Saturday, April 14, 2012

Self-Segregation in Our Schools

As an environmental health student at Rollins, I have read only a handful of academic articles on race, ethnicity, and mental health, so I am certainly not an expert.  I do know, however, that I found myself upset at the state of the lunch room at my assigned school.

Growing up in Chicago, I quickly realized that segregation is certainly still a problem in our current world (many neighborhoods in Chicago are associated with an ethnic group, and there is not much ‘mixing’!).  Segregation was the norm, but it was something I was never okay with accepting.  I lived in a predominately Mexican neighborhood, was the president of “Project:  Diversity” (a group at my high school promoting cultural awareness), and have always had a diverse group of friends.

A few weeks ago while observing the lunch room at my school, I was bothered when I realized that nearly all of the tables were filled with students of the same race (this school is predominately African-American, but also has a number of students from east Asian, south Asian, Middle Eastern, European, and Latino backgrounds). This brought me back to our discussion in class about the book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”, and I began to explore the benefits and disadvantages of this self-segregation.

Surprisingly, little research has been conducted on the attitudes of students toward their peers of other racial groups (Kurlaender & Yun, 2007).   In fact, in my brief search, I could not find any recent articles which discussed findings I hoped to see:  the vast social and educational benefits of interacting with classmates of other races and ethnicities.  

I did come across a few very interesting figures, and I would like your help in interpreting them.  Now, I certainly understand that racial identity and cultural connection is important (although, a personal anecdote, I went to a college of Swedish heritage, full of Swedes and Swedish-Americans just like me, and I am now realizing that just about all of my best friends were some of the non-Swedes…), but I did not realize it played such a role in overall comfort in the classroom.  If you get some time during this busy thesis, pre-finals week, take a look at this article, or at least explore the following figures with me!  

-Erika Rees
RSPH, Environmental Health


  1. Really interesting post. Self-segregation is a common occurrence at my school, with of course many exceptions. I remember reading Beverly Tatum's book "Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?" and realizing that self-segregation can be an important part of children's racial identity development. Throughout my college experience I have tried to see self-segregation less as something that needs to be changed, and more as an (often) necessary phenomena given our culture's racism. However, I still find myself wishing my students didn't self-segregate....

    The first thing that struck me about the graphs was that whites seem to feel the least comfortable when they are at schools where they are the minority. This seems to make sense. Because whites are the hegemonic majority in the US, whites would not have experience being the minority in or out of the classroom. This lack of familiarity could make whites less comfortable when they are the minority. What do you all think?

  2. This post is really interesting to me as well! I grew up in the South and as a minority student in my advanced classes, I was still aware of self-segregation by myself and my peers.

    I do think that our natural tendency to blend with other races and cultures is molded by several factors. These factors include how often we are put in these situations, our personal views of other races and cultures, and how others around us view mixing of cultures.

    I think that Scot brought up a good point about the graphs and whites being less comfortable when they are in the minority and the possible reason for their discomfort. I think as a minority, we become acclimated to being just that... the minority.This unusual situation becomes our norm and therefore whether or not we like it we become comfortable.

    Her's a somewhat related piece about race views among children done by CNN. I think a lot of our views about our own race and others are shaped during our childhood.