• U.S.

Education: The Two Societies

6 minute read

> Marsha Miles, a black sophomore at Yale, remembers what it was like to have a white roommate as a freshman: “I was a curiosity to her. She used to come into the bathroom to watch me comb my hair.” After a year of that, Marsha decided to live with five other black women—and no whites. “It’s no fun being a living experiment for somebody,” she explains.

> Stanford University’s Roble Hall is 30% black and the gathering place for other black students. At dinner, blacks eat in one dining room, whites in the other. Afterward, blacks play cards in the lounge while whites stay away. “There are times when the lounge belongs to the blacks, like after dinner, and then the whites take over later in the evening,” says Glenn Garvin, a white sophomore living in Roble. “If you try and mix, you feel like a bullshit liberal; if you don’t, you feel like a racist. It’s a very uncomfortable situation.”

> Stokely Carmichael, who recently returned for a visit to the U.S. from his home in Africa, spoke at Michigan State University last week, and black students required the 75 or so whites in the audience to leave the university-owned auditorium. Explained Black Sophomore Conrad Bill: “It had a more relevant meaning for us than for whites.” Added another black sophomore, William Galloway: “The absence of whites helped to unify the black students.”

> “It’s not segregation,” says Adele Allen, Brooklyn-born black president of student government at Wellesley. “When I socialize, I prefer to hear James Brown, not Joan Baez, and when I’m at a party, I prefer to have black men around. This is not segregation; it’s a matter of personal taste.”

Such scenes and views can be duplicated at colleges across the country. After four or five years of intensified efforts to enroll black and other minority students, most institutions still have not succeeded in achieving integrated student bodies. Although the law forbids segregated facilities, black students have their own fraternities and sororities, live in their own dormitories or only on certain floors, and congregate at their own tables in dining halls. After the freshman year—when many schools put blacks and whites together in the same dormitory rooms—most black students have little social contact with whites.

At first college administrators treated voluntary self-segregation by black students as a necessary but temporary phase. They said that poor youngsters from ghettos needed to gain self-confidence before entering the mainstream of college life. That change has happened on some campuses—Harvard and Oberlin, specifically, report very little separatism—but on most campuses checked by TIME correspondents the segregation of the races appears to have become a permanent way of life. Says Senior Joe Conner, 21, chairman of the Black Student Union at the University of Southern California: “We just have no contact. They’re there, and we’re here.”

To a large extent, racial separation on campus simply mirrors that of America as a whole. “We’re just playing the role society has assigned to us,” says Arthur Jones, an instructor at California State University at Northridge. This defensive view understandably derives from the years of white hostility—partly still real, partly imaginary—and it is worsened by the fact that some blacks are ill-prepared, either academically or psychologically, for college. Wellesley’s Allen says she was patronized when she first arrived: “The attitude was, ‘You are underprivileged, you are behind and need help, you are not as good as us.’ ” In short, says Paul Black, director of minority affairs at Northwestern, “the white-student milieu was just too different for assimilation to take place.”

Black students reacted by drawing together—sometimes even ostracizing fellow students who tried to integrate with whites. With great earnestness, they shunned such traditional campus hijinks as Yale’s Whiffenpoofs, Princeton’s Triangle Show and Stanford’s Gaieties in favor of black self-help or cultural projects. Black students at Columbia tutor schoolchildren in Harlem, for example, while those at Northwestern have formed a black choir, folk theater and dance troupe. At Cornell this fall, they opened Ujamaa, an all-black residential center devoted to the study of Tanzania President Julius Nyerere’s philosophy of “familyhood.”

Conflict. For the sake of campus peace, white administrators seem willing to tolerate a quiet separation of the races. They take satisfaction in the absence of open racial conflict, and they predict that self-segregation will go away by itself, though Elliot Soloman, a white junior at Columbia, points out: “There’s no tension if there’s no contact.” Other administrators minimize the existence of self-segregation by describing it in euphemisms. Thus John Bunzel, president of California State University at San Jose, calls it “self-development,” while at Barnard, Housing Director Blanche Lawton justifies reserving two dormitory floors for minority students as upholding “the principle of selective living for all students.”

Such acquiescence is castigated by Psychologist Kenneth Clark, the only black member of New York State’s Board of Regents, as “benign violation of the law—and I am not sure how benign it really is.” Indeed, self-segregation does violate at least the spirit of federal laws, yet the policy of HEW’s Office of Civil Rights is to take no action so long as a black dormitory or fraternity officially remains “open” to whites, even though no whites belong.

Not everyone has given up the effort to stop racial separatism. In Philadelphia, for example, the N.A.A.C.P. threatens to sue the University of Pennsylvania to stop its W.E.B. DuBois Residence Hall from excluding whites. In New York, State Commissioner of Education Ewald Nyquist, who argues that “voluntary segregation is just as bad as required segregation,” intends this month to order all colleges and universities in the state to draw up plans to end separatism by 1973. Those who refuse to do so voluntarily, he says, may lose their state and federal funds, or even their accreditation. The obstacles confronting Nyquist are formidable, and his campaign may lead to an integration more pretended than real, but education leaders are not immune to idealism. As Clark puts it, “What is education for but to help human beings to move beyond those primitive, parochial walls of racial separatism?”

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