One of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ eight commissioners has urged the president of Kennesaw State University to stop segregating students based on race, saying a recent event hosted by its College of Humanities and Social Sciences was likely unlawful and may have exacerbated racial divides.
Commissioner Peter Kirsanow cited Heat Street’s reporting of an April 13 event Kennesaw hosted on privilege and interracial relations, where “those who identify as white” were asked to go to one room, while “those who identify as people of color” were directed to another.
“If one were reading a history of the civil rights movement and came across an account of a Georgia university in 1965 that sent ‘white’ and ‘colored’ students to separate student orientations, one would be appalled,” Kirsanow wrote. “The April 13 event is not less appalling because students are referred to as ‘people of color’ rather than ‘colored.’ However well-intentioned, this is segregation for the 21st century.”
Kirsanow noted the flyer’s phrasing, which asked students to go to the room based on which race they “identify” as their own. The commissioner said that phrasing was “unavailing” if it was supposed to create “some sort of legal wiggle room,” though he said it was “likely reflexive PC-talk.”
A spokesman for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights later told Heat Street that “Mr. Kirsanow’s views are his personal views and he was speaking solely on his own behalf. His statements do not represent the official views of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.” Kirsanow is the only Republican appointee on the commission.
In his letter, Kirsanow said that by dividing students based on race, the university forced biracial students to make an “odious” choice about which parent and heritage to claim.
“I am concerned that an event such as this fosters racial division,” Kirsanow wrote. “By its nature, it forces students to view themselves in terms of what divides them, rather than what they have in common. It also encourages an unfortunate binary view of society that, depending on your perspective, is either ‘whites against everyone else’ or ‘everyone else against whites.’”
The commissioner also asked whether a white student from a poor and uneducated Appalachian family was still inherently more privileged than a black student born to Atlanta attorneys.
“Is it healthy to encourage students to view themselves as either oppressors who must ritually atone for their ‘privilege,’ or as victims against whom the forces of society are arrayed, simply because of their skin?” he wrote.
Though Kennesaw’s president, Sam Olens, may not have been aware of the April 13 event, Kirsanow wrote, he should direct the university’s faculty and staff to heed Brown v. Board of Education and to stop segregating students.
Kennesaw State University did not respond to Heat Street‘s request for comment. Earlier this month, a university spokeswoman said the event was “being mischaracterized” as segregation. It was held to “foster learning and create an environment of understanding and support for one another,” she said.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally misidentified Kirsanow as the “head of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.” He is one of eight commissioners, including Catherine E. Lhamon, who is the chair.