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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

These news items about residential colleges, collegiate houses, and the renewal of university life are posted for readers of the Collegiate Way website. For more about residential colleges and collegiate universities please visit the main Collegiate Way page.

For Collegiate Diversity (and against theme halls)

— In contrast to the “theme halls” that are popular on many university campuses—theme halls that put all science students together, or all art students, or all international students—a residential college should be a full cross section of its parent university, a cross section that integrates the community rather than segregates it. The benefits of this kind of integration have long been recognized by residential college writers. Here’s just one example, from a 1946 history of Christ College at the University of Tasmania edited by C.C. Cowling, a volume included in my bibliography of residential college histories:

It has been for the good of all that students from various faculties should be thrown together in the various associations and activities of college life. In that atmosphere and environment nothing is exempt from the test of criticism and experience; opinions are sifted and convictions hammered out; men learn from the interplay of thought and action; character and faith are developed, and men are saved from narrowness and exclusiveness, receiving a wider vision for their life’s work.

A similar motive lay behind Abbott Lawrence Lowell’s initiative to establish a residential college system at Harvard University at the turn of the twentieth century: when left to their own devices, he argued, students often segregate themselves by comparative wealth, to the detriment of their own development as well as the development of society as a whole. The institutionally-promoted segregation that theme halls manifest, like the self-segregation of students left to their own devices, is antithetical to liberal education, which should have the encouragement of genuine diversity as one of its foundations.

Update · 26 November 2005: Even an entertainer like Garrison Keillor understands that theme halls are a bad idea.

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