Integration and De Facto Segregation in Campus Housing: An Analysis of Campus Housing Policy

By Koch, Will | College Student Affairs Journal, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Integration and De Facto Segregation in Campus Housing: An Analysis of Campus Housing Policy


Koch, Will, College Student Affairs Journal


This article examines housing policy in higher education as it relates to separation between various groups in campus housing. The methodology identifies two broad types of housing policy: unitary policy, which generally integrates groups within housing, and pluralist policy, which allows groups to separate if desired. A review of the literature is presented that generally supports unitary arrangements. The housing policies at Cornell, Duke, and Harvard are then examined to illustrate three actual housing policies. Finally, in an attempt to develop practical policies that account for the academic literature considered, recommendations are presented to aid institutions of higher education in developing unitary housing policies.

As student populations of institutions of higher education in the United States become more diverse, administrators often address an increasing plurality of interests on campus while attempting to meet institutional goals that stress creating a common community. In terms of race, minority enrollment in colleges and universities has doubled since 1976 while white enrollment has fallen (National Center for Education Statistics, 1996). In addition, many colleges and universities have become heterogeneous in other ways; specifically, their enrollments include students from different class and regional backgrounds who affiliate with groups based on athletics, social interests, and additional defining criteria.

The challenges created by this increasing diversity are particularly apparent in that housing policies with regard for group identity have become a major issue on many residential campuses, sometimes attracting national headlines. Many college and university campuses have become residentially separated along group lines, whether these lines be racial, social, athletic, political, or otherwise. In The New York Times, for example, one 1996 headline read "No Violation of Rights is Found In Cornell Dorm for Minorities (Honan, 1996). With so much attention given to de facto segregation in undergraduate housing at such schools, comparatively little research has been done to examine its potential effects on students.

The dearth of research on de facto segregation in campus housing is surprising considering the importance of residential experiences for many students. To begin with, studies find that students who reside on campus spend 70 to 75% of their time in campus housing (Fitzgerald, Johnson, & Norris, 1970). As technology improves, students are likely to spend more time within residence halls as computers allow in-room access to libraries, communication, and course information; in fact, a recent article in the New York Times highlights the increasing amount of time students may now spend in dormitory rooms due to improvements in technology (Gabriel 1996). The sheer amount of time that students spend in campus housing suggests that housing policy exerts a profound influence on student experiences in higher education.

This article considers how housing policy might affect students by examining undergraduate housing policy as it relates to residential separation among groups. The article examines the potential pros and cons of group separatism, and then briefly explores its manifestations in housing on three campuses: Cornell, Duke and Harvard.

Terminology and Methods

This article will refer to separation among 'groups' on campus. While racial separation is often referred to in this manner, the use of the term here is much broader, recognizing that students tend to separate residentially based on shared affinities with various groups. These groups often include fraternities, sororities, athletic affiliations, or even students who share a similar high school background or academic interest. While particular groups such as athletes or social groups are referred to when directly applicable, the general use of the word group is meant to be all-encompassing. …

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