When Gentrification Happens in the University


By Mark Naison (September 17, 2015)

Someone carved the “N” word on the door of a Black student living in one of Fordham’s residence halls this weekend. I have no comforting words for those who feel profoundly violated. I will do whatever is necessary to protect my students and all who feel vulnerable and alone as a result of this very serious attack on our community’s values and integrity.

I love all my Fordham students. Most of them are extremely nice people and some of them are truly extraordinary in terms of wisdom, compassion, and concern for others,. But none of them are immune to larger trends shaping the school, the city and the nation. When you bring upper middle class and wealthy students, most of them white, into a school located in the city’s poorest borough, a school in which tuition is rising rapidly, and which the proportion of low income student students of color is shrinking, there are bound to be tensions, some of which will come out in ugly, insensitive behavior.

You need to let everyone know this behavior is unacceptable, but unless you deal with the long term trends intensifying race and class differences between the school and the surrounding community, we are likely to see recurrences of what happened last weekend, Sensitivity training is well and good; but there are institutional issues and long term economic trends at work whose influence should not be minimized.

All over the nation, universities are being “gentrified.” Not just my own school Fordham, but state universities all over the nation–from Tennessee, to North Carolina to Wisconsin to California–whose tuition has gone up astronomically, along with urban private universities like Temple and Marquette. At these schools the race and class gap between the student body and athletes in revenue producing sports–football and men’s and women’s basketball–has never been larger. The result: students regard the players on those teams not as fellow students, but as employees or staff, and treat them accordingly.

Gentrification is not only something than happens in neighborhoods. It can also be used to describe trends in universities.


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