The Problem of Self-Segregation in American Schools

August 24, 2017
By IanFung BRONZE, Berkeley, California
IanFung BRONZE, Berkeley, California
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

My basketball team is mostly made up of African American people who seem to feel most comfortable around each other. At school, they mostly hang out with one another and this seems to limit their social lives. I’ve also noticed that in IB, a small school at Berkeley High, there is a lot less diversity than in many of the other programs at Berkeley. Maybe people of color avoid it because they think the workload is too consuming, or maybe because they don’t see people like themselves in the community and this makes them feel uncomfortable. Whatever the reason, this self segregation divides the small schools within Berkeley High. It limits our school social experience, preventing our ability to interact or converse with everyone.
Segregation is becoming more of a problem than it ever has been in many communities in the U.S. According to The Guardian, “...more than 20 million students of color now attend racially and socioeconomically isolated public schools. That is up from under 14 million students in 2001.” One reason could be that people who live in poor areas with low property tax go to poorly resourced schools, which give students less opportunities and keeps them in a cycle of poverty. Meanwhile, wealthier families will move to where there is more opportunities for their children and where there are more people like themselves. This in turn leads to more schools segregated by class and geography. Another reason for the resurgence of segregation was because many people thought that they had gotten away from the crisis entirely. Now we can see that is definitely not the case. A feature published by ProPublica revealed that at Central High School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama the population is now 99% black. Before that, “It was one of the South's signature integration success stories.” Freed from oversight the school claimed that they had accomplished their goal and then stopped working towards diversifying their community. The result was that the school almost became as homogeneous as it was when the school was mandated to integrate in 1979. But, segregation also occurs in schools with a diverse student body.
Self segregation is not only the students’ fault in that we as human beings have always been comfortable with other people and things that are familiar to us. And, when a school is very diverse, students tend to gravitate towards people like themselves. Medical Daily stated that, “the more options students have in choosing friends, the more likely they are to settle into close friendships with those who have similar racial backgrounds.” Race does not always play a part in deciding which people you want to be around, but subconsciously you may feel more relaxed around people of your ethnic background because you share similar interests and life experiences. In addition to the diversity of the student body the size of a school can also contribute to self segregation. In my own experience of being at a small and a large school, I noticed that, at a small school, I was forced to befriend people who may not have had exact similar interests and who were not the same race. Conversely, at a large school, I could pick and choose friends because there was a huge variety of people who were into activities that I enjoyed. With that said, because I set a goal to diversify my own friend group, my current group of friends made up of a wide variety of people from different ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations. But there are many different experiences with diversity and segregation in schools in other countries.
Outside of the U.S., which has a history of embracing segregation within communities, other countries have made theirs diverse, while at the same time making it hard to self segregate. In an op-ed published by The Atlantic one student wrote, “When I came back for school, I noticed there was far less casual intertwining. I had friends of other ethnicities and races in college, but they were usually not people who had strong ties to their respective groups on campus.” This young woman attended high school in Israel and then transferred to college in the U.S. She mingled with students who were not her ethnicity when she was in the U.S, but it did not seem as natural, or the students tended to not to be connected to their own racial group. Whether a racial group is the correct term or not, the point is, she did not feel as though she was diversifying her friend group. “In other words, there were individuals who integrated, but interactions between groups who had strong ties to their campus communities tended to be less fluid than they were in my high school.” She felt that students who had grown up in strong close-knit communities did not necessarily want to broaden their horizons. These students may have spent all their energy and felt no need or desire to befriend people of other races and ethnicities.
While schools tend to still be racially and socioeconomically isolated there are ways that I can start breaking down barriers in my own life related to these problems. Even as self segregation has become more of a problem then ever, and students feel more relaxed or tend to gravitate around other groups of people like themselves, I can still try to befriend and talk to them. This will in turn give them a friend that they would may not have considered, thereby slightly diversifying both of our friend groups. If more people follow this trend, it might also help different groups of people to intertwine and mingle amongst one another. Evidence shows that even once very diverse schools tend to slowly segregate themselves like in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where the school population is now 99% black. Being in a large school with a diverse population gives the appearance that the problem is being solved, but students self segregate amongst themselves in and outside of school. This year I will continue to fight against this impulse, making it a point to reach out to other players on my team and encouraging them to connect with different types of people at our school.

The author's comments:

My name is Ian Fung, and I am a sophmore at Berkeley High School. Some intrests of mine are sports, specifically basketball and track. I hope that this aricle is read by many students who feel that self-segregation is a problem, and can start changing little things in their lives to correct it.

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