The Collegian
Friday, June 21, 2024

Can separate but equal ever really be equal?

As many regular Collegian readers know, there has recently been an ongoing online debate surrounding an article written two weeks ago by Zak Kozuchowski, titled "New business program for men upsets some women."

What started off as ye olde "You're unfair," "No, you're unfair!" debate turned to what I thought was a more interesting dilemma -- is a separation between two groups ever beneficial, or is it always inherently detrimental to one or both groups?

There are various examples to defend both sides, which makes answering complicated.

One could use sports teams as an example of how separation breeds a healthy competition for each respective team.

One could also use the Lakeview separations as beneficial to people with separate interests from one another, or separations between age groups on the school bus as beneficial to conversational tactics of each respective age (i.e. my sister came home saying "vagina" once as a kindergartener because she heard a fifth grader say it, and my mom thought that age span was just too wide for interaction).

There are always arguments based on common ground, that comfort levels thrive when like is with like. And this helps people to flourish to their full potential.

There are also arguments to the contrary, perhaps most neatly summarized by Chief Justice Earl Warren in his presiding discourse following Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, that "separate but equal is inherently unequal."

This statement applied to racial segregation, regarding which there is no evidence to contest the magnitude and obviousness of the inequality.

The general implications of the Warren Court opinion, however, are applicable to a great variety of separations.

The Warren Court placed emphasis on the detrimental effects upon people being told to separate themselves from a society or community in which they would rather participate.

Importantly, Justice Warren emphasized the impact of such separations as rule of law - that when people are ordered or forced to separate according to group identities, the effect is harmful. With that, he overturned the law -- you all know that.

The thing about Lakeview and sports teams (we'll leave minors out of this one) is that joining is a choice.

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A person joins a team or program (likewise, a school or major) knowing that she or he will be grouped with that team, program, school, etc. when it comes to issues it involves.

A Yankees player, for example, knows that he won't be chilling at after-parties for Red Sox victories, and Lakeview students of Literature do not necessarily expect to be included on the wild field trips of the Outdoor House students.

No one is annoyed, no one feels controlled or quarantined and everyone is content with knowing that even if the separation does end up being somewhat bothersome for any reason, it was nonetheless a choice.

Here at Richmond, we have some optional separations (all of the aforementioned examples included). We also have some separations that don't involve our own decision-making, and this is inherently problematic.

When people are separated by rule or law, there is a sense of alienation between groups that awakens the "inherently unequal" phantom to haunt the division. Division between genders -- you knew I'd come around to it eventually! -- is one of these types of divisions.

There have been some slight changes in recent years (as I believe a couple of dorms are co-ed now), but boys and girls are divided on this campus in ways I didn't think existed (as stated by Collegian commenter Jake Morrison) post-1900s. Such has apparently been a longstanding tradition, and in this day and age it seems a bit pre-historic.

All over campus, as I have written about numerous times, are awkward interactions between males and females that often (not always) develop into awkward relationships, awkward break-ups, and meanness from both sides. (If you want proof, conduct a couple of interviews. Conduct hundreds. Conduct thousands. Heck, bring in the alumni and ask them too!)

Boys are alienated from girls, and girls from boys, and the result appears to be rather competitive and/or disaffiliated teams that no one signed up for and everyone seems a little bitter about playing on.

On a similar note to my article from last week, there is also a proposed change for next year regarding LGBT students in the form of an additional Lakeview program for them to participate in.

I heard rumors about whether or not this might be mandatory for students identifying as LGB, and should this fly in the affirmative direction I worry about the ability of this campus to stick with the decade.

If LGB students are separated from those identifying as "straight," a whole host of problems arise - students will feel as though they need to be "out of the closet" in order to be respected by either set of peers, they will think that if they don't know by college age whether or not they self-identify as homosexual then they are not, and (as anyone who self-identifies as heterosexual knows and likely has seen in action) they will be excluded from the school community at large.

This is not because LGB students live in separate communities, but because they have been set aside in separate communities; they have been segregated from other students, and in a frenzy of discomfort other students will seek for unfavorable explanations as to why the segregation is necessary.

Another point to consider is that this would furthermore be unfortunate for both students who do and those who do not self-identify as LGB because they could be forced to separate from living with some of their best friends. Furthermore, how to solve the strictly male-male, female-female living pattern -- or was pregnancy the only concern?

Choice is absolutely the key ingredient to any working separation. First-year women and men should be allowed to choose whether to live in single-sex or co-ed dorms, and LGB students should be able to choose whether or not to live with heterosexual students.

Choice is of utmost importance regarding personal comfort and happiness. If it weren't, I would stress the need to delineate indications of difference altogether.

I will not do this however, because if a girl wants to live amongst only girls then she should do exactly that with no questions asked. The same goes for male and LGB students.

I do think that the more choice there is, the more people will opt into increased interaction, but our school is a long way from producing any kind of telling result thus far.

On the other hand, we could leave requirements based on gender and sexual orientation intact. They will only last until the transsexuals arrive.

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