“Colorblindness”: The Fiction of “Self-Segregation”

A columnist for the Cavalier Daily, a University of Virginia student newspaper, provided his support for a UVA plan not to allow freshmen to select their dormitory. UVA’s administration fears that the students were living in dormitories based on sharing the same race with other student residents.

The Cavalier Daily columnist reasoned that students joining groups which recognize a student’s identity are engaging in “self-segregation.”

[…]Yet whereas the administration wants to randomize dorm selection, it celebrates students’ decisions to only hang out with those similar to themselves: Witness the institutionalization of ethnic groups ranging from the Organization of Young Filipino-Americans to the Indian Student Association.

This “self-segregation” leads to the racial division on the UVA campus, the Cavalier Daily columnist asserts.

Paradoxically, the same student leaders and administrators who celebrate this self-segregation in the name of diversity then bemoan the lack of inclusiveness at the University. It is contradictory simultaneously to enshrine minority identity while criticizing self-segregation as it is the very preference to socialize with people of the same ethnic group that causes the segregation.[…]

The Cavalier Daily columnist reasons that “self-segregation” is equally the fault of the majority White student population and the non-White minority.

Too many columns on these pages blame the majority for not getting out and attending minority events. But this fails to recognize that self-segregation is a two-way street. People may feel more comfortable around those of similar background to themselves, but both minorities and the majority need to make an effort to expand their horizons.

I disagree with the Cavalier Daily columnist’s use of the term “self-segregation.” The term “self-segregation” implies that non-Whites refuse contact with White students, creating a social division on the campus. UVA students opposed the columnist’s assertion (here, here, here).

The fact is that UVA is a predominately White university. White students are a significant portion of the undergraduate population (62.9%).

UVA undergraduate population (2007)

Race

Number

Percentage

White

8581

62.9%

Black

1223

9%

Asian

1537

11.30%

Native American

26

1.90%

Thus, the Cavalier Daily columnist’s use of the 1971 paper, “Dynamic Models of Segregation,” by Thomas Schelling does not really apply to his column. The reason is that the dormitory selection of non-White undergraduates will have no effect on UVA social dynamics. Regardless how non-White students feel, the choice to attend UVA requires them to interact with the majority-White UVA campus on a daily basis. Living in the United States has the same requirement for non-White residents, as the United States is 75.1% White (2000 Census).

Therefore, the Cavalier Daily columnist’s implication that all groups are equal (without recognizing that one group (Whites) has significantly more people than the rest) is an inadequate assertion.

Self-segregation is a problem in of itself, but it has tangible effects on the University through self-selection. It is well known that many important organizations on Grounds, such as the Honor Committee, are disproportionately white. Similarly, there is currently just one black student living on the Lawn. Some see this as institutional racism. Just last week Ryan McElveen wrote that “bigotry is sewn into the fabric of this institution.” I find this wholly implausible. A much more likely explanation for this outcome is that minorities are simply not applying for these groups and honors.

Again, the Cavalier Daily columnist must realize the fact that UVA is a White university. Thus, even with more applications, most student organizations will have Whites as the majority group.

In the end, this issue is not new for UVA. There are many Cavalier Daily columns on the subject (Search for the term “self segregation” using the Cavalier Daily’s search function on its web page).

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