On 6 September 2016, the Fox cable news conglomerate posted an article under the headline “Calif. University Latest to Establish ‘Black-Only’ Housing,” chiefly sourced from another publication, The College Fix. The headlines lead to a cascade of misleading stories claiming that the Los Angeles school has created “segregated” housing for African-American students.
The article referenced themed student housing at California State University at Los Angeles (CSULA), a campus that in Fall 2016 introduced the Halisi Scholars Black Living-Learning Community. As CSULA’s web site notes, however, that community is not technically “segregated” by being exclusive to black students. Rather, it is designated as housing open to any student interested in matters relating to the black community:
The Halisi Scholars Black Living-Learning Community is designed to enhance the residential experience for students who are a part of or interested in issues of concern to the black community living on campus by offering the opportunity to connect with faculty and peers, and engage in programs that focus on academic success, cultural awareness, and civic engagement.
Robert Lopez, director of communications at CSULA, told us he sent identical statements to the Los Angeles Times and the College Fix about the subject. While the Times printed his statement in its entirety, the College Fix omitted the portion in which he noted that any and all CSULA students are welcome to apply for housing in the community:
This living-learning community focuses on academic excellence and learning experiences that are inclusive and non-discriminatory. This community is open to all students.
The College Fix, he said, chose to run with the claim that the housing was “segregated,” which if true would violate state and federal law. But the community, which is named after the late CSULA Pan-African Studies professor, Dr. C.R.D. Halisi, is “very similar to those at other universities, both public and private, [that have been in existence] across the country for many many years.”
Themed housing or student communities focusing on cultural identity is nothing new to college campuses. The rumor about “segregated” housing at CSULA seems to have started with 25 August 2016 story posted by Young America’s Foundation, which sourced its information from the Instagram account belonging to Cal State LA’s Black Student Union club. But according to the university’s web site, the Halisi community isn’t the only themed housing at the public university. CSULA also offers “gender neutral inclusive housing” and housing for first-year students. The university describes themed housing as:
[A] group of people living together in a common housing area who share common academic goals and interests. Residents in these communities participate in academically and intellectually engaging learning activities designed specifically for them.
As Lopez noted, segregation is illegal and violating the law would put the school at risk, so in order for the universities to retain their accreditation they must comply with state and federal laws in that regard:
Accreditation — as practiced by the WASC Senior College and University Commission and other regional accrediting associations, a voluntary, non-governmental, peer-based form of quality assurance at the institutional level. To receive or reaffirm accredited status, institutions demonstrate that they are in compliance with state and federal law and meet the accrediting association’s standards.
The claim that Cal State LA has sponsored a segregated housing community has subsequently spread to other conservative web sites, including Breitbart and the Daily Caller. But Lopez told us, “We don’t segregate when it comes to anything.”
To put things in perspective, the Los Angeles Times pointed out in a 7 September 2016 report that themed housing focused on cultural identity is hardly a new phenomenon on college campuses. Stanford, Wesleyan and Cornell are among prestigious, long-standing universities that host living quarters for students based on heritage or specific interests, including Native American, Latino, European, Jewish and African diaspora students. The housing type is by no means new or specific to California State University at Los Angeles, nor does offering themed housing mean a campus is enforcing racial segregation.