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Growing up, I attended some schools with very little racial diversity —and others with a lot. I started off at Johnson Gretna Park in a New Orleans suburb, which had mostly black students. Then, in third grade I transferred to Homedale Elementary, which had mostly white students. At first I had a hard time fitting in because I was used to being around other African-Americans. But I learned over time how to mix easily with the other students, a skill that helped me in the future. Next I went to Belle Chasse Academy, which is located on a military base in southeastern Louisiana. The academy was very diverse since it served military families from all over the world, including Cuba and Syria. I had friends of all different races and learned about people from a variety of cultures—a wonderful experience. Now I am in high school at a nearly all-black school, New Orleans’ Edna Karr.
Based on my experiences, I believe parents and students should seek out racially and culturally diverse schools. It will help children prepare for life since they will probably come into contact with people from different racial and ethnic groups in college, work, and everyday life. But attending diverse schools should be a matter of personal choice not public policy since not everyone feels the same way and some families prefer schools with just one race.
Personally, I believe attending diverse schools can help us step outside of our comfort zones, see the world through other people’s eyes, and challenge our assumptions. For example, before I met a Muslim teenager, I thought they were all white and from Saudi Arabia, and assumed that some were terrorists. But then I met Laiiqa, who is African American, Muslim, and from New Orleans. Far from being terrorists, her family is very dedicated to the community: Her father is a coach and helps out with my school band while her mother volunteers with several female sports teams. Once I got to know Laiiqa I realized she was similar to me in a lot of ways, including some of her views on religion. Now I know the individual, not the stereotype.
New Orleans perspectives
This essay is part of a collaboration between The Hechinger Report and high school students at Bard’s Early College in New Orleans. The teenagers wrote opinion pieces on whether all students should be encouraged to attend college, the value of alternative teacher preparation programs such as Teach For America, the importance of desegregation, or the best approach to school discipline.
I value diverse schools partly because I love learning about people. Of course you can read about people from different backgrounds and cultures, but personal interaction can explain more than a book or online research. Also, I want to be a psychologist so I will be dealing with people of different racial backgrounds and even mental abilities. I need to be comfortable talking and working with people who don’t look like me or think like me if I want to succeed as a professional.
Despite my own preference for school diversity, I do not believe policy makers should make it a priority. If students are forced to be in diverse schools they will still hang out with people just like them once at the school. So the diversity would have little point. Also some parents might not want their children to be around a certain type or race of person, which could also cause problems. It’s important for policy makers not to force diversity on anyone.
That said, please remember that we will all grow more understanding if we get to know people who are different from us. Also remember that you will learn a lot more about people through personal interactions rather than reading a textbook.
Damia Williams, 17, is a student at New Orleans’ Edna Karr High School.
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Thank you for your analysis, but I must vehemently disagree.
First, if we as a society, are ever to critcally explore and eventually get past race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc, it is absolutely essential that, as you stated, people be exposed to other people from different backgrounds and with different experiences. There are many, however, that would love to never have these conversations, or be exposed to anyone outside of the group they are confortable with, that looks like them and that acts like them. This type of isolation is dangerous as it breeds misconceptions, a perpetuation of stereotypes and in many instances hate.
More importantly however, segregation is, in fact, tied to structural power systems, which you have neglected to address in your piece. These systems, which have historically been racist, and continue to be so in many ways, would only be perpetuated and propped up by a decision to make desegration an option rather than something mandated by public policy. Segregation is tied to discrimination in so many facets of life–i.e. employment opportunities, housing, education, safety and health, just to name a few. Your casual assertion that desegregation should not be a matter of public polocy completely ignores the realities that minority populations face. I hope that you will take this into consderation and perhaps reevaluate your position.
I’ll want to end by saying this, though. I realize that you are young, and I think it is incredibly brave of you to take a position and make yourself heard. Please know that while, I offered criticism, I also absolutely and unequivocally value your courage and hope that it stays with you throughout life. I hope what you will take from this comment is that the issue you chose to take a position on is incredibly complex and there may be questions that you failed to consider. I hope as you grow and learn that you will continue to examine these types of thorny issues, however. For knowledge and not being afraid of difficult conversations are ultimately what will lead us all to acceptance and tolerance of others.
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