Is Wash. U. segregated?

| Forum Editor

In the elections just before spring break, nearly three-fourths of voting students approved the creation of the Diversity Affairs Council as a way to organize and administer diversity initiatives at Wash. U. To be honest, I had and continue to have doubts about the DAC, partly because of doubts that the council can be effective in influencing University policy regarding admissions and faculty hiring (I hope I’m proven wrong).

But what most troubles me about the DAC is its explicit goal: diversity. Diversity is certainly an admirable aim; without a society’s appreciation for diversity, I, a racial and religious minority, wouldn’t have nearly as many opportunities as I do now. Yet I wonder if the real issue on campus is segregation—that is, self-segregation. Should we be sanctioning not a DAC but a SSAC?

Please don’t misinterpret me: Wash. U. could use more diversity. I’d personally like to see greater diversity in race and religion, and I commend the efforts of WU/FUSED to make socioeconomic diversity a priority. But if Wash. U. becomes a perfectly diverse university whose students nevertheless sequester themselves into various exclusive groups, can we really claim success? As we press forward with the issue of diversity, we should simultaneously tackle self-segregation. One without the other leaves something to be desired.

It seems to me that our student body—and American society as a whole—clusters into independent groups. I know I am guilty of hanging out mostly with friends from my freshman floor. Others associate mostly or exclusively with, for example, members of their extracurriculars or of their fraternity or sorority. I’m willing to claim Wash. U. students segregate themselves on the basis of race and religion as well. I admit not having the statistics to prove this claim, but when you have a moment, think about the people with whom you spend the most time. Look around the DUC or watch a passing group of friends and notice the similarities and differences at each table.

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I freely acknowledge that I am decrying more than self-segregation. I am challenging an aspect of our inner natures, an unconscious drive to associate with the people who look like us, talk like us and act like us. Humans feel most safe and most comfortable with familiar people, people who enjoy the same interests and customs. In the end, self-segregation’s main explanation—which I would argue is also its main problem—is that we stick to our comfort zones. We develop our personal communities, be they freshman floors, fraternities or sororities, etc., which inevitably distract us from the broader Wash. U. community.

To go beyond this, we students need to challenge our comfort zones and broaden their boundaries. In the past, Connect 4 has hosted events promoting dialogue on self-segregation, which I applaud, yet a stronger stimulus is needed to move beyond complacency. I would argue that the Mothers bar incident was an example of that stimulus, albeit an unfortunate and unnecessary one. The student body’s response to the episode was admirable, because we broke down our self-constructed barriers and came together for a reason. We were no longer freshmen or seniors, Jewish or Christian or atheist, Greek or non-Greek, black or white or whatever. We were Wash. U. students, united in our outrage.

I don’t advocate that we eliminate student groups or other divisions; Wash. U. is far too big for every student to develop a personal, meaningful relationship with everyone else on campus. Also, one needs these ways of refining one’s identity. I advocate, however, that Wash. U. fosters a more fluid social dynamic, so that interactions among students of different backgrounds and interests are more prevalent and less awkward. What I hope for is a campus that has been stimulated beyond individual comfort zones, one that is not only more diverse but also less self-segregated.

Cyrus is a sophomore in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at cfbahras@wustl.edu.

  • Ezelle Sanford, III

    I do agree, in part, with the statements made above. Humans have a basic need to associate with others based upon a common interest. Think about it. How do conversations start? How do you develop relationships? Common ground is the foundation for all successful relationships.

    With that being said however, I think the editorial confuses two things when it comes to self-segregation: separation based upon mutable characteristics as opposed to immutable ones. Let’s be clear, yeah it can get annoying to see the Lien 3 kids always hanging out together, but that part of their identity changes from year to year, and sometimes from semester to semester. That to me isn’t as big of a problem because those kids might have all come from different backgrounds, and they are being exposed to the slide of the Wash U demographic pie. The problem, which many students point out, is separation based upon those immutable characteristics– the more or less permanent parts of our identity that, more often than not, lead to deeper and more salient bonds. Not to say there is anything wrong with this, however why stop there? Why not reach out further and make a new friend? These bond form groups which are easily recognizable, and therefore easily pointed out and criticized by other students.

    I want to challenge this notion of “self-segregation”. Let’s not fall into the trap of believing everything that people say is a problem. Can you really blame a group of African-American students for being good friends, if they all live on the same floor? That complicates things (see above). They all live on a floor which has a prevalence of African-American residents (which happens often on the South 40). Can we really say that they “self-segregate”? Or are they forced to build relationships all because of the way the Residential Office chooses to house students? Can we really say that Asian and Asian-American students “self-segregate” when they hang out speaking their native languages? How do we know that they did not bond during the International Students pre-orientation program? Didn’t we all build relationships during our Pre-O’s? Why aren’t there other people represented in those groups? And let us not forget those students who have friends across racial, religious, gender, sexual orientation, and any other identification lines. Why don’t we acknowledge them? These are the critical questions I must ask, because I do not think that grouping of students is as intentional on the students’ part as critics may claim.

    Some people have expressed doubt about the Diversity Affairs Council during the election process, and they all seem to be saying the same thing: the issues that we face are too huge to be conquered by a new group in Student Union. To those people I say, come up with something better. The Diversity Affairs Council is just another step, of many, that Washington University students, faculty, and staff have taken to make this a more inclusive campus. Yes the DAC has large goals, but they are not unobtainable, and we will achieve anything if we sit and ponder upon the magnanimity of these issues.

    One of the main reasons why the Diversity Affairs Council was formed was to increase student interaction, and that will be achieved in various ways through the coming years. I encourage my peers, especially those who continue to claim that these are far reaching goals, to get involved, and to make it what you would like it to be.

    I challenge you. Meet someone new. Step out of your comfort zone and start a conversation. You never know what might happen.