Two black students at New York University created a petition calling on the administration to designate racially-segregated housing for black and "black-identifying" students. But contrary to viral social media claims, NYU has not agreed to this demand.
"NYU does not have and will not create student housing that excludes any student based on race," John Beckman, a spokesperson for the university, told Reason.
The students who authored the petition, Brenah Johnson and Nia Robertson, told Fox News that "NYU is a predominantly white institution, making it very difficult for Black students to connect or find community, especially when incidents involving racism occur." They said their proposal was "not about exclusion, but rather creating a space where Black students can feel included."
But despite what the students said, the petition—which was signed by 1,000 people—inarguably uses the language of exclusion. It specifies that the housing must include "floors completely comprised of Black-identifying students with Black Resident Assistants." If a proposal requires that certain floors only include back students, then it is a proposal for racially segregated housing.
This aspect of the story, which appeared all over Twitter on Monday, is accurate. But it is not accurate to say that NYU has acceded to the demand. In fact, the administration has unambiguously rejected it, according to Beckman.
The confusion was created in part by an article in The World Socialist Website, which rightly criticized the students for advancing "the interests of a very small, privileged layer of the population." (As a socialist publication, TWSW sometimes criticizes the progressive left for being preoccupied with issues unrelated to class.) Here is how TWSW summarized the issue:
On July 20, Washington Square News, the weekly undergraduate student newspaper of NYU, published an article titled "Student-Led Task Force Calls for Black Housing on Campus," in which they reported on the university's willingness to help implement residential communities open solely to "Black-identifying students with Black Resident Assistants." Since then, the university has officially given the project a green light, aiming to have NYU's first segregated residential floor established by Fall 2021.
The underlying article, in the student publication Washington Square News, is extremely biased toward Johnson and Robertson, and thus they are not really pressed on whether their proposal calls for black-only housing. The general thrust of the article is about the need for greater protections for students of color:
During their time at NYU, both students came to believe that the university does not adequately provide for its Black students.
"There is nothing to protect us," Robinson said. "Literally no systems in place. What do you do when your professor is racist and wants to take it out on your grades? Microaggressions in classroom discussions?"
Johnson herself worked in housing as a Residential Assistant and noticed that the housing system did not meet the demands of Black students.
"As a former RA, we spoke a lot of language around being diverse and forming communities, but we never talked about its application and how different students may want to be included in different ways," Johnson said. "Housing felt like the first place to make a tangible start."
These experiences prompted Johnson and Robinson to start the student-led task force called Black Violets, a group calling for measures to protect Black students on campus. The group has gained traction through various petitions advocating for more Black professors in the Department of Politics and first-year exploration floors dedicated to Black housing, among others.
Beckman told the student paper that NYU looked forward to working with the students to implement some of their goals. In a statement to Reason, he clarified what he meant.
"Earlier in the summer, a group of Black students reached out to NYU's Office of Housing and Residential Life and applied to establish an Exploration Floor around the themes of Black history and culture; NYU has about 30 themed Exploration Floors," he said. "During the course of the discussion about the application process—which is ongoing—the Housing Office staff made clear that all Exploration Floors must be open to applicants of all races and backgrounds."
Racially segregated dormitories have become a common demand of some student activists; these activists evidently think that race-specific housing would reduce racial turmoil on campus. In reality, such housing arrangements might very well increase tensions by heightening group identity. They are probably illegal, and ill-advised in any case.
It's a shame that some progressives think racial segregation is an idea whose time has come again. But thankfully, NYU has rejected this proposal.