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February 20th, 2020

Insight

Campus leaders couldn't care less about racial progress

Glenn Reynolds

By Glenn Reynolds

Published Feb. 10, 2020

Campus leaders couldn't care less about racial progress
"Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever!" Those words were thundered by Alabama Gov. George Wallace in his 1963 inauguration speech. But, in fact, the very next year, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which brought an end to segregation.

Or did it?

Wallace later repented of this phrase, but in 2020, the 1963 George Wallace seems to be getting some traction. Because all over America — and even in Alabama — universities and schools are promoting and endorsing schemes that divide and label students by race.

SEGREGATION ON CAMPUS

The University of Alabama, for example, is endorsing a Goldman Sachs-backed "diversity" program that benefits black, Hispanic, Native American and LGBT students, but excludes other groups. White? Asian? Straight? You're not welcome.

At the University of Colorado Boulder, a special retreat is available only to students "whose identity community/ies have been minoritized" in science, technology, engineering and math. Nor was it about special problems faced by "minoritized" students.


As Campus Reform reports, "Activities at the event were centered around career development and networking, and not specific to minority experiences. They included creating research and teaching portfolios, coming up with questions to ask during interviews, networking with existing CU faculty, and learning the differences between types of faculty careers."

Meanwhile, at Portland State University, the Women's Resource Center holds meetings "solely for people of color."

At Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, a symposium on science and technology invited only speakers who fit the categories of "African Americans, Alaska Natives, Arab Americans, Asian Americans, Latinx, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders."

And the University of Nevada, Las Vegas offers special race-based housing. The University of California, Berkeley, meanwhile, offers four orientations based on race in addition to the main orientation.

It was the argument of the old-time segregationists that the various races were too different to get along side by side. The best that could be hoped for was that each could stay in its lane and flourish on its own with minimal contact with the others. That's sounding more and more like the sort of thing we're hearing on college campuses, where each group is told that others can't understand its thinking because of its unique experiences, requiring its own safe space.

REPEATING RACIAL MISTAKES OF THE PAST

Old-time segregationists prefigured the modern university in another way. Though they talked about separating the races, what they really meant was separating whites from all the others. The Virginia statute barring interracial marriage, struck down by the Supreme Court in the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia, banned marriages between blacks and whites but allowed nonwhites to marry nonwhites of other races. Though the state said it was against race mixing, it was actually only against mixing whites with other races. (The statute featured an amusing carve-out for the descendants of Pocahontas, a status claimed by many of Virginia's top families who would otherwise have been treated as nonwhite due to that Native American ancestry.)

Likewise, many of these university programs seem to lump all nonwhites — except Asians, who, as sometimes happened under Jim Crow, often get thrown in as honorary whites — into one category and whites in another.

I think the segregationists of 1963 would have gotten a good laugh out of the way race is often treated on campus today. The rest of us shouldn't be laughing. All of this labeling, separating and dividing by race and other characteristics is one of the things contributing to a divided and divisive America. Sure, it generates plenty of make-work for campus administrators, but that's hardly a justification that should resonate with the taxpayers.

As we were just reminded on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, progress on race in America used to mean seeing past color and race, not sorting people based on external characteristics. And, actually, it still means that. It's just that the people running the show on campus seem less interested in progress than in division.

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Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, is the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself and is a columnist at USA TODAY.

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