Inclusion via exclusion: Andrew Sullivan critiques segregated housing at Williams College

The middle bit of Andrew Sullivan’s latest “Intelligencer” column at New York Magazine calls out Williams College and similar colleges that practice or propose to practice segregated housing—now given the convenient euphemism of “affinity housing”.  I’m pleased that Andrew got the idea for this section from reading this website (see below), but even more pleased that Sullivan puts the weight of his pulpit and his intellect against segregated housing. (Let’s call it what it is.) A screenshot from Sullivan:

He adds this, all of which I’ve written about before, but not with Sullivan’s panache, which is on display here:

Segregation as the pathway to integration seems to be the argument, a point with some uncomfortable precedents dating back to before Brown v. Board of Education. The student group demanding this recently announced on its Instagram page that “the administration expressed general support for affinity housing and together we came up with a pilot program for affinity housing that was feasible given the avenues of change at the college.” If you want to see how this kind of transformation happens, check out this video of a student council meeting on April 9 discussing whether there should be funding for racially segregated events at “Previews,” when prospective students visit the campus to check it out. At around the 45-minute mark, two students enter the room, ranting and swearing as they insist that their demands for the programs be met. They were, of course.

As I’ve reported before, there are ample sociological data suggesting that people get along better when they get to know each other. Segregated housing erodes that ability. Sullivan adduces additional data, and though the results aren’t 100% uniform, the upshot is that priming students with “color blind” rather than “multicultural” (i.e., identity-politic) approaches tends to make students more aware of ethnic differences and imbue them with stronger stereotypes about different groups. Sullivan concludes this from these studies:

. . . the more focus you put on race, the more conscious people are of it as a valid and meaningful distinction between people, and the more likely they are to reify it. At today’s diversity-driven campus or corporation, often your first instinct when seeing someone is to quickly assess their identity — black, white, gay, Latino, male, trans, etc. You are required to do this all the time because you constantly need to check your privilege. And so college students — and those who hire and fire in business — are trained to judge a person instantly by where they fit into a racial and gender hierarchy, before they even engage them. Of course they’re going to end up judging people instantly by the color of their skin. Social justice has a strict hierarchy of identity, with white straight males at the bottom. It is, in fact, a mirror image of the far right’s racial hierarchy, which puts white straight men at the top.

. . .In other words, teaching people to see other races as completely different from one’s own may encourage us to define others by stereotypes.

When the deep tribal forces in the human psyche are constantly on alert for racial difference, we run the risk of exacerbating racism. So we face the prospect that anti-racism could facilitate what it is attempting to destroy. It wouldn’t be the first time that a well-intentioned experiment has backfired.

Back to Williams College. Recent demands for segregated housing at that ritzy institution came from an Authoritarian Leftist group at Williams called CARENow, which sent a list of demands to the president and trustees, one of which was for segregated housing:

3. Improve community spaces and establish affinity housing for Black, queer, and all other minoritized students.

Note that the housing is to be segregated not just by race, but by sexuality and god knows what other criteria define “minoritized” status. (Note too the use of the neologism “minoritized”, which, contrary to the word “minority”, implies that somebody is doing oppressive “othering”. But, as biology professor Luana Maroja argues, this doesn’t seem to be the case, at least at Williams.)

Now after the first year, Williams students have the right to share dorm space with other students of their choice, which leads to a form of self-segregation. I have no strong objections to that policy, though I think it may have inimical effects on “inclusion.” What I object to is a university designating living space for any group that others cannot inhabit. That is a form of segregation that, as Sullivan says, is touted as a pathway to integration. Does anybody really believe that?

On the designated date—President Maud Mandel is nothing if not compliant to the demands of protestors—the President issued a response to the demands on her official website (click on screenshot below). I’ll note in passing that Mandel, buying into the protestors’ rhetoric, uses the word “minoritized” five times.

I won’t go into her responses to the protestors’ many demands, as it’s a long document, but I do want to give her response to the demand for segregated housing. First of all, she seems to be open to it. Second, she vociferously claims that it’s not really segregated (my emphasis).

Another area of the residential life discussion that has attracted widespread attention is the idea of affinity housing. College leaders have been in constructive conversations with students leading this cause. In discussion with them, we have stressed the importance of embedding our conversations in the wider discussion around residential life that will be a central feature of the Strategic Planning process. Doing so will also enable us to collect relevant data from other schools to inform our thinking. In this spirit, the working group will consider the idea of a pilot along with other possibilities. We do want to pause and recognize that, at the time of writing, some students involved in the affinity housing and other efforts are being subjected to unduly harsh media and social media attention that misrepresents affinity housing as “segregation.”

In reality, people on campuses across America already opt to live together based on various shared interests and identities: French language students, film studies, Christian fellowship students, vegetarians, hockey players, etc. The question is not whether such an idea is valid in principle, but how to reconcile in practice the impulse toward free association with Williams’ commitment to a diverse living community. Any pilot that is considered should take these questions into account, as well as looking at the successes and struggles of comparable efforts elsewhere. But we believe such questions should not be a bar to exploring the idea in the course of strategic planning.

Note that Mandel implies that “the impulse towards free association” is at odds with “Williams’ commitment to a diverse living community,” but that’s not true. Williams is in fact committed to a community that has racial, ethnic, and sexual diversity, but not to a community in which individuals from different groups are encouraged to mingle. If ever a college is deliberately balkanized, it’s Williams.

Mandel needs to read Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language,” which points out how unpalatable policies can be softened simply by giving them different names.  Exactly how, President Mandel, is “affinity housing”, which separates groups of people based on their ethnicity or sexuality, different from segregated housing?

And yes, of course people on campuses across America already live with others of like minds/interests/pigmentation. That is okay. What is not okay is to mandate segregated spaces where others aren’t allowed. That idea is NOT “valid in principle.” Can you imagine a Southern segregationist making similar arguments in favor of racial segregation, either at colleges or in communities? After all, that is “white affinity housing.” (Note Mandel’s clever omission of “ethnicity”, “sexuality” and “race” from the list of “shared interests and identities.”)

Once again we see a double standard: it’s okay to segregate students by race so long as the students of color are the ones who can exclude others. It doesn’t work the other way around (and shouldn’t!). All such forms of mandated segregation are odious and, rather than being inclusive, are divisive.

For years Williams has resisted the notion of such segregated housing, and good for that. Now, however, the school is on the verge of capitulating to the demands of neo-segregationists like CARENow. Williams depends heavily on the donations of rich alumni to finance it: it has one of the largest per (student) capita endowments in America. I hope that those alumni are paying attention to how their money is being used.

h/t: cesar, Simon


  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted May 5, 2019 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    A good example of bending over backward until you are all the way back to 1950 at least.

  2. Jon Gallant
    Posted May 5, 2019 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    The Bolsheviks’ attempt to impose the classless society led, in almost no time at all, to rigorous class distinctions between ordinary citizens on the one hand, and the Party and nomenklatura managerial elite on the other. Leftwing students, once partisans of the legendary Free Speech movement at Berkeley, are now rigorously opposed to free speech for people with the wrong thoughts. The faction commonly identified as “far Left” is today fanatically hostile to the only country in the MidEast with multiple worker-owned cooperatives, universal health insurance, and complete freedom of expression. And now, student groups termed “radical” and administrators termed “Liberal” are favorably inclined toward residential segregation. Before long, we can surely expect “the far Left” to come out explicitly in favor of hereditary monarchy, feudal land tenure, and vassalage.

  3. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 5, 2019 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always been a hater of segregation ever since I was old enough to understand there were Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

  4. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 5, 2019 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I’ve got no problem with campuses having (as they had even back in my day) a “black student union” (or similar facility for other groups) — a place where the brothers and sisters who may be feeling the strain and isolation of their minority status on campus can get together and let their hair down, so to speak. (I don’t think such places should exclude anyone on the basis of race or ethnicity, but there’s no reason they can’t be set up to encourage a particular group’s participation).

    Segregated housing, on the other hand, is just flat freakin’ wrong. It’s the very cause of so much of our nation’s racial disharmony.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted May 5, 2019 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

      I agree completely. It astounds me that they would even consider that this might be a suitable approach to reducing prejudice. Living with people who are different from you is probably the best way there is to learn that at their core, everybody is pretty much the same and difference isn’t something to fear.

      When you live with someone who’s different to you, you learn to appreciate and understand why things that aren’t a big deal to you are important to them, and vice-versa. I can confirm this is how it works; my own family is a United Nations of races and religions and we always have a great time when we all get together. All it takes is the good will and willingness to learn, grow, and change on both sides.

      • rickflick
        Posted May 5, 2019 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

        That’s an encouraging testament.

      • Vaal
        Posted May 5, 2019 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

        As I’ve mentioned before, I have the same experience, Heather.

        No doubt due to being a lifetime resident of Toronto, my family and friends are also a”United Nations” like mix of races and religions. The majority of my friends are either of another race or are married to someone of another race. None of us see each other as “an other” but simply as people.

        The idea that we should start emphasizing and categorizing our every difference, and to start paying attention to our different skin color, and use it as a scale to rate the worth of our ideas and claims, and start producing a new hierarchy from those who need to start feeling aggrieved to those who now should feel inherent shame is just….sickeningly dysfunctional.

        There isn’t a middle finger in the world big enough to signal my dissent.

        • rickflick
          Posted May 5, 2019 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

          If the leader of your country insists that the other is evil incarnate, then you’ve got a problem. Let’s let tRump spend the next 4 years as a retired, failed, president.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 6, 2019 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

        People with the attitude of these students will actually get very angry and accuse you of micro aggressions if you suggest we are all alike.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted May 6, 2019 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, you’re right. And I’d really like to have a proper debate with them on the topic. The problem is, too many of them aren’t capable of proper debate. It’s just a matter of declaring their place in the hierarchy of minoritization, and if they’re higher (i.e. lower) than me, they consider they have won by default.

  5. Posted May 5, 2019 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    I wonder how affinity housing will stand against legal challenges. The ruling in Brown v. Board of Education seems relevant here.

  6. Steve Gerrard
    Posted May 5, 2019 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    While it is disturbing that a college is caving into it, what is more disturbing to me is that some of the students want this. What sort of vision do they have of their future life, and the lives of others, if they see this as a good thing?

    Do these students want to live this way for the rest of their lives? Do they want affinity neighborhoods? We have past experience with that, should we resuscitate redlining and “affinity” schools? It’s depressing to see it come to this.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 5, 2019 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    The meaning of “multiculturalism” seems to have shifted over the years. When I first encountered the term, it was about people of different races and ethnicities getting together and celebrating each other’s cultures.

    I recall reading an article years ago by Puliter Prize winning columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. He had gone to an all black high school and when he arrived on the Southern Cal campus as a freshman in the Seventies, his roommate was a kid name of “Reed” (and, let’s face it, you can’t get much whiter than that). Anyway, they had both brought from home their favorite record albums. For Pitts it was Aretha and Stevie and Marvin Gaye, et al.; for Reed, the Who and the Doors and the Allman Brothers, et al. Over the course of their freshman year together they both came to love each other’s music. Now, that’s multiculturalism I can get behind.

    “Multiculturalism” now seems to have blossomed into its opposite, with every group beating a retreat back to its own camp.

    • BJ
      Posted May 5, 2019 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      “…a kid name of ‘Reed’ (and, let’s face it, you can’t get much whiter than that).”

      Actually, I happen to be friends with a black person named Reed!

    • Filippo
      Posted May 5, 2019 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      The outstanding NBA player of the late 60’s/early 70’s, Willis Reed of the New York Knicks, comes to mind.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted May 5, 2019 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        I remember Willis Reed well — the great center for the great Knicks teams that included “Clyde” Frazier and Earl “the Pearl” Monroe in the backcourt, and Bradley and DeBusschere on the wings. Won a pair of NBA championships in the early Seventies. I still remember this moment when the crowd in the Garden went nuts as the big man came limping out of the locker-room to play with a torn leg muscle in Game 7 of the 1970 championship game against Wilt Chamberlain and the Lakers.

        The kid L. Pitts roomed with in the freshman dorm, I’m pretty sure “Reed” was his first name.

        • BJ
          Posted May 7, 2019 at 9:37 am | Permalink

          Reed is the first name of my friend. My brother was friends with a white guy named Tyrone in high school. Our stereotypes of regional names can be deceiving. We all live in our own little bubbles.

    • Wayne Y Hoskisson
      Posted May 5, 2019 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

      In 1969 Ishmael Reed published Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down, an amazing novel. A few years later he wrote Mumbo Jumbo. He was and remains a great black writer. In fact, I need to find a copy of Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down. I read it twice. This was the era when Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

  8. DW
    Posted May 5, 2019 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Reading through that Sullivan piece on Biden, something occurred to me: The 2020 Democrats are looking an awful lot like the 2012 Republicans. A ton of candidates, none of which are really firing people up across the board, but all want the current president ousted. Joe Biden is the Democrat’s Mitt Romney.

    Is anyone truly excited by the prospect of President Joe Biden? Or is will he be the nominee because he’s a compromise? Or because it’s his turn? How many times must the person nominated because it’s “their turn” be defeated before these parties stop making the same mistake?

    But here’s the real problem that the Democrats need to ask and Sullivan is too far in his own bubble to see: If the Democrats want to win, they have to win over some people who voted for Trump last time.

    And those people are utterly allergic to this pretense of wokeness. It’s people who are proud to be American. It’s people who believe that Western Civilization is the greatest civilization ever created. But Joe Biden declared that our civilization needs to be thrown out because it’s sexist or racist or whatever-ist. It may work for the navel-gazing wokists, but it won’t convince a single person that voted for Trump to vote for him instead. And that’s the bottom line.

    • Posted May 5, 2019 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      Umm. . . did you read what Sullivan said about Biden’s appeal to Trump voters?

      • DW
        Posted May 7, 2019 at 10:24 am | Permalink

        Sullivan is in an anti-Trump bubble. He pointed out that Biden got some union guys backing him. Yeah, the Democrats have always had the union bosses. Those weren’t the guys who voted for Trump last time.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted May 5, 2019 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      Interesting – the democrats have to win over some people who voted for Trump. I thought Trump was doing a pretty good job on that. Also, I think the numbers show, as long as they get all democrats fired up to vote against Trump, all is well. Did you happen to notice the vote in 2018. Women will win the vote for the democrats. Mostly nothing left for Trump but white men.

  9. rickflick
    Posted May 5, 2019 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    “affinity housing”

    Things are getting “Curiouser and curiouser!”.

  10. Jimbo
    Posted May 5, 2019 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Bravo Prof. Coyne. Skilled and mathematically precise takedown of Mandel’s newspeak that attempts the flawed non-sequitur from free-association to self-segregation to school policy-endorsed self-segregation which equals racial segregation. And yes, if white students demanded “affinity housing” (which by Mandel’s light is free association), that would begin to look like de facto black racial segregation too. Isn’t that straight out of our despicable past?

    How do the black college students in favor of affinity housing at Williams think that such a policy will benefit them after they graduate and enter a nation that’s only ~14% black? Will they only work in and feel comfortable in black communities? They’re free to do so but not to dictate terms to the administration of Williams as to its racial composition, students or staff. I am curious as to what their vision of Williams should be. A 50% black school? It seems to me a supremely bad faith argument for a student to apply to a college where student racial demographics are readily available, get accepted, and then complain vociferously about them after arriving. And shouldn’t every other non-white minority race be afforded the same claim? If in-group comfort for, say, a black student is a paramount consideration, why not just attend an all black college?
    (I’m only specifying black as an example of one of the students’ self-professed “minoritized” identity groups and one with an especially fraught past in the US with respect to segregated housing.)

  11. Posted May 5, 2019 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this. As a minority alumna of Williams College, I have been struggling with this issue and the free speech issue that you have previously written about. I’ve read the articles in the Record, I’ve read President Mandel’s responses, and all I feel is sadness. I love Williams, but I’m starting to feel like I don’t know it anymore.

    Although President Mandel is new to the College, I’m holding out hope that she will put affinity housing to rest and upholds the UofC freedom of expression principles. (I’m also a UofC alumna.) But if she doesn’t, I may be rethinking my contributions to the alumni fund. She’s in a tight spot, but maybe it’s better that it’s her handling this than the previous President?

  12. Jon Gallant
    Posted May 5, 2019 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    It is simple, really. The aim of the wokies is to spare anyone, ever from the dreadful trauma of being “minoritized”. It follows that all their schools, faculties, classrooms, and so on must be: 51% black, 51% Latino, 51% South Asian, 51% East Asian, 51% Native American, 51% Polynesian, 51% gay, 51% non-binary, and 51% transgender. It would also be best for the designated populations to be simultaneously 60% female and 60% male. But there are no required allocation for Whites or people who can do arithmetic.

    • Doug
      Posted May 6, 2019 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      Arithmetic is a tool of white privilege and the Patriarchy.

  13. dd
    Posted May 5, 2019 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    English is not my first language.

    So, it’s interesting to me to hear a student at a prestigious school, likely a monolingual, use really bad grammar.

    Sometimes I wonder how much of the frustration may be due to possibly being overwhelmed by academic demands of an intense environment. Anyone else suspect such a thing?

    • rickflick
      Posted May 5, 2019 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

      I think grammar is largely a function of upbringing. The voice in your head when composing is probably made up in large part by how your family verbalized. Vocabulary and spelling are largely a function of how much you read, which can also be a function of your upbringing. Grammatical constructions that looks and sounds good to you is set early and those habits are hard to unlearn. Just my guess.

  14. Doug
    Posted May 6, 2019 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    “Affinity housing”/”Ghetto;” “Tomayto”/Tomahto.”

    While this will supposedly be “voluntary”, African-Americans who chose not to live in all-black dorms will probably face pressure to do so–both from other Blacks (“What, are you trying to be White?”) and Whites (“You people have your own dorm, maybe you’d be happier there.”)

    I was in college 40 years ago, and I can’t imagine any of the Black students I knew calling for this. Is racism on campuses really worse now than it was two generations ago?

  15. Posted May 6, 2019 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    The underlying premise is that, for each & very member of a given oppressed (‘minoritized’)group, daily life is unbearable unless they are provided a slew of special privileges and concessions to their every demand.

    When an individual child is coddled in this manner, an insufferable narcissist is created. When an entire generation is, you get the current FUBAR situation at our universities.

  16. Posted May 6, 2019 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    From Sullivan’s section about Biden:

    … a brand-new CBS poll finds Democrats may prefer a hypothetical female nominee over a male (59–41 percent), a black nominee over a white one (60–40 percent)….

    Perhaps Democrats should worry less about signaling their virtue, and more about nominating a candidate who appeals to a majority of voters in places like MI, PA, WI.

    • rustybrown
      Posted May 6, 2019 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      What, and give up their racism?

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