On Monday, news outlets including Inside Higher Ed reported that Moraine Valley Community College (MVCC) in Illinois would offer two African American-only sections of a required college-readiness course this coming fall. College spokeswoman Jessica Crotty told the Chicago Tribune that the idea behind the racially segregated course sections was that “[s]tudents feel comfortable and are more likely to open up because they’re with other students who are like them.” Later that same day, the college reversed course after widespread public criticism, including a scathing letter from New York Civil Rights Coalition (NYCRC) President and Executive Director Michael Meyers. An MVCC administrator told Inside Higher Ed that the college “will no longer offer sections of this course for specific racial groups.”
Needless to say, state-sponsored racial segregation is illegal and unconstitutional. It violates the right of students to legal equality, the defense of which is an important aspect of FIRE’s mission. In 2005, FIRE wrote to Arizona State University to protest two racially segregated courses there, and the university quickly opened those courses to all students.
Soon after media reports of MVCC’s segregated courses appeared on Monday, NYCRC head (and longtime FIRE friend) Michael Meyers wrote a blistering letter to the president of MVCC, the chair of the college’s Board of Trustees, and the president of the college’s accrediting authority. Meyers wrote:
The mocking of the law and the sheer arrogance implicit in decision-making based on race and skin color “differences” are at hand. Any policy or effort that restricts enrollment to a college course on such objectionable and prohibited racial grounds—is profoundly obvious and disturbing. Such racial discrimination raises troubling and substantial questions about the college’s commitment to state and federal law—indeed to the rule of law—and to its commitment to the open pursuit of knowledge which is a fundamental of the academic experience and mission. To defy the law and regulations and academic principles in such a flagrant fashion suggests the lowering if not outright abandonment of rigorous standards of the college’s accreditation. That is why we are addressing this open letter to the college’s president and to the president of the Higher Learning Commission, the college’s accrediting authority. We are also copying this letter to the Chair of the Board of Trustees, because it is our belief that the trustees share responsibility for upholding the law and for fulfilling the college’s academic mission without compromise with fads and racist shenanigans.
Meyers implored the college president:
Tell me, please, that these media reports are errant.
Tell me, please, that Moraine Valley Community College is not actually segregating students in academic courses by race and/or skin color, in ways that separate them from their peers of other skin colors and in ways that bar any student from enrolling in a course designated for students of a particular race only.
Meyers’ strong letter worked: MVCC announced on the same day that it will not offer the racially restricted course sections after all.
Working in this field for a long time (I celebrated my 11th anniversary with FIRE earlier this year), one can get inured to some of these outrages because of how routine they are. It can be hard to muster the same degree of outrage the 20th time you write a letter that you felt the first time you wrote it. But maintaining that outrage is critical to educating the public— who may be hearing about a particular issue for the first time—about why so many things that happen on college campuses are both unconstitutional and morally abhorrent.
That’s why Meyers’ letter was so heartening—and so effective. He has been at this for a long time, but you can hear in his words that he is still outraged to his very core.
We at FIRE thank Meyers for his contribution to the quick and complete resolution of this injustice.