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The Racialization of University Space

by Curtis Marez

Influenced by the 1992 Rodney King uprisings in his native South Central but based on his experiences as a USC undergraduate in the late 1980s, John Singleton’s Higher Learning was actually filmed at UCLA (according to the director, his alma mater refused to allow him to make the film at USC). Set at the fictional Columbus University (with a statue of Columbus the explorer replacing the famous statue of Tommy Trojan), HL is  sort a of campus problem film that represents conflicts over race, gender, sexuality, and class. It suggests what activists and scholars call an “intersectional” analysis of power (while nonetheless falling short of such an analysis in many ways).  Its intersecting narratives include: a racist, date-raping white fraternity brother; black students at odds with a group of white skinheads; a tough-love black political science professor; a white woman who questions her heterosexuality and becomes a feminist, anti-racist activist; and finally, a black student from South Central, Malik Williams, partly based on Singleton’s own experiences. In this clip representing a rally to welcome new students, Singleton explains the significance of the scene as the camera ultimately follows Williams through the crowd on his first day on campus. What does the scene suggest about the racial climate on campus? What is the significance of the flag and  statute of Columbus? What does the scene say about how university space is racialized?  

The Racialization of University Space: Higher Learning

The opening scene of Higher Learning presents a revealing view of the racialization of university space.

from Higher Learning (1996)
Creator: John Singleton
Distributor: Columbia
Posted by Curtis Marez