U. of Connecticut Creates New Living-Learning Center for Black Male Students

Jake New, Inside Higher Ed, February 2, 2016

The University of Connecticut announced last week that it is creating a living-learning community for African-American male students, drawing praise from researchers concerned with the low graduation rates of–and racism against–black men on campus, and criticism from those who view the plan as racial and gender segregation.

Freshmen and sophomores will begin living in the Scholastic House of Leaders who are African-American Researchers and Scholars–or ScHOLA2RS House–this fall. While male students of any race may apply to the program, it is designed to “support the scholastic efforts of male students who identify as African-American,” the university’s description of the program says.

{snip} While many colleges over the years have had living spaces that were described primarily for those interested in African-American, Latino or Asian culture, and that have housed primarily or entirely groups of people who are black, Latino or Asian, those colleges have generally stressed that the key factor was the shared interest in a culture, not identity as a member of a group.

The UConn announcement, however, follows student protests that have demanded ethnic-based housing, citing hostile environments they face on campus. And UConn is not alone. Last month, the University of Iowa announced a similar living-learning community, and Princeton University has created several “affinity rooms” in its Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding, in which students of various races and ethnicities can gather.

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Researchers have found that black students face a number of barriers to finding college success on predominantly white campuses. They struggle with underrepresentation, social isolation, academic hurdles and racial stereotyping from both their peers and their professors.

African-American students report feeling less mentally prepared than white students do but are less likely to seek help for mental health concerns, according to a study released last month by the Jed Foundation, an organization that works with colleges to prevent campus suicides, and the Steve Fund, a new group dedicated to studying and improving the mental health of students of color.

At Connecticut, the six-year graduation rate for African-American male students is about 54 percent, while the rate of white male students is 80 percent.

“It’s important that people understand that black women also experience stereotypes and racism on campus, but there are certain experiences that are uniquely gendered,” said Shaun Harper, who, as founder and executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, studies the effects stereotyping can have on black students.

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