FIRE Denounces Arizona State’s Reintroduction of Segregated Classes

By on October 7, 2005

For the second time in less than four years, Arizona State University is limiting certain classes to “Native American” students only. However, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is accusing the university of racial segregation and has written a letter to the school, demanding that the classes be opened to all students.

Enrollment in the so-called “rainbow sections” of Professor Lynn Nelson’s English 101 and 102 composition courses at Arizona State University (ASU) are restricted to Native Americans only. But Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy, believes the restricted sections are a violation of state and federal law as well as the United States Constitution.

“At least formally in the law, a long time ago, we decided that people should not be prevented from learning in the same classroom because of their blood or because of the color of their skin,” Lukianoff says. “Trying to reintroduce this idea, even if the motivation is positive, is shortsighted to say the least.”

The FIRE spokesman feels it is discriminatory to prevent non-Native American students from participating in the unique learning experience the special “rainbow sections” provide. “If ASU believes that some Native Americans may benefit from a different kind of writing course, surely the same goes for students of other backgrounds,” he says.

Less than four years ago, FIRE protested a Navajo history class at ASU that limited enrollment to Native American students. In a statement from the academic freedom and individual rights advocacy group, the president said ASU’s resurrection of segregated classes five decades after Brown v. Board of Education is “appalling” and that the idea of “separate but equal” education was discredited long ago.

Although the school officials behind these course restrictions may mean well, Lukianoff feels there is no excuse for their actions. “I’m sure they are doing this with the best of intentions,” he says. “However, the fact that it didn’t occur to them that this is in violation of federal and probably state law and in violation of Constitution is pretty dramatic.”

Back in 2002 when FIRE wrote to ASU in protest of the segregated Navajo history class, the school responded at that time by simply dropping the racial restriction; however, the advocacy group has yet to receive any official response to its September 23, 2005, letter denouncing the university’s latest effort to offer different classes to students of different racial heritage. However, FIRE has noted that some references to the racial restrictions have silently vanished from ASU’s website.

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Schools: Arizona State University