At Cornell, with 19,700 students, administrators have built 10 living-learning communities, called "program houses," over the past 35 years. Almost all are open to freshmen. "It's an opportunity for students to feel belonging and a sense of personalization in their education," says Donald H. King, the university's director of community development in campus life.
Among the program houses are one for the creative and performing arts (for majors and non-majors); Ecology House, for budding environmentalists; Ujamaa Residential College, for students interested in African-American culture; Akwe:kon, for those interested in American Indian culture, and the Holland International Living Center, for foreign and American students.
Living-learning communities have not been without controversy. Some critics object to the very concept of grouping like-minded individuals, limiting their exposure to different points of view. Others contend that houses based on race or ethnicity segregate members from the larger student body.
Mr. King disagrees. "We've argued this point," he says, after a civil rights group complained to the State Department of Education that Cornell had created segregated housing. The department ruled in 1995 that no laws or regulations had been violated. "The fact is that these houses are open to any students who wish to participate," he says. "What it does is provide a support base for students who need that type of association."
Even if Cornell isn't breaking any laws, having separate dorms for different races is really idiotic. For every black or Latino dorm created, that's one more dorm that becomes effectively all-white, that's a dozen more white people who don't meet any minorities in college, and so forth. Contrary to King's assertion, no student could possibly "need" to be in a living situation with those of any particular race. Colleges need to get past this idea of creating ultimate comfort zones, in which everything feels like home. If students want that, they'll find it on their own, but a college's role is to fight against that impulse.