensely valuable, and that he wasn’t in favor of voluntarily segregated housing sponsored by colleges.

When I asked him what the value of “mixing” was, he said that only by living with a black person, and constantly associating with them socially and in class, could he truly appreciate the damages of segregation and bigotry against blacks. (They even experienced a minority status themselves, with one W&M student being shunned in the cafeteria, and finally gaining acceptance by writing a blues poem that went, “It isn’t right to be alone when you eat. . . even if you’re white as a sheet.”)

And that lesson stayed with my friend; he spent the rest of his working life as a teacher and principal of largely black schools. When I asked him, “Well, did the black students get any benefit from your presence?”, he said yes, that for once they were able to teach white people about their culture and to have their teaching appreciated. All in all, he saw that semester as one of the most valuable experiences he had in his life.

So I would not only oppose affinity housing, but perhaps have colleges deliberately put different types of people together for a year or more. (In my freshman dorm, we were put with others of the same religion, so lived with the only other Jewish student in my program!) Imagine the kind of learning that would occur! Even if it would occasionally be uncomfortable, well, college should sometimes be uncomfortable. Besides, if the period of college-mandated housing was limited, you could thereafter choose to live with whomever you want.

As for the athletes, the article implies that athletes aren’t forced to live together off-campus, but do so voluntarily. If Williams itself supports athlete-restricted housing, I’d find that insupportable as well, unless—and I doubt this is true for Williams—the athletes dine together in a common area because they have a special diet.

At any rate, while I appreciate Richardson’s desire to feel safe, empowered, and not tokenized, it’s not the College’s job to coddle students and keep the different ethnicities together as groups and segregated from other groups—no matter what the students’ wishes and their justifications for self-segregation. There is plenty of time in the real world to live with people of your own ethnicity if you wish. I see the experiment of mixing different people for a year or two as a valuable way to promote mutual understanding.



  1. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 30, 2018 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    These kids need to have a long talk with their grandmas and grandpas.

    Time was, wasn’t anybody wasn’t white was goin’ to college, except it was an all-black school. And it wasn’t all that long ago.

    I can remember when black students matriculating to state universities could get shot for the effort, or at least blocked at the entrance by a governor wielding an ax handle.

    What you’re doin’ here ain’t progress, brothers and sisters.

    • Posted November 30, 2018 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      Lester Maddox had the ax handle. George Wallace stood in the door. You are mixing your apples and bananas.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 30, 2018 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        As the disclaimer on the screen says at the end of the movie: “some of the characters and events portrayed have been combined for dramatic purposes.”

        Also, no animals were harmed in the making of this comment. 🙂

        • mikeyc
          Posted November 30, 2018 at 10:56 am | Permalink

          World class save there, Ken. 😉

  2. Posted November 30, 2018 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    … calls for segregated housing not just for blacks, but for Hispanics and Asian-Americans

    OK, so that then implies that other housing will be predominantly white. How long before that starts generating complaints by the very same people advocating for “affinity” housing?

    • Posted November 30, 2018 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      That raises the issue of whether white people can have “affinity housing”. That won’t ever happen, of course, and minorities could argue that whites don’t need it because they’re not oppressed, but that holds for, say, eastern Asian students, too. It’s just best to eliminate the whole concept, I think.

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 30, 2018 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Not sure what type of housing they have these days, especially at the high end colleges but way back when I was going the bath and shower areas were shared by all in a certain area. So living in a room with another black person or another white person did not separate so much. You still used the same bathrooms and showers.

    By the way, the same is true in most barracks in the military, at least for the enlisted folks.

    There was no such thing as coed.

  4. Posted November 30, 2018 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    The college I attended required first year men to live in dorms ie at home with their parents. After that year they could live off campus or in fraternity houses. Men that continued to live in dorms picked their own roommates – people they knew and with whom they were comfortable. Ethnic groups chose to live with each other.
    I don’t see any reason colleges should participate in segregated housing.

    Got one reason it would in inefficient. The numbers choking to live there would not match the number of rooms available. How big do you build the separate dorms.

    If some group wants separation they can always rent a house off campus. They could even give themselves a Greek or African name for their group if they wanted.

    The whole thing if group identity is a major step backward in time.

  5. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted November 30, 2018 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    In the RSA the fight to end apartheid was long and tortuous. And now these students want to reinstall it on a voluntary basis? Was Mr Verwoerd right after all?
    Ghetto-isation of college campuses? I fear nothing good will result from that.
    Yes, it maybe nice to live in a ghetto, but it does not prepare one well for the outside world.

  6. Christopher
    Posted November 30, 2018 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Diversity, yes, and segregation too? I’m confused.

    Seriously, is there no end to the blatant hypocrisy of leftist university students?! When did liberal left values become conservative right values? Perhaps next there will be blacks-only and white -only drinking fountains, seating, restaurants, and why not blacks-only and whites-only universities, you know, since being near different people is uncomfortable…

    When did I step into the bizarro-world time machine? I went to bed in 2018, woke up in 1918.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted November 30, 2018 at 11:18 am | Permalink


    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted November 30, 2018 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      ‘Bizarre’ is the operative term indeed.

    • Jon Gallant
      Posted November 30, 2018 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      But remember, in this bizarro world, the “affinity” housing system will be referred to as “Diversity”. And it will be administered, without doubt, by some of the many experts in these matters in the Office of Diversity and Equity.

    • Ray Little
      Posted November 30, 2018 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      As long as they are ‘Separate But Equal,’ why not?

  7. CAS
    Posted November 30, 2018 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    co-chair of Williams’ Black Student Union”, calls for segregated housing not just for blacks, but for Hispanics and Asian And further:
    Alia Richardson: “Forcing students to live around people of other backgrounds for the full duration of their time at the College, based on the idea that they are to learn from one another, inherently tokenizes international students, students of color and students of underrepresented identities.”

    Right, separate but equal is the way forward to a better world. That system worked so well in the past! Why did any sane person ever make the mistake of opposing it?

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted November 30, 2018 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      Agreed, in South Africa we called it “Apartheid”. Worked really well, as you point out, no sane person would oppose it. (/s)

  8. nay
    Posted November 30, 2018 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    You gotta be kidding me. The whole point of going to university is not just to drill down in subjects only skimmed in earlier grades, but to meet different people and be exposed to different views – not just the same faces and opinions from your neighborhood. If you only want to stay in your comfort zone, just stay home with your Mommy and Daddy.

  9. Davide Spinello
    Posted November 30, 2018 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    This is blatantly racist.

  10. mikeyc
    Posted November 30, 2018 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Another example of the very dangerous slide our society is undergoing into the kind of tribalism responsible for much of the civil strife, violence and wars in the 20th century and before. Dr King is somewhere sobbing over the death of his dream.

  11. Historian
    Posted November 30, 2018 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    There are two things that strike me about Richardson’s article. The first is that the article was posted on November 14th. As of now, there are zero comments. Maybe nobody cares what she thinks. The second is that she labels being an athlete as an identity. Who knew? I wonder what black athletes think about their identity. How terribly conflicted they must be. Perhaps Richardson can give them some useful advice.

  12. Posted November 30, 2018 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I’m thankful that I only had to live in the dorms for two years. There were quite a few students in there that I with which I was not comfortable. I remember thinking at the time that it would be great if me and my best mates had our own dorm.

  13. Posted November 30, 2018 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    “Affinity housing would grant students who share an aspect of their identity the opportunity to live together in an intentional community with shared values and goals”

    This implies that these students have different values and goals from the rest of the student body. Perhaps they should be forced to list these different values and goals and have a discussion about them.

  14. Posted November 30, 2018 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Nothing new — at my college in the ’80s, black students were self-segregating, e.g. they all ate at the same table in the cafeteria. I was told (2nd hand information) that if a black student mixed with non-blacks, that black student would then be ostracized by the other black students.

  15. Jenny Haniver
    Posted November 30, 2018 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    What do mixed race students and those with various affinities do? Can’t just lump all mixed race folk together, and what about black people who’re perceived to be white by virtue of their lack of identifiable African racial features and other distinguishing tokens? And what about class differences within the group? And if whites had affinity housing one shouldn’t lump them together either, since there are various ethnicities sometimes at odds with one another with the ferocity that ethnic partisanship frequently turns into. I think of the Balkans, or German ethnic superiority over non-Semitic groups, such as the Poles, etc. And on’t stick the Irish, or even the Scots with the English, for goodness sake. Would it be a case of reverse ‘they all look alike’ to me-ism?

  16. Ray Little
    Posted November 30, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    African-American students who are upset by the no doubt real, but surely low-key snobbery and racism that they meet at an east-coast liberal-arts university are going to have a tough time out in the big, bad, real world.

    Maybe they want to stay there forever: they can get jobs as college administrators, counsellors and student-advocates. I hear that’s an expanding field.

  17. eric
    Posted November 30, 2018 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Who knew renting an apartment was so hard, sophomores juniors and seniors need the university to do it for them?

  18. mamerica1
    Posted November 30, 2018 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    I attended Oakes College at the University of California, Santa Cruz (at the time, UCSC had 8 residential colleges within the university). Oakes was founded in the 1970s explicitly as the college for minorities, as UCSC was very white. Accordingly, we had themed housing in 4 blocks – Black, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Jewish/LGBT.

    However, no one was required to live in a dorm matching their identity, and since even at Oakes, most students were white, this meant that in actual practice, the dorms were fairly integrated.

    I did end up in a dorm matching my identity (Jewish), but only because the housing department offered me a room with an ocean view (not enough kids signed up for the Jewish/LGBT dorm). And my roommate was Jewish, too, but he was a Persian Jew and a recent immigrant, so we were fairly different and ended up learning a lot from each other. We were also two of only a handful of Jews in the supposedly Jewish dorm.

  19. Posted November 30, 2018 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    When I was in school, way back in the last century you could chose the form you wanted to live in. I suppose there could be unofficial forms for different ethnic groups if individuals in each group applied for the same dorms. That would result in ethnic firms but the college would not be a party to it. The college being a party to grouping by group is what I object to

  20. Posted November 30, 2018 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    MLK: *ends segregation*
    College students: We want segregation!

    MLK: *shocked Pikachu face*

    This meme was brought to you by Ryan.

  21. Posted December 1, 2018 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    It is easy to understand why ethnic groups want to stay together. Just look st congregations on Sunday mornings. Greeks are in Greek Orthodox churchs, blacks are together in their churches and do own diwn the lines. The same is true if housing patterns. This wish yo stay together should come as no surprise.

    • Posted December 1, 2018 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

      so on down the line

    • Posted December 2, 2018 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      but you want diversity in college dorms. when people live with others that are not like them, they get to know them. people tend to self-segregate in housing, religion, and I’m sure other areas. so when there is an opportunity to spend some time with Others, it should be taken.

      • Posted December 2, 2018 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

        That is what yoy wanr. Seems not seem to be what they want. Who gets to decide what they get? You or them?

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