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Community College Nixes Idea to Limit Class Only to Black Students

A suburban Chicago community college has reversed a decision to limit certain sections of its freshmen prerequisite course to just black students.Earl
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Professor giving a lecture to a group of people at a classroom.Getty Images

A suburban Chicago community college has decided not to offer certain sections of a prerequisite class only to black students after the move prompted an immediate backlash.

Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Illinois, had noted in its fall semester registration for College 101 — a required college readiness course for all full-time freshmen that teaches study skills and other tips — that registration for some sections was "limited to African-American students," reported The Chicago Tribune.

No other races were singled out.

Clare Briner, director of marketing and communications for Moraine Valley, told NBC News the school will offer more than 130 sections of College 101 in the fall, and that while the school "no longer offers sections of its College 101 course for specific racial groups," it will still offer two sections that are designated for students with disabilities and one section for honors students.

She said the university would not be commenting further. But earlier this week, college officials said the idea behind limiting enrollment to black students only was to help students by putting them with like-minded peers.

"Students feel comfortable and are more likely to open up because they’re with other students who are like them,” a Moraine Valley spokeswoman, Jessica Crotty, told The Chicago Tribune.

Margaret Lehner, the school's vice president for institutional advancement, added they have limited courses by specific populations in the past.

“We’ve done [courses for] veterans, we’ve done women, we have done Hispanics,” she told Inside Higher Education. “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.”

Experts in diversity in education say while research does show that black students who attend historically black colleges and universities and female students who attend women's colleges show superior learning outcomes, there haven't been studies on segregating classes by race in predominantly white universities.

Plus, limiting a course to only one race is likely illegal, according to Shaun Harper, a professor and executive director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

"Imagine if there were a course that were just for white students only. There's no way that would fly," he told NBC News.

Instead, Moraine Valley should have given different focuses to different sections of the College 101 course, he said.

"Imagine if there were a course that were just for white students only. There's no way that would fly."

"If there was a focus in a section on black student success, that would have been perfectly legal, because that would have signaled to people that this is a course that will topically focus on particular strategies and resources that black students would need — but anybody could take the course."

He praised the school's intentions, despite their execution.

"There is something about creating an educational environment where there's a shared cultural history, or gender experience, and so on that tends to elongate learning and a lot of other outcomes," he said. "I think it's actually commendable that the college was attempting to create a race-specific educational experience."

Moraine Valley is a two-year public institution with more than 34,000 students.