Two Senate Republicans have asked Attorney General William Barr to investigate two universities that appear to be going backward in time to the era of segregation, with events that separate whites from non-whites.
Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., said the University of Michigan at Dearborn and the University of Kentucky held events for "non-whites-only" and "whites-only." One was a training session called "Healing Space for Staff of Color." Its counterpart was titled "White Accountability Space."
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, found similar mandatory racial segregation at the first-year orientation program at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.
"Lewis & Clark enlisted a Portland-based 'social justice activism' group to run a mandatory orientation workshop Aug. 29 where, in the name of providing 'safe spaces' for discussion, students were required to choose whether they most identified as one of three options: 'Black,' 'Indigenous, Person of Color,' or 'White.' Students were then divided by race into different virtual Zoom breakout rooms for separate educational experiences, unlawfully limiting their ability within the program to engage with students of different races," FIRE said.
"Racial segregation is not only morally wrong, it's illegal on our nation's college campuses," said FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley. "Lewis & Clark must end this practice immediately and publicly commit to never again returning to that dark chapter of our nation's history."
FIRE pointed out that Supreme Court precedent and federal law prohibit such programs based on race. But Lewis & Clark's own policies also prohibit such events.
FIRE said Lewis & Clark Associate Professor of English Lyell Asher raised concerns about the segregated event on a faculty email listserv Aug. 27. He also asked campus managers and legal representatives to look into it. They responded that the event was labeled mandatory but it really wasn't.
And, managers reported, the students "were not provided a different educational experience or outcome based on race, they simply had different individual conversations before coming back together as a larger group."
"Mandatory racial segregation isn’t wrong because FIRE or a professor finds it objectionable — it’s wrong because it means that your ethnicity alone determines the education you receive," Shibley said. "That it was just a little segregation, that ‘mandatory’ actually means ‘optional,’ or that the college meant well is no defense."
Cotton and Loeffler said they want Barr to review the Michigan and Kentucky cases and similar ones across the country.
In September, the University of Michigan at Dearborn set up two virtual cafes, or online discussion groups, that were segregated on the basis of race.
Similarly, on Aug. 7, the University of Kentucky's Bias Incident Support Service hosted segregated training sessions for resident assistants, the letter said.
The senators noted that the National Association of Scholars not long ago issued a report listing "hundreds of instances where college campuses have established or allowed programs or activities that are segregated on the basis of race, color, or national origin."
"Racial segregation is antithetical to our nation's creed, expressed in the Founding documents that 'all men are created equal.' Segregation is illegal under multiple federal laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," the senators said.