Race Relations in NYU

By Melissa Canales, Editor in Chief

The nation is shaken by the recent uprising of grassroots movements that demand racial justice in our social and political systems. Police brutality and proper representation in government make up only the tip of the iceberg, even if they command the most of the American public’s attention.


Yet, even as it seems that, as a country, we are slowly, and, sometimes, violently, taking small steps forward in achieving racial justice, it isn’t easy to know if we are always on the right path. In late August, New York University, NYU, faced some critical backlash from its Black students after denying them Black-only housing quarters.


Three months ago, in the heat of the BLM movement, Brenah Johnson and her first-year roommate, backed with the support of the student advocacy group Black Violets, co-created a petition specifically requesting the creation of Black-themed engagement floors. These floors would be reserved solely for Black-identifying students. 


Johnson and her roommate defended their racially segregated housing, maintaining that, “Too often in the classroom and in residential life, black students bear the brunt of educating their uninformed peers about racism. This assumed responsibility is exhausting and undoubtedly unfair to NYU’s black community. Black students should not be forced to do the labor of explaining cultural touchstones (like hair rituals) and advocating for their humanity within their own homes.”


The relatability of the petition’s plea to Black students is perhaps why the request has been relatively well-received; as of this article, the petition has amassed 1141 signatures out of a goal of 1500. After all, the students behind the petition claim that NYU had no campus space dedicated solely to the Black population, such as a cultural center.


Several newspapers quickly took to the issue, inaccurately reporting that the university had given the green light on the idea and that racially-designated residential rooms would be open as soon as fall 2020. NYU, however, denied the petition, stating on August 24, “The University strongly supports the goals of diversity, and of creating an environment that is welcoming, supportive, and inclusive for students of color and students from marginalized communities. However, NYU does not have and will not create student housing that excludes any student based on race.” While the option of creating Black-only housing is off the table, the school has not rejected the idea of creating a Black culture and history-themed Engagement floor so long as residential application to this floor is open to all students regardless of race.


While the controversy seemed to end there, the Black Violets have not given up on their mission just yet. Only a few days ago, on August 31, the NYU student-run paper Washington Square News, WSN, ran a piece titled, “Providing Spaces for Black Students Does Not Mean Segregation.” The students used this article as a means to defend their cause, arguing that there is no comparing the demand for Black spaces on campus to the discriminatory practices under the Jim Crow laws.


The article, written by the WSN Editorial Board, states that Black residential floors are similar to any other themed Engagement floor NYU currently boasts. While other floors cater to first-generation students or French aficionados, the Black Exploration floor would be a supportive community of Black-identifying students on a campus where such a support system does not exist anywhere else.


NYU has not made any more official statements on the issue in response to the article, but it seems that the battle for Black communities in the school is far from over.