Re: A meeting on diversity in svs-model schools

Mbradford1@aol.com
Tue, 3 Sep 1996 23:41:21 -0400

To: Diversity Discussion
From: Melissa Bradford, Liberty School Founders, Joliet, IL

Get ready - it's another novel by Melissa.

As a senior in college I did some research on black/white student relations,
and I would like to add some of my observations from that experience, as well
as other thoughts, to the discussion.

On Recruitment of Minorities:

Northwestern University has the advantage of being located near Chicago and
so is fairly successful, as far as colleges go, in recruiting black students.
NU is proud of the fact that it has a black student population that is
reflective of the nation's composition. Unfortunately, there is a high
failure rate and dropout rate for the black students at NU. If the goal of
recruitment is to make the university look good, they probably consider
themselves successful, because they can point to their admissions numbers.
But if the goal is to allow black students to have the same opportunities
and same success rate as the white students, I'm afraid that, for a variety
of reasons, NU is not successful, although they have certainly tried a number
of programs to rectify the dropout situation.

So the question remains - Is their recruitment policy a success? I think if
you look at the individual lives affected, certainly there are those who
would say yes (those who made the best of their opportunity and benefitted
greatly). But there are also a fair number of black students - the ones who
failed - who would say no. I guess I would say that the results don't
exactly convince me that recruitment is a good idea. Maybe it could be
improved upon, or maybe it is a problem intrinsic to the act of recruitment.
I absolutely want everyone to have an equal opportunity and equal access.
But as for convincing a minority member to be a part of my institution for
the reason that I would like diversity? It might benefit me, but has the
potential to result in more harm than good to the minority member. I don't
know that I am comfortable taking that risk. I would prefer to do exactly
what I would do with all potential students and parents: try like heck to
get them to hear about the school and then if they express interest try to
scare them off from actually attending the school!

The point I would (perhaps clumsily) like to make is that a policy of trying
to recruit minorities to your school may not have the effect you desire,
unless your hope is to look better or ease your conscience. On the other
hand, if minorities self-select to your school or group and try to make a
place for themselves in the same manner as everyone else does, I would think
that they have as good a chance as any of benefitting from a sudbury model
school. (Putting aside the question of coming in with a different cultural
background, for now.)

On Success of Integration:

I'd like to also question the assumption that creating a diverse population
will allow a better understanding of different viewpoints. I remember as a
freshman sitting in the college cafeteria and hearing other white students
say, "Why do those black students sit at their own table?", the implied
statement being, "They want integration then they separate themselves." We
(the white students) had grown up seeing idealistic TV shows and commercials
that had the perfect mix of ethnic groups. Some of us naively thought that
if everyone was treated fairly and allowed to be together, everyone would get
along and mix perfectly. And so we felt uncomfortable at the sight of a
segregated campus. White students were put off by the fact that black
students chose to segregate themselves, whether in the cafeteria, in
sororities and fraternities, or in dormitories and student activities. We
presumably came in without an "Us vs. Them" mentality, but once faced with
the circumstances we thought there was something wrong and assumed it was
"their" fault.

For any white student who bothered to ask a black student, (and very few of
them did), "Why do you sit together like that?" they would receive an obvious
answer. "I sit with my friends. We share similar interests and experiences.
They happen to be black." He or she might also add, "Why isn't the question
'Why do all you white students sit together?'" I don't think anyone would
propose that there should be a seating chart in a cafeteria so that there is
a nice blend of all colors in perfect balance and an increased likelihood of
learning from each other. So the point of this little rambling is that just
because many groups were put together didn't mean that they interacted and
learned from each other.

I am reminded of a similar situation in my high school one year. We had a
number of exchange students. Would you believe that for the most part they
spent all their time with each other and hardly ever interacted with the
Americans! (Or of course you could look at it as the Americans hardly
interacting with the exchange students.) They had more in common (on the
surface) with the other exchange students than with us. We had more in
common with each other (again, on the surface) than with them. People
naturally gravitate towards those they share common interests with.

In both examples, there were exceptions. Like a few other white students, I
made efforts to get to know the black students in college; in part because of
some friendships, in part as my role as an RA, and in part due to my own
desire to understand the black/white situation. In the case of the foreign
exchange students, they did eventually make some American friends and
participate in a few "mainstream" type high school events. So, sure,
"forced" integration may have some benefits, but the negative results must
also be considered before it is assumed to be "the right thing". I'm so glad
I had the opportunity to interact with minorities, but the average white kid
at NU probably spent his/her entire college career without getting to know a
single black student more than to say "hi" in the hall; and may, in fact,
have come away with stereotypes reinforced. I had those opportunities
because I decided to create them, and probably would have done so regardless
of the circumstances I was in. (After all, I was in Chicago, for goodness
sake!)

On Learning About Other Cultures:

I think that bringing minority students in order to "enrich ourselves and our
schools", as Romey suggested, is self-serving. It sounds like an attempt to
use the vehicle of student admissions for personal gain rather than for the
good of the student in question. I was of the understanding that the
students were there for their own needs, not to serve the needs of other
students. Would you choose to put a higher priority on the admission of a
student if it is known that he/she is an outstanding violinist and could
possibly teach others about the beauty of the violin?

I feel strongly that learning about other cultures/minorities is important.
I think it is a shame that Americans have such little experience with other
countries in comparison to the average European, for example. I think
reading is important, too. But I wouldn't try to promote the learning of
foreign languages or travel to other countries as a result, just as I
wouldn't promote reading. I would let kids take the initiative and if they
desire to take some action, allow them to handle it through the school
meeting.

Romey uses the example of only adults attending the school meeting as being a
problem, but I don't think any sudbury model schools address the problem by
then requiring students to attend. I am of the understanding that they allow
things to take their course and that in time the situation rectifies itself.

Better understanding of other cultures/minorities is a worthy goal and could
be achieved in appropriate ways IF desired by the school meeting. For
instance, I remember reading in the Chicago Tribune about an exchange of
students that took place between Francis Parker, a prestigious private school
in Chicago, and Providence-St. Mel's, a Catholic school located in the
ghettos of the west side. It was absolutely fascinating and inspiring to
read the responses of students on both sides after the experience. And of
course there are books, movies, speakers who can be invited - people who are
there for the expressed purpose of bettering cultural understanding. But let
the students decide there is a need and then allow them to take action on it
if they so desire.

Romey suggests that students will be unable to "sort out the mixed racial
messages,....work out what equality of rights means, etc....if the school's
population doesn't include more than one racial group." I disagree. The
students will be doing these things all the time in any number of ways
whether there are other racial groups in the school or not. They might not
come to the conclusions you would like them to, but that is their decision,
and theirs alone. Nothing you could do, including having other racial groups
at the school, is going to force them to reach a different conclusion. Why
not place your trust in the sudbury school model and in the students that
attend? Isn't that what you believe when it comes to other issues? You
wouldn't try to arrange things so that the students come out with a certain
political bent or a specific academic background. I agree with those that
believe that if anything will encourage open-mindedness and an understanding
of others, it is this model, and it is not necessary to "stack the deck" for
kids by arranging for them to be around other racial groups. Has forced
integration brought about these "desired" changes in public schools?

On Suggestions for Improving Diversity:

We do our best here in Joliet to get the message about sudbury model schools
out to anyone we can. Although we make no effort to keep track of such
things, I would guess that we have about 15-20% blacks on our mailing list.
We were covered by the weekly newspaper that focusses on African-American
issues, which resulted in two black men attending one of our informational
meetings. We have sent press releases to the Latino papers in our area.
Maybe our efforts will result in actual minority students when we open next
year, and maybe it won't. If it does, great. If it doesn't, I'm not going
to worry about it as long as I know we did and continue to do our best to
reach everyone who might be interested. I care about having students,
period. And if our school has minority students and then proves to be
beneficial to those students, I will be happy to see that result. If there
is a better way to effectively reach certain segments of the population, I
certainly would like to know about them, but I don't see the necessity of
manipulating things to bring in more of any one group.

I haven't seen any of the proponents of diversity actually offer suggestions
on how they would achieve their goals. Romey is "putting more thought and
effort into how to overcome the barriers which the historical and social
circumstances of our society have erected between certain groups, in order to
enrich ourselves, our schools, and ultimately the expansion of the model."
So, what is the result of those thoughts? What do you suggest? So far
there have been arguments against quotas or recruitment, which may or may not
be what the proponents of diversity are suggesting. If that is not what you
are suggesting, could you please post some concrete ideas of how you would
like to promote diversity? The issue of sliding scale was touched upon. Is
that another suggestion? That issue has been hotly debated here in the past.
Should we broach it again?

If you made it this far, I'm impressed! Thanks for reading. Hope I made
some sense and didn't ramble TOO much.

- Melissa