A new study by the National Association of Scholars has some alarming news about race relations at American colleges. A massive number of schools have institutionalized racial segregation across vast swaths of campus life: “About 46 percent (80 colleges out of 173 surveyed) segregate student orientation programs; 43 percent (75 colleges out of the total) offer segregated residential arrangements; and 72 percent (125 colleges out of the total) segregate graduation ceremonies.”
From orientation to graduation, many students are living out their entire college careers in racially determined enclaves. The report’s main authors, Dion J. Pierre and Peter W. Wood, have dubbed this phenomenon “neo-segregation,” and they explain how it evolved over decades after an initial “good-faith effort to achieve racial integration” in the early 1960s.
“To overcome the shortage of black students who were prepared for elite academic programs,” they write, “universities such as Yale began to admit substantial numbers of under-qualified black students.” They continue: “More than a third of these students dropped out in the first year and those who remained were often embittered by the experience. They turned to each other for support and found inspiration in black nationalism. What emerged by the late sixties were radical and sometimes militant black groups on campus, rejecting the ideal of racial integration and voicing a new separatist ethic.”
Then, the universities themselves got in on the act: “On campus after campus, black separatists won concessions from administrators who were afraid of further alienating blacks,” they write. “The old integrationist ideal has been sacrificed almost entirely. Instead of offering opportunities for students to mix freely with students of dissimilar backgrounds, colleges promote ethnic enclaves, stoke racial resentment, and build organizational structures on the basis of group grievance.”
This history is compelling. But what’s most distressing is where this is all heading—and why. Segregation is likely to increase on campuses (these are my thoughts, not those of the study’s authors) because it’s the only possible end product of today’s progressive activism. Specifically, the proliferation of safe spaces and the dominance of identity politics (core aspects of the campus-leftist agenda) must end in segregation. Safe spaces are created by separating out unwanted elements. Identity politics, by definition, emphasizes group differences over similarities. Inevitably, when you have the two enjoined in an unholy alliance on campuses across the country, you’re going to get the separation of people according to their group differences.
Not that long ago, informal segregation on college campuses was thought of as shameful evidence of failure. It was, therefore, largely ignored—but not encouraged. In The Closing of the American Mind (1987), Allan Bloom wrote: “The programmatic brotherhood of the sixties did not culminate in integration but veered off toward black separation. White students feel uncomfortable about this and do not like to talk about it. This is not the way things are supposed to be.” Today, as the NAS study makes plain, separation—along lines of race, gender, and sexual preference—is seen as a multiculturalist achievement.
Pierre and Wood are perceptive about the damage being done:
The most readily apparent harm from such segregation is that it fosters a sense of insecurity. The members of the segregated group are taught to fear other groups, especially white students. They are encouraged to see themselves as victims or potential victims, and as heirs to past grievances. Training students to see themselves as vulnerable to the transgressions of a larger, intolerant, or bigoted community is poor preparation for life in American society.
It is a fundamental feature of radical movements that they harm most those they claim to be helping. The identitarians and safe-space champions are no exception. They’re steadily institutionalizing a program of segregation that will undermine the education of generations and set the country back decades.