A week after the debut of black themed housing on Cal State L.A.’s campus drew viral criticism from conservative media, members of the Black Student Union and University officials continue to dispel rumors and defend the decision. The Halisi Scholars Black Living-Learning Community was part of a list of demands BSU students presented to the university’s administration last year in an attempt to counteract what they referred to as incidences of “micro aggression” and racist attacks from the surrounding college community. The designated units among the 200 unit campus apartments was offered in time for the fall semester, and almost immediately garnered backlash from groups like the Young Americans for Freedom Foundation and conservative media and bloggers.
Words like “segregation” and “blacks only” were bandied about but school officials and the BSU wasted no time lashing back.
“”This is not segregated housing,” said CSULA spokesperson Jonathan Thomas. “This housing is open to all students. It focuses on programs that are inclusive and non-discriminatory.”
Cal State L.A.’s BSU communications director and former president of the organization Sesely Lewis called the accusations insulting.
“To use a word like segregation is totally misleading and [worse] it belittles what our ancestors actually had to go through and fight for in this country,” she said during a recent interview with the Sentinel.
Themed student housing is not a new concept in California, UCLA for instance, has housing communities representing groups like Afrikan Diaspora, Sustainable Living and Gender. CSULA has other themed housing including for first year students and gender neutral. Those units have received no opposition.
Meanwhile, members of the campus’ Young Americans for Freedom chapter, a group touting conservative ideals, are calling the designated housing unfair. Earlier this year they said they faced intense protest at a lecture series titled, “When Diversity Becomes a Problem” featuring Ben Shapiro. Shapiro is a conservative political commentator.
“Imagine the reaction if white students, via white student unions, decided to pursue ‘white only’ living-learning arrangements in an attempt to foster ‘safe spaces’ for whites,” Derryck Green, a political commentator and writer, told LifeZette.com.
But the university’s BSU maintains that the living space is necessary for students who need support.
“Black students at Cal State LA have been, and still are, consistently made the targets of racist attacks by fellow students, faculty, and administration,” said BSU members in a letter citing their list of demands. “These attacks come in many forms. Some are more overt and some subtle. Racially insensitive remarks, and micro-aggressions, by professors and students create a learning environment that is not conducive to the overall learning atmosphere.”
Lewis gave examples like herself being the only African American student in one class where the professor posed the “why are black people so bothered” question directly at her or a female student housing resident being subjected to racially insensitive body comments, to substantiate the organization’s claims. She also cited the success rates of black students who attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“Culturally relevant programming and spaces are essential to the overall academic success of Black students,” Lewis said.
Meanwhile, Kalani Robinson, a freshman who lives in the Halisi Community, which currently houses 24 students, doesn’t really get the controversy surrounding the housing. She “appreciates” having the opportunity to live with students who share her experience as an African-American.
“I don’t see a lot of people that look like me (on campus),” Robinson told reporters.
By living there she is surrounding herself with people who can help her “learn how to be a more successful black woman,” she said.