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Officials seek to limit self-segreated dorms at UMass-Amherst

AMHERST, Mass. --Officials at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst are phasing out self-segregated dormitories, the latest effort to rid the campus of separate programs for minorities.

"There's nothing healthy about segregation," said Michael Gargano, vice chancellor of student affairs and campus life.

Currently, minority students can choose to live in residence halls designated for particular races and ethnicities. There are residential clusters dedicated to students of Asian, African-American, and Native American backgrounds, and one dedicated to students seeking a multicultural. They were initiated as a means of providing comfort and comradeship on an overwhelmingly white campus.

But beginning this fall, there will be no floors set aside for minority students when an 860-bed cluster of residence halls open. The university also plans to discourage students from choosing to live with students of like race or ethnicity, The Boston Sunday Globe reported.

"Students who come to the university need to be exposed to different opinions and ideas. When you have segregated pockets in our residence halls, we are allowing students to shut themselves off, and then they are missing out," Gargano said.

The school does plan to offer living quarters that bring together people with the same interests. For example, students pursuing African-American studies could choose to live together.

The university also will require freshmen to live with other freshmen.

Nationwide, universities and colleges are struggling with whether minority students should be allowed or encouraged to live together. Some schools continue to embrace self-segregated living quarters as an answer, such as the University of California, Berkeley.

At UMass, the move to desegregate housing follows the dismantling of some other race-based programs. In the past five years, the school has stopped holding separate orientations for minorities and assigning them to separate academic advising offices.

But some students say they like the separate residence halls.

"We are like family!" said Nisha Mungroo, 19, a sophomore, who lives on a floor designated for African-American students. "You come here and find comfort in your community."

But others say they don't want to close themselves off.

Anton Pires, a freshman, said he lived in Southwest, a dorm for black students, for a semester, then transferred.

"It can be good to be with people who have had the same struggles as you, people you can be more open with," said Pires, a native of Cape Verde. "But I didn't want to close myself off to people. I wanted to get a different feel."

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