Should we Partially Resegregate the University?

In the October 2019 Issue of the Atlantic, Jemele Hill makes a plea for black athletes to abandon the large-dollar athletic programs in prestigious, mostly white universities and populate the teams of Historic Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs). She feels that the amount of money gained from media contracts of divers sorts would be a highly welcome infusion of cash to those institutions that have served the black community so well over the years. 

She then states: 

Despite constituting only 3 percent of four-year colleges in the country HBCUs have produced 80 percent of the black judges, 50 percent of the black lawyers, 50 percent of the black doctors, 40 percent of the black engineers, 40 percent of the black members of Congress, and 13 percent of the black CEOs in America today. (They have also produced this election cycle’s only black female candidate for the U.S. presidency: Kamala Harris is a 1986 graduate of Howard University.)

These are records of achievement of which the HBCUs should be justifiably proud, but Jemele Hill does not take the implications of her statement one step further and ask the difficult question: Do black institutions serve the interests of black students better than predominantly white universities? Are we going in the wrong direction when we pursue diversity at elite, or not so elite, predominantly white institutions? Is affirmative action a harmful strategy for achieving black participation in the professions and the sciences, which is the societal endpoint for which affirmative action was designed? It certainly has been a harmful activity in that it has increased tensions and overt racism within the larger society, and perhaps has led to distrust of black minority health professionals (I have had one patient seeking a referral to another kind of specialist ask for a white or Chinese doctor saying "Who would want to be treated by an affirmative action doctor?" )

There is also considerable evidence that black students have achieved partial resegregation within campuses in seeking out black dormitories, black social institutions, black safe spaces, and in extreme instances have sought the experience of having white students remove themselves from campus for a day. Institutions have responded by offering black-only graduation ceremonies, and minority-only remedial courses.  

At HBCUs, a much larger proportion of the faculty is black -- about 60% compared to about 5% at other institutions. Thus students are much more likely to identify with and want to emulate their instructors, explaining both the historically higher graduation rates at HBCUs and the higher rate of post-graduate achievement. 

Obviously, I am not suggesting the exclusion of blacks at predominantly white colleges, but only consideration of whether it might not be in the best interest of some black students to be there. Which black or other students might do better in HBCUs would be a question for continuing study. It would also help if all university professional and graduate programs were to recruit more vigorously and carefully from the graduates of HBCUs.

We should recognize that some blacks or other minorities are uncomfortable during their education and would be more comfortable in an environment not characterized by "whiteness." Then education could be partially resegregated so that achievement is increased and discomfort is decreased. Women and Latinos could consider if their needs were better served on campuses reserved for them with a faculty with whom they could identify. Again research would tell us in a few short years whether effects were positive, both for the best and least able minority students.

Benefits would also accrue to the larger group of students if there were a partial resegregation. The universities would have to hire fewer diversity officers. To justify their position on campus, diversity officers are often a force for intensifying student grievances and complaints. If there were also fewer students who were highly stressed by being in contact with whites, then the campus could collectively calm down and be more receptive to differing points of view and to students with a wider variety of political persuasions. The fires of "political correctness" and "hate speech" would not be put out, but they would be dampened a little. 

In the October 2019 Issue of the Atlantic, Jemele Hill makes a plea for black athletes to abandon the large-dollar athletic programs in prestigious, mostly white universities and populate the teams of Historic Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs). She feels that the amount of money gained from media contracts of divers sorts would be a highly welcome infusion of cash to those institutions that have served the black community so well over the years. 

She then states: 

Despite constituting only 3 percent of four-year colleges in the country HBCUs have produced 80 percent of the black judges, 50 percent of the black lawyers, 50 percent of the black doctors, 40 percent of the black engineers, 40 percent of the black members of Congress, and 13 percent of the black CEOs in America today. (They have also produced this election cycle’s only black female candidate for the U.S. presidency: Kamala Harris is a 1986 graduate of Howard University.)

These are records of achievement of which the HBCUs should be justifiably proud, but Jemele Hill does not take the implications of her statement one step further and ask the difficult question: Do black institutions serve the interests of black students better than predominantly white universities? Are we going in the wrong direction when we pursue diversity at elite, or not so elite, predominantly white institutions? Is affirmative action a harmful strategy for achieving black participation in the professions and the sciences, which is the societal endpoint for which affirmative action was designed? It certainly has been a harmful activity in that it has increased tensions and overt racism within the larger society, and perhaps has led to distrust of black minority health professionals (I have had one patient seeking a referral to another kind of specialist ask for a white or Chinese doctor saying "Who would want to be treated by an affirmative action doctor?" )

There is also considerable evidence that black students have achieved partial resegregation within campuses in seeking out black dormitories, black social institutions, black safe spaces, and in extreme instances have sought the experience of having white students remove themselves from campus for a day. Institutions have responded by offering black-only graduation ceremonies, and minority-only remedial courses.  

At HBCUs, a much larger proportion of the faculty is black -- about 60% compared to about 5% at other institutions. Thus students are much more likely to identify with and want to emulate their instructors, explaining both the historically higher graduation rates at HBCUs and the higher rate of post-graduate achievement. 

Obviously, I am not suggesting the exclusion of blacks at predominantly white colleges, but only consideration of whether it might not be in the best interest of some black students to be there. Which black or other students might do better in HBCUs would be a question for continuing study. It would also help if all university professional and graduate programs were to recruit more vigorously and carefully from the graduates of HBCUs.

We should recognize that some blacks or other minorities are uncomfortable during their education and would be more comfortable in an environment not characterized by "whiteness." Then education could be partially resegregated so that achievement is increased and discomfort is decreased. Women and Latinos could consider if their needs were better served on campuses reserved for them with a faculty with whom they could identify. Again research would tell us in a few short years whether effects were positive, both for the best and least able minority students.

Benefits would also accrue to the larger group of students if there were a partial resegregation. The universities would have to hire fewer diversity officers. To justify their position on campus, diversity officers are often a force for intensifying student grievances and complaints. If there were also fewer students who were highly stressed by being in contact with whites, then the campus could collectively calm down and be more receptive to differing points of view and to students with a wider variety of political persuasions. The fires of "political correctness" and "hate speech" would not be put out, but they would be dampened a little.