University of Illinois Mythbusters: The story behind segregation in our residence halls

By Paul Cruse III

Circle around the keg, and I will tell you a scary horror story, full of bigotry, stereotypes and deliberate maliciousness. Once upon a time, there was a very large and very prestigious University. But behind all its notoriety was an ominous secret.the University deliberately put their Latino and African American freshman in far away residence halls that resembled a housing project.

Some say they did this because they wanted to keep their white students safe from dangerous urban minorities. Others say they placed the minorities far away so it would be harder for them to go to class and they would flunk out. No one knows the real reason why, all we do know is that every August a large percentage of black and Latino freshmen are herded to Florida Avenue Residence (FAR) and Pennsylvania Avenue Residence (PAR) on purpose. The End (or is it, muhahahahaha).

Now as ludicrous as this story sounds, a portion of the minority student body feels this to be true. I will admit that even I, at one time, jumped on the “system-vs.-us” bandwagon and thought the University consciously placed certain ethnicities in certain residence halls. But I am here to put your worries to rest, after talking to staff members from housing and doing a little research of my own, I concluded there is no deliberate placing of students in particular residence halls based on race.

I am not denying that there are more minorities in some residence halls than in others, but this is not because University Housing is purposely placing them there. University Housing does not receive any information about your race when you send in your housing contract. Housing is based on a “first come, first served” basis. When you are first accepted to this University, you get your housing contract. You then suggest three different residences you would like to live in order of preference.

But after students move in, voluntary surveys are taken that include demographic questions in order to check the consistency of the process. Administrators want to maximize the number of students who receive their first preference. According to the statistics in 2007 school year, 58.5 percent of African Americans and 56.5 percent of Latinos received their first preference. That rate is very close to the 63.5 percent of Caucasian students who received their first choice. Of the people who didn’t receive any of their preferences 11.9 percent were black, 13.8 percent were Latino and 14.4 percent were white.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Additionally, though it might be hard to believe, FAR and PAR are the same distance from the main quad as Garner Hall in the six pack. Since there is no distance disadvantage for students who live FAR and PAR the University wouldn’t be hurting anyone’s chances of getting to class by putting them there. So the real question is why are there more ethnicities in one hall vs. another?

Though difficult to answer, it is most likely due to word of mouth. People of the same high school, including mine, will probably want to live with each other in the same hall. Another reason is the influence of family, friends and other alumni. My father graduated from this University, and he stayed in the six pack when he was here. The stories of all the great memories he had living on Gregory Drive influenced my decision. But if you believe that freshmen housing should be a tool to help students diversify, then there are a few solutions to this “problem.”

The University could implement different procedures that give students less control over where they are assigned to live. According to Kirsten Ruby, Assistant Director of Housing for Marketing, “Students I talk with, from groups like Central Black Student Union and University Housing Leadership Coalition don’t like the idea of these types of systems.”

I would agree with these students. As a person who frequently works out and plays basketball (and not very well, according to some of my friends), I loved being in the six pack because it was so close to IMPE. It was also a reason why I chose to live there for two years. Most of my friends came from people I met while at IMPE. If I lived someplace else, my entire university experience would be completely different.

After learning all this and taking the time to think about it, I can safely say that the deliberate placing of minority students in specific residence halls is a myth. But if you would like the University to take a more “progressive” stance on trying to diversify the student body through purposeful housing assignments, then let your voice be heard.

Paul is a junior in political and computer science and is currently apartment hunting.