The colleges of America have always struggled with maintaining cultural diversity on campus. Even today, decades beyond pre-civil rights segregation, universities nationwide are finding it difficult to strike a balance between being culturally inclusive and keeping a level playing field for all students on campus.

At the center of this conflict is the following question: is the path to inclusiveness and equality paved by the intermingling students from all backgrounds in all places, or is it done by allowing students from particular cultures to create distinct, safe spaces for themselves that celebrate and acknowledge their heritage?

It’s a hard question to answer, and it’s currently coming to a head at both the University of Chicago, and California State University Los Angeles (CSULA), two schools which operate under opposite approaches to creating more diverse and equal campuses.

The first, the University of Chicago, believes that equality and inclusiveness come from the deconstruction of “safe spaces” where students can exist in bubbles of their own experiences and ideologies. 

The university recently released a statement from its Dean of Students saying that it would not issue trigger warnings, or “spoiler alerts” of sensitive or disturbing content in class curriculums, nor would it create “safe spaces,” or areas designated for specific groups of people. The Dean explained that this choice is due to the university’s “commitment to academic freedom,” which, to the University of Chicago, “means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own."

Translation? If students at the University of Chicago are going to face issues of racial injustice, they're all going to confront them head-on, together.

On the other side of the country, California State University Los Angeles (CSULA) has announced it will be offering a new themed living community called the Halisi Scholars Black Living Learning Community, a residence program designated to offer opportunities to students interested in learning more about and engaging in the Black community. The Halisi Scholars Black Living-Learning Community has caused an outrage across the country, with people citing it as “segregated” housing, although Robert Lopez, Director of Communications at CSULA, expresses that the community is open to students of any race.

Both universities are aiming to quell racial divides, yet they’re attempting to do so in almost completely opposite ways. One university is eliminating any precautions that may set races or groups apart due to sensitive proclivities, while the other is creating an environment focused solely on one cultural experience. Neither method is right or wrong, but the conflict around each of them illustrates how unsure campuses are when it comes ensuring a level of racial equality that will satisfy everyone.

However, the feedback the CSULA is receiving seems to be a bit more intense than the University of Chicago for their Black student housing program as various news outlets like Fox News, The Blaze, and our satanic overlord Glenn Beck worry it’s somehow counterintuitive to civil rights movement.

What critics fail to address is that many universities already have themed student housing based on cultural identity —  the Halisi community is nothing new. Many universities also provide alternative residence options for low-income students. At CSULA, there is also a living community for Resident Scholars as well as students interested in Gender-Neutral Inclusive Housing, yet Halisi has the whole internet up in arms, screaming something about "moving backwards in civil rights" and history repeating itself (we know, separate-but-equal didn’t work out so great last time…)

While people blame CSULA for “segregated” housing (again, incorrect terminology as it is open to all races), the housing was actually requested by the CSULA Black Student Union, also called the Afrikan Black Coalition, who sent a list of demands to the university in November 2015, asking for affordable and safe housing for Black students.

Affordable, safe housing seems reasonable, right?

To us? Yes.

But the negative blow-back from the Halisi Black Scholars Living-Learning Community seems to boil down to the fact that CSULA is creating additional — some would say exclusive — opportunities for students of one group. These opportunities already exist on campus, but the Afrikan Black Coalition felt they were not, as a group, being catered to specifically.

Naysayers of Halisi feel the university did not solve this problem by creating new opportunities specific for Black students. Perhaps a better approach would have been for CSULA to make the existing opportunities inclusive of and advantageous for Black students as opposed to creating new opportunities that are seen as exclusive of other groups.

In addition to this living community, the Afrikan Black Coalition also asked for a $30 million endowment for Black students, the hiring of Black faculty and students at on-campus facilities and $500,000 in funding for an outreach program focused on recruitment of Black high school students. These demands themselves have not raised as many eyebrows, but they do reinforce that by creating additional opportunities specifically for Black students, the university may not successfully be addressing the issue that current opportunities do not adequately serve Black students. Therefore, the problem of a university system that isolates Black students would not be solved, only perpetuated.

One CSULA student who wished to remain anonymous said that the housing was more driven by socioeconomic needs than racial preferences. According to this student, he expressed that the students with lower incomes or little spending cash at their disposal needed better options for student housing, and Halisi Living Community was intended to be a solution for that problem.

At the same point in time, people of other races also struggle financially. If the Black students are given additional scholarships just for them, special housing just for them, all because of said socioeconomic trends, what about the students who are not Black that fall victim to those same trends? This creates another issue of other students not feeling privy to the same opportunities as their peers.

Currently, the academic system is not built in favor of minority students. This is not always intentional, but is due to the fact that Black students traditionally do not have the same financial opportunities as students of other races. We can thank our history for that: because a majority of Black people came to this country as slave labor, they are at a disadvantage. They don’t have the same history as white individuals who could have gainful employment, buy land, vote, and attend school. In some cases, they are generations behind others who did have such opportunities afforded to them.

Today, this lag for the Black community has resulted in socioeconomic trends that do not enable a large number of Black students the ability to pay for higher education. Because this is an experience unique to the Black community, it does raise the question if America, as a country, should lend a helping hand to them specifically, as the Afrikan Black Coalition at CSULA requested.

There’s no question that the lack of diversity on college campuses is an issue. But there are definitely a lot of questions about how to increase that diversity without marginalizing others.

So, is all this a step forward, or a step backwards? Currently, with both sides of the argument raging, it's more of a step to the side; a reappraisal of direction rather than an improvement or a fault. And with so many competing interests and opinions, maybe now, in this moment, that's just what we'll have to live with until universities can figure out a way to enfranchise and welcome students of all races and cultural backgrounds equally.