Racial Covenants in Whitworth's Student Housing

When Whitworth created student housing during and after the Second World War it was not available to all.

A racial covenant is a clause in a property deed barring the sale to, or occupation by, members of specific non-white racial groups or any non-white individuals. The practice of including racial covenants in real estate began in the 1920s and 1930s. A Supreme Court ruling in 1968 made such racial covenants unenforceable though they remain a part of many property records already containing them and, incredibly many were still added to property deeds even after this ruling.

During WWII Two Whitworth College suffered from a shortage of housing so severe many applicants were rejected solely due to the lack of housing. In 1942, as part of the College’s efforts to address this housing issue, Whitworth platted a housing addition known as College Homes adjacent to its campus. This new housing was dedicated to housing veterans and married couples and included the following covenant restriction: “No persons of any race other than the white race shall use or occupy any building upon these premises, except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race domiciled with owner or tenant.”

While such racial covenants were far from uncommon, most properties did not contain such covenants. A likely explanation for the inclusion of this racial covenant in the College Homes housing project is that Whitworth, like many colleges and universities in the area at that time, received assistance from the Federal Housing Administration for the purpose of student housing. It was the policy of the FHA at that time to suggest the inclusion of such racial exclusionary practices right down to suggesting the exact wording of racial covenants. The inclusion of the provision allowing live-in non-white domestic servants in particular strongly suggests that this provision did not originate with Whitworth College as the notion that an institution struggling with a severe shortage of housing for its students would anticipate also housing domestic servants is, at best, unlikely.

The existence of this exclusionary racial covenant came to light in 2022 as a result of The Racial Restrictive Covenants Project, and was a surprise to many, including the faculty and administration of Whitworth itself. The Racial Restrictive Covenants Project, an endeavor authorized by the Washington State Legislature under SHB 1335 (May 2021) and carried out by researchers from the University of Washington and Eastern Washington University, is charged with “identifying and mapping neighborhoods covered by racist deed provisions and restrictive covenants.”

After being contacted by The Racial Restrictive Covenants Project and informed of their discovery of the above document Whitworth University President Scott McQuilkin sent an email to members of the Whitworth community informing them of the discovery and stating that, “We are deeply sorry that we participated in this racist practice, and we recognize it was a clear failure to live up to our mission to honor God, follow Christ and serve humanity. This reprehensible practice of racial exclusion speaks to a reservoir of racism that has been a part of our nation’s past and still exists today… We condemn this racialized caste system.”