Educational institutions, whether K-12 or college-level, are remarkably stratified–that is, very fucking segregated– along the lines of race, ethnicity, and class. While it is easy to argue that, historically, segregation, particularly in schools, has had a distinctly racist overtone, it is a bit harder these days to describe segregation in schools as entirely undesirable to those who experience it. This is particularly the case among millenials, a population segment that is constantly forging new, yet familiar identities, tussling with conformity (related to art and gender) and also embracing it through near-ubiquitous social media performances. Most schools still have some de jure form of segregation, which contrasts with de facto state and local-driven policies that characterized much of the 1960’s and every industrialized period in the US prior to that. Sean Reardon, of Stanford University, argues that Brown V. Board, the ‘landmark’ case which swept away government-sanctioned segregationist laws and practices, actually did little to reverse the trend of segregation (at least in that immediate time period). While the court case was symbolically relevant, Reardon holds that meaningful de-segregation reductions did not occur until well into the 1970s, around the time of the Supreme Court’s other, largely-forgotten segregation case (Green v. Board), over a decade after Brown V. Board took place. Reardon notes that,
Although the 1954 Brown decision is rightly hailed as the most significant Supreme Court decision concerning schools in US history, it had little immediate impact on school segregation.
Over 60 years after Brown, the level of exposure which minorities–particular Blacks–have to Whites, a key measure in understanding the scope of de-segregation, remains little changed. Researchers analyzing school segregation often rely on what’s called the Dissimilarity Index to understand assimilation frequencies. The Dissimilarity Index calculates the proportion of a particular race that would need to switch schools to create a pattern of school enrollment where each school had the same proportions of students. In 1968, the Dissimilarity Index for Blacks/Whites was 0.80. For reasons ranging from redlining (a real estate tactic aimed at segregating communities), White flight (which tends to contribute to between-district segregation) and school-of-choice programs, segregation has remained a staple throughout most US schools districts. Though the reasons for being pro-integration should be clear, I’ll provide this shot of liquor: school desegregation has routinely been shown to be advantageous for Blacks (improved earnings and increased likelihood of white-collar jobs) and completely unharmful to Whites (the purported harms of integration were the pro-segregationist rallying cry).
As I argued in another piece for High Faluter, there seems to be an over-emphasis on school resources in discussions of racially homogenous schools, and this is partly because the variation is school funding between higher income and lower income school districts is actually not so broad. As Reardon explains,
Segregation today is not as strongly linked to school resource inequality (in terms of financial resources). If segregation in the pre-Green era operated primarily through its effects on the inequality of school funding, it may be less consequential in the modern era of smaller funding disparities.
Is it perhaps time to turn away from segregation as a racialized pattern and instead move the topic in the direction of modern socialization theory? Despite the known historical linkage between race-driven segregation desires, it is hard to ignore the very-much voluntary racial and ethnic polarization that we see on campus in 2017–Whites with Whites, Asians with Asians, Blacks with Blacks–where students literally congeal into swaths of homogeneity as if operating with different ionic charges. Of course, you see your fair share of inter-racial smatterings (and plenty of White dude/Asian girl pairings), but the networking and socialization that most of us see on campus is far from intersectional. There is little empirical research on the racial and ethnic preferences of college students when it comes to who they want to hang out with, hook up with, or study with, but as someone who has visited universities and colleges around the US, the racial distancing between students, whether in classrooms, in campus cafeterias, at football games, or out on the quad, is obvious. No doubt some minority students gravitate toward “their own” because of feelings of not belonging to other social groups and personal rejection, which can transform into micro-aggression if these feelings derive from a sense of identity discrimination. So is it the case that college students have been habituated into these patterns and are naturally clustered into groups of people that look like them, or are these continuations of deliberate, insidious efforts to draw racial lines in the sand?
Is segregation okay, if all sides play some voluntary part in perpetuating it?
(Photo courtesy of College of DuPage)
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