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Perspectives: Banning Affinity Groups Shows Lack of Understanding

An Arizona Legislative Committee has amended a state homeland security bill to state, in relevant part, “A public school in this state, a university under the JURISDICTION of the Arizona board of regents and a community college under the JURISDICTION of a community college DISTRICT in this state shall not allow organizations to operate on the CAMPUS of the school, UNIVERSITY or community college if the organization is based in whole or in part on race-based criteria.”

The amendment, introduced by State Representative Russell K. Pearce, R-Mesa, is clearly aimed at denying public universities funds, unless they prohibit the existence of student affinity groups, such as those frequently organized by Blacks and Hispanics on campuses across the country.

In the Ward Connerly tradition, it is an attempt to move to further advance the ideological argument that American college campuses should be color-blind and that the presence of organizations formed by students of color on campuses threaten the myth of color blindness. Rather than attempting to enact draconian laws that prohibit freedom of association, lawmakers should ask why there is still a need for these groups to exist in a “post-racial” America.

Let me tell you why. First, students on university campuses continue to align along racial lines because too many universities, including those in the Ivy League, flagship state universities, as well as other state colleges and universities, promote a specious approach to “diversity,” focusing obsessively on showing that they are “diverse” by touting the number of students of color who have been recruited into their ranks. This over emphasis on numbers, without an equal and incorruptible emphasis on examining how verily welcoming and inclusive these campuses are, exposes the sham of bantam diversity efforts.

Students of color organize along racial lines in an effort to deal with the fact that while college campuses say that they value racial and ethnic diversity, their policies, practices and behaviors often demonstrate just the opposite.  Many people unleash vitriolic attacks on students of color who form groups based on their racial identity, yet these same people refuse to even acknowledge the continued existence of Whites who form or maintain clubs that are predominantly or exclusively White. (Read dining clubs, secret societies, and lacrosse clubs).

 On most college campuses, the term “self-segregation” only applies when students of color choose to establish associations. The term “normal” is applied to clubs whose membership is predominantly, if not exclusively, White. This dichotomous approach to “self-segregation” is exactly the problem. Self-segregation is itself a political, ideological and racialized term. Thus, this attempt to legislate integration shows a stupendous lack of understanding of the fraud that often masquerades as campus diversity efforts, as well as the reality of the experience of many racial minority students on predominantly White campuses.


Further, for all the attempts to tout demographic gains, in terms of students, faculty and administration, most major college and university campuses are still predominantly White. Thus, students of color often form groups in an attempt to decrease the stark reality of isolation in the halls of academe, which appears to increase fear on the part of the State of Arizona. This attempt to mandate integration by Rep. Pearce is not designed to address issues of isolation, but rather to make Whites on college campuses feel less threatened by outlawing the formation of these groups. His argument seems to be that the state should use its power to compel color blind behavior, as this would serve its interest to create, define and defend White comfort by characterizing the presence of groups organized by students of color as a crisis of declining “American values.” 

Finally, Arizona State Rep. John Kavanagh, a member of the Appropriations, Committee, said he hopes the measure helps return cultural studies in the state’s schools to a “melting pot” model. He summarizes the amendment thus:  “This bill basically says, ‘You’re here. Adopt American values.’” Of which American value does he speak? I’ll tell you.  It is the one that built a counter-subversive coalition mobilized around the State’s self-appointed authority to decree what and who is American.

Dr. Christopher Metzler is Associate Dean in the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies.

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