UT Housing recently released the percentages of minority students living in each residence hall in response to claims from a diversity meeting in December that housing on UT's campus is segregated.
Hess and Massey's populations are 28 percent and 31 percent students of color respectively, while residence halls in Presidential Court contain anywhere from 9 to 17 percent each.
Morrill has 26 percent, but this figure is skewed by the Multicultural Mentoring Program on the third floor. Reese Hall houses the fewest minorities at just 9 percent, and Clement, at the most, has almost 45 percent.
Director of Housing Frank Cuevas said the high racial disparities in housing are not an intentional effort by the department, and said no demographic data aside from gender is used during the assignment process. Rooms and halls are assigned on a first come, first served basis, Cuevas said.
Black Student Union member Joshua Oliver presented a list of demands at a diversity meeting last December directly criticized the unequal distribution of minority students in UT Housing.
Oliver said most students of color live in Clement, Massey and Hess, and that these buildings have been given derogatory nicknames like “Nasty Massey” as a result.
Presidential Court, he said, contains very few people of color, and the name itself bears a connotation of elite status and prestige.
“There’s a divide in housing,” Oliver said. “We want to see that come together.”
It is not just the Black Student Union that has taken issue with certain residence halls' disproportionate number of minority students.
A number of students who live or have lived in Clement and Massey Hall have spoken out, suggesting that more students of color live in these buildings than in any other. Clement Hall in particular is known among the student body for having an unusually high population of black, Hispanic and international students.
Julian Wright, senior and president of the UTK Diversity Student Leaders Society, recalled how as an incoming black freshmen without any housing preferences, he was advised by a resident assistant to choose Clement Hall.
“When I was choosing my dorm freshman year, the RA told me ‘Pick Clement, I’m sure you’ll like Clement,’” Wright said. “As a student that knew nothing about where to stay, he may have suggested Clement because I was black and appeared urbanized, he felt that I ‘fit’ or ‘belonged’ in Clement Hall.”
Wright said after he chose to live in Clement, his brother who was a sophomore at the time told him he made the right choice because “all the black folk from Nashville and Memphis are in there.”
While Wright said he enjoyed living in Clement, he felt that other residence halls were never presented as an option.
Many students said they feel like the segregation of residence halls is a failed attempt by Housing to make people feel comfortable. One such student, Chinese international sophomore Liu Yuchen, described how the segregation of international students can prevent them from thoroughly immersing themselves in American culture.
“We came to America to learn the culture, to learn English, to be with the native people,” Liu said. “If we are all put together on purpose, it is the same as if we are still in China.”
Maya Jackson, a Hispanic freshman, said she listed Morrill, Humes and South Carrick — three residence halls located in Presidential Court — as her preferred housing choices. Massey Hall was her last pick, and that is where she was placed.
“I think minorities get placed over here away from the Pres Court area. That area, like this school, is very white … I’ve always felt like Clement, Massey and Hess were the minority halls, and Pres Court is where people who are predominantly white with more money and involved in Greek life live,” Jackson said.
Jada March, a black freshman who was also placed in Massey, said she shares Jackson’s view of a housing system that is divided by racial lines. However, she said she does not believe that the segregation is intentional but rather a product of a larger problem in society — economic inequality among minorities.
“It’s just a product of how the system and life in general is set up. It’s a money issue when you get down to it. It’s all about what you can afford and how fast you can pay for it, which sucks, but that’s the problem,” March said.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, the median net worth of white American households in 2013 was 13 times greater than that of black households and 10 times greater than Hispanic households.
A system that rewards those who can immediately afford to pay the $250 confirmation fee favors higher income students, and Cuevas agrees that this may be one reason why Presidential Court — which historically fills up first — is home to a smaller number of minority students.
Richard Swearingen, associate director for administration of housing, pointed out that more minority students are first generation college students, and they may be less familiar with the application process as a result.
“There may be other factors besides finances,” Swearingen said. “We have a lot of first generation students — first time college attendees from their families. An underrepresented student and a white student may be admitted at the same time. They both have their deposits sitting there in cash on the table, but the white student may know just because all of his brothers have already been through, to move fast on this and confirm.”
Cuevas, a first generation student himself, said he understands that the application process can be confusing. He said that housing is working on reaching out to all populations to help walk students through the application process, and they will continue to work to make room assignment as fair as possible.
The Black Student Union declined to release an updated statement on this issue.
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