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*Moraine Valley Community College in Illinois is defending its controversial decision to restrict enrollment in some classes to blacks only, saying the move benefits the students as far as increased engagement and class participation.

Chicago Tribune opinion writer Ted Slowik wrote about the issue after several parents reached out to him wondering why the school had such a policy:

“While helping my son register for college at Moraine Valley Community College, we noticed that the required course College 101 has two sections limited to African-American students,” one Speak Out participant observed. “He wants to know why there are not two sections limited to Asian-American students? How about Native American students?”

Another reader sent me a copy of course listings. Sure enough, for the one-credit-hour, fall semester course, “College: Changes, Challenges, Choice,” there’s a note that registration for some sections is “limited to African-American students.”

Margaret Lehner, the college’s vice president for institutional advancement, said blacks aren’t the only group to get exclusive courses on campus, and that Moraine Valley’s curriculum and support services are shaped by data-driven decision making.

“This is not something new for us. We’ve done [courses for] veterans, we’ve done women, we have done Hispanics,” Lehner told InsideHigherEd.com. “We find that these particular courses with these particular groups with our mentoring and peer support help them to be more successful than they would be if they did not have this particular experience.”

Still, a number of Moraine Valley parents are calling the move a form of reverse segregation.

Michael A. Olivas, acting president of University of Houston Downtown, told InsideHigherEd.com that the policy sounded well intentioned but misguided:

[Olivas] said it invited mischief from those who had no interest in the success of minority students. Aggrieved white people tend to fixate on programs that are exclusionary or that even attempt to target minority populations, Olivas said.

Olivas is on leave as director of the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance at the University of Houston. He said he doubted anyone would have standing to sue over the policy but argues that courses and even support services should be opened up to participation by any student who is interested.

“I think it’s ill-advised, arguably subject to legal challenge, and you don’t want to wave the flag in front of the bull,” he said.

The classroom is not the place to address larger institutional issues involving inclusiveness that should be tackled through forms such as a more inclusive admissions process, he said. Olivas also said that limiting course sections to a particular racial or ethnic group could diminish the image of those classes, whereas experiencing other viewpoints and backgrounds improves tolerance among all groups.