As Lehrer spoke in the cavernous dining hall called the "Ratty," most of the Hispanics, Asians and blacks ate lunch in small, separate groups.
Several white students said they understood why there were Spanish and German houses, because students practiced new languages there. But they said they didn't understand how there could be an "African American house," because they doubted they would be allowed to have a "white house." Many white students were uncomfortable discussing the issue and did not want to be identified.
Supporters of separate dorms said that for as long as there have been fraternities and sororities, students have been seeking out ways to live with other people like themselves.
They said athletes room together, people from New Jersey room together, rich people with summer homes on Long Island room together. Because there are so few minority students on major campuses, every dormitory is essentially a "white dorm," they said.
William H. Gray III, president of the United Negro College Fund, said, "We say it's acceptable to have a Hillel House, a Newman (Catholic) House, and Lutheran House, but as soon as we have a Harambee House, it's bad.
"Instead of asking, why are black students separating from whites at white college campuses, we should be asking, what is wrong with white America and its institutions that blacks don't feel welcome?"