Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Editorial: Segregation by neglect

OpinionEditorialEditorial: Segregation by neglect

When we think about segregation at the college level, what often comes to mind is its most extreme manifestation — the racial and gendered separation of universities in the 1950s. This was when women and people of color were systemically barred from higher education by the direct policy choices of those institutions. 

However, since the passage of landmark legislation such as the Civil Rights Act and Title IX, which prevent such discrimination, a new form of segregation has prevaded universities — something we call “segregation by neglect.” While this is not, in many cases, the result of direct policy choices, marginalized students are functionally separated from the general population because the university refuses to adequately meet their needs as students and human beings. 

Take, for example, the disabled community on campus. In theory, disabled students should be allowed to go wherever they want and take any classes they so choose; after all, there are no official university policies that discriminate against them. 

But in fact, the university separates disabled students from the general population by its inaction on accessibility issues. Many of the buildings on campus are inaccessible, either without ramps or without functioning elevators. This is to say nothing of the fact that disabled students are prevented from living in buildings on the North Green that do not even have elevators.

Disabled students are even prevented from accessing all the university’s social media content, which often contains uncaptioned videos that hard-of-hearing people find difficult to understand. The university excludes these students from general campus life not through official policy, but through their reluctance to meet their needs. This is especially troubling considering the fact that any student could become disabled at any time in their college careers.

Another example of this “segregation by neglect” at the university is how socioeconomically disadvantaged students are separated from the rest of campus. For example, the closer a house is to campus, the higher the rent is. This makes sense economically. However, in practical terms, it means that less well-off students are pushed to the margins of campus, with longer walking distances and less connectivity than their wealthier peers. 

The university also segregates by academic ability, through strict Honors housing policies. As freshman, Honors College students must live in Redding Hall, which is inarguably one of the nicest dorms on campus. Air-conditioned, bug-free, no cinderblock walls — Redding is worlds away from non-Honors dorms such as Harrington, where students are forced to try constructing their own cooling devices during the summer to avoid heatstroke. Dorms used to be split 50/50 between Honors and non-Honors housing. Why did the university end that policy, if not to fully separate the Honors College  students from the general population?

Scholarships aside, every student pays the same tuition for university attendance. Disabled students, poor students, non-Honors College students; all are charged the same, theoretically, as their more privileged peers. And yet, unintentionally or not, they are prevented from accessing the same services and spaces on campus. Often, it feels as if the university prioritizes aesthetics and promotional opportunities over the practical necessities of caring for disadvantaged students.

The university should think about the consequences of its unintentional segregation policies and consider that, no matter how many diversity, equity, and inclusion meetings they convene, “diverse” students are finding it impossible to be equally included in student life on campus.

The Review’s weekly editorials are written to reflect the majority opinion of The Review’s staff. This week’s editorial was written by Kiara Cronin, senior news reporter. She may be reached at kcronin@udel.edu.




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