December 2010 update : If you’re looking for information on the White Student Union at West Chester University, click here.

I’m having a conversation on Twitter this afternoon with a guy who proposed creating a “White Heterosexual Organization” on his campus. He did this, as he put it, to show “how f’ing stupid it was to have a group based on race, or sexual orientation.”

I’ve seen this argument a lot over the years: “If blacks can have a Black Student Union, why can’t whites have a White Student Union? Why is one okay and the other one not?”

When someone asks me this, my response is always pretty much the same: “Do you actually want to have a White Student Union on campus? Would you be active in a WSU there was one? Is there stuff you’d like to be doing that the absence of a WSU is keeping you from doing?”

So far, nobody has ever answered any of these questions with a yes.

The guy I’ve been talking to on Twitter says he wanted “to make a point about the wrongness of segregation, regardless of purpose.” But you don’t demonstrate that something is bad “regardless of purpose” by showing that it’s bad if it has no purpose, you demonstrate it by showing that it’s bad even if it has a great purpose.

That’s the first fundamental problem with the WSU thought experiment — it doesn’t engage with the reasons that BSUs exist.

The argument that people should never voluntarily separate themselves by race (or gender, or religion, or sexual orientation) is one I can respect. It’s not one that I agree with, but it’s one I can respect. But I can only respect it if the person making the argument understands the real-world reasons why people sometimes do separate themselves along such lines.

If you don’t know why people are doing something, why should I listen when you tell me they should stop?