University Attempt to Give Back Gets BacklashHistorians in the News
tags: higher education, colleges and universities
Fairfield University leaders proposed the creation of Bellarmine College as a way to give back to its socioeconomically disadvantaged neighbor, Bridgeport, Conn.
The Jesuit university in Fairfield, Conn., developed the plan in partnership with the Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocese to provide low-income students in Bridgeport with a two-year associate degree at little to no cost. It would also offer advising and mentorship to help those students find employment after graduation or go on to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program, at Fairfield or elsewhere.
Many of the city’s residents are excited about the opportunities Bellarmine presents. But some locals, while appreciative of the mission, have resisted efforts by Fairfield University and the diocese to open the college in Bridgeport.
The city granted Fairfield initial approval to locate the college in a former Catholic school building in the town’s north end back in April. But that decision was reversed and the diocese withdrew the application following heated opposition from some locals who said the plans violated the town’s zoning laws and expressed concern that the college would lead to traffic congestion and decreased property values.
Davarian Baldwin, the author of In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower, said Connecticut’s socioeconomic inequality is due mainly to the extraction of local wealth away from urban centers and into its suburbs—and, by extension, the private universities that primarily serve them. He calls them “wealth islands,” vortices into which resources from urban centers flow and stick, and says their creation has historically been motivated by racism and exploitation.
“There’s a long history of racial divestment in the building out of the suburbs, and in the creation and funding of universities to serve these communities,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin, who teaches an hour upstate from Fairfield at Trinity College, said the root causes of the area’s socioeconomic disparity make a low-cost two-year degree program effectively futile unless paired with other solutions—including affordable, quality housing and better-paying jobs—to ensure long-term success.