For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated with diversity in education.
Throughout my high school and college careers, I was very active in several committees and organizations that spoke to minority student achievement. Yesterday, The Atlantic released an article in which the author described his experience as an African male in a predominately white school system. He recounts it being easier for him to be socially accepted by his white counterparts because of “his personality and immigrant’s need to adapt” to whatever environment that he is in.
But according to recent research by the American Sociological Association’s Sociology of Education it is his gender that played a major role in him becoming better acquainted with his surroundings. Additionally, minority boys assumed athleticism and overall “coolness” factor allowed them to fit in with their white peers. (Not surprised by these findings — see hip hop culture, professional athletics, ect.)
Conversely, in the Diversify study conducted by Simone Ispa-Landa at Northwestern University, minority females were perceived as “loud” and “ghetto” in these environments, where minority boys would be praised for exuding similar behavior. Additionally, she mentions that minority girls felt excluded from being able to participate in activities like Model U.N. and cheerleading that gave them a higher social status. (Again, not too surprised by the stereotype of minority girls, but the latter could be questioned.)
Now, before I go any further, let me just say that I am in no way going to argue with scientific findings. I am well aware that communities across the country are vastly different, and that the way in which members of a community interact is more than likely going to reflect that. Kudos to the social scientists that have spent their time making these discoveries and drawing these conclusions.
What I will do, however, is speak from my own personal experiences and provide alternative insight. If you don’t know, I’m a proud product of the District 65 and District 202 school systems of Evanston, Illinois — a suburb of Chicago that has been recognized for is diversity for a very long time. When I came to Evanston in the third grade, I will admit that it was hard for me to fit in with my peers at first because of my southern accent, but once I noticed the diversity in my environment and how it was being celebrated, I no longer felt like an outsider. To this day, I’ve always been able to interact with various groups of people and I thank my community for instilling those values in me. As I matriculated and became more comfortable in my surroundings, I made certain to make as many friends as possible. Similar to my minority male peers, I held a number of student leadership positions that required me to interact with various social groups and serve as a representation of not only my family, but also my school and community on the local, state and national level. I say all of this to say that it is indeed possible for minority girls to “fit in” personally and professionally just as well as their minority male peers. That’s not to say that it wasn’t and still isn’t challenge, but it is definitely possible.
On the other hand, like many African-American men and women, I had to learn the art of code switching at a young age and very quickly. If you’re unaware of the term code switching, it is “defined as the practice of selecting or altering linguistic elements so as to contextualize talk in interaction.” (University of Colorado-Boulder) In other words, I know how and when to present myself in certain social situations. This doesn’t diminish one’s identity in any way, but it just makes one more aware of self in certain surroundings. And like the saying goes, “you have to be twice as good to get half of what they have,” so it is a constant hustle for both minority men and women to perform just as well (if not better) than their white counterparts.
As I continued to read this article, I found that the author raised some valid points, but one passage in particular caused me to raise an eyebrow:
Once minority women leave high school and college, they are shown to continue to struggle with social integration, even as they achieve higher educational outcomes and, in certain locales, higher incomes than minority men. Though, as presaged by high-school sexual politics, they were still three times less likely than black men to marry outside of their race.
When it comes to this particular inference, I think that it really depends on the individual. I do believe that my experiences at Evanston Township played a huge role in my decision to attend a PWI (predominantly white institution) rather than an HBCU. And by attending Syracuse University, I was exposed to a host of social, cultural and academic experiences that I know for a fact I wouldn’t have received by going to Spelman or Howard, but that is a topic of discussion for another blog post. 😉
Furthermore, I think that once minority women (and men) leave college, it is solely their responsibility to socially integrate with their environment. It’s no surprise that large populations of young adults flock to cities like New York, D.C., and Houston once they graduate because these cities represent the diversity in culture, race, and socioeconomic status that our country is trying to achieve. I would be interested to see a similar study like this that follows a group of student from the eighth grade throughout high school and college, and into the first 5 years of their professional careers. In my opinion, the city in which you chose to live, the career path you choose to take and the friends you choose to have are all factors in one’s social integration.
What are your thoughts on The Atlantic article? What were your experiences, and how do you think they contributed to your progression as a young professional? Sound off in the comments below or send me a tweet!