A group of black students at Rice University in Houston, Texas is demanding administrators establish a racially segregated “Black House” on campus, as part of an “ongoing process” to “address the systemic oppression and inequity” in the university’s history.
“We demand that Rice invest in creating a non-residential Black House that has all the features of a residential college but is specifically made for Black students and Black organizations to congregate and hold events,” the group wrote in a list of demands (pdf), shared by Rice University Students Association on its official Facebook page.
“We believe it would be best to have a central, safe space that Black students can meet and hangout in anytime of the day,” the group said.
In addition to a designated space which only black students have access to, the group also called for the removal of a statue William Marsh Rice, who left his fortune to found a tuition-free but white-only institution that would become today’s Rice University.
“Sitting at the center of our university is William Marsh Rice, the owner of 15 slaves during the mid-19th century,” the group wrote. “We believe that there could be numerous better options to represent the heart of our university and acknowledge Rice’s racist past.”
The students also seek the university to hire more black counselors and therapists who are “trained on how to handle racial trauma,” increase enrollment of black students, and allow black students to select their roommates based on race.
The list of demands received criticism on social media, including from former New York Jets player Burgess Owens and conservative commentator Jesse Kelly.
“I remember as a kid protesting a segregated movie theater, we weren’t allowed to watch a movie on the big screen because it was whites only,” wrote Owens on Twitter. “Now we’re offended by garage door pulls? If my parents could see us now.”
“William M. Rice said Rice should be ‘for whites only.’ There’s still a statue of him on campus,” Kelly wrote on Twitter sarcastically. “That statue MUST come down and @RiceUniversity should be for black people only from now on. It’s the only way to make this right.”
The Rice student’s demands echo an ongoing trend in universities and colleges, where administrators are asked to give black students favorable treatment amid an outcry of racial injustice, sparked by George Floyd’s death. Earlier this month, an accounting professor at the University of California-Los Angeles was placed on leave after he refused to accommodate black students in his class in their final exams. In an online petition calling for his removal, his unwillingness to treat black students differently is deemed “extremely insensitive, dismissive, and woefully racist.”