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Themed-housing controversy hits Cal State L.A.

LOS ANGELES — A new themed-housing option at Cal State Los Angeles is causing some controversy after a conservative college student news website reported that the university was offering segregated housing for black students.

“Cal State L.A. does not offer, nor does the university sanction, segregated housing or segregation of any kind,” university spokesman Robert Lopez said in an email. “Such themed housing communities are nothing new and featured at many universities.”

Lopez was responding to an article posted on The College Fix, a website that claims all its material is reported by students with “right-minded news and commentary from across the nation.”

At Cal State L.A., the Halisi Scholars Black Living-Learning Community is oriented around the black community, but is open to all students. There are 24 students living in the dorms and there is a waiting list to get in.

Aside from the black community, Cal State L.A. offers three other “themed-living communities,” including honors, first-year and gender-neutral housing.

On Sept. 7, Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson and other civil rights groups called on Cal State L.A.’s President William A. Covino to review the university’s policy of permitting segregated housing for black students.

Covino sent out a message to the community to clear up the rumors.

“Let me be clear: Cal State L.A. does not offer, nor does the university sanction, segregated housing or segregation of any kind. The Halisi Scholars Black LivingLearning Community focuses on academic excellence and learning experiences that are inclusive and non-discriminatory,” Covino said

Hutchinson, a Cal State L.A. alum, believes the bigger problem is that students even need this kind of housing.

“The challenge to university officials is to ensure a safe, student-friendly and totally diverse learning environment for students of color,” he said in an email.

“Themed housing is one response to that, but at best it’s just a [way to mitigate], that does not address the bigger challenge.”

Doug Allen, whose daughter lives in the Halisi Scholars Black LivingLearning Community, doesn’t think his daughter’s living quarters should be considered segregated.

“It gives the kids an opportunity to feel comfortable in their living quarters by living with someone with similar backgrounds,” Allen said. “I feel it is a good thing because college is tough enough. These living conditions makes it a little like a home atmosphere and makes finding and forming study groups easier.

“My daughter says the media is making a bigger deal out of it than it is,” Allen added. “There are other … themed dorms on campus and on other campuses throughout the U.S.”

Indeed, Cal State L.A. isn’t the only university offering themed housing around a particular community. UC Berkeley has seven themed programs, including Native American, Asian Pacific American and African America.

Stanford University has more than a dozen themed communities. They have four “ethnic-themed houses” which include Chicano/Latino focus, Native American, Asian American and Black Culture focus.

That type of housing is not exclusive to California. Wesleyan, Cornell and the University of Iowa are some of the college campuses across the U.S. offering themed-housing communities.

“Some students do want this and feel comfortable with this kind of housing,” Hutchinson said. “That’s their right. However, students should still fight the bigger battle for a diverse, student-friendly campus and student empowerment.”