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Five experiences of diversity in schools

By Zoe Pharo and John Anderson

“It is necessary to have people of every background and persuasion”

Steve Farmer, Vice Provost for Enrollment and Undergraduate Admissions

(Editor’s note: College becomes a conglomeration of people from many different backgrounds.  We were interested in setting side-by-side the viewpoints of people coming from different types of schools. The following are five views of the importance of diversity in the transition from high school to college)

JOHN

“My school is over 90% and has very little diversity,” John Anderson commented matter-of-factly.  He also confirmed that this statistic reflects basically all schools in the area, whether it means that a school is majority white or majority black.

JohnAnderson_03_web“Whether a school is mostly black or white depends on the community,” Anderson added.  Districts appear to be divided so that there is a stark socioeconomic gap between schools.  He speculates that “they are probably drawing district lines very purposefully.”

Anderson believes that the main advantage of having a more diverse school environment would be the opportunity to gain perspectives from all sorts of areas.  Without diversity he sees his school settle into a “stagnant” state.  “This lack of growth is unhealthy,” Anderson said.

Anderson’s argument for increased diversity in his school essentially boils down to resources.  His school hardly has any functioning school teams, and even if they exist coaches often don’t show up.  “If more diversity was present more resources would flow into each school,” he added.

He expressed how he is unable to attend a higher achieving, majority white school that is down the street, simply because he lives in the wrong district, and ironically, on the opposite side of some train tracks that separates his primarily black community from the primarily white community the school resides in.

ZOE

It is a different reality for Zoe Pharo. She attends a private school that is majority white.

ZoePharo_01_web“I think [diversity] is very important,” Pharo said, “[Faculty teachers] strive for diversity but I think at the same time private schools struggle to achieve it.”

Pharo’s school isn’t in an area that is predominantly white or upper class. However, it tends to attract people of high socioeconomic statuses. The school also attempts to attract diversity but does not to the extent of other schools. Why? The answer is access. The school’s tuition is high, and although financial aid is offered, it can still be difficult to manage the funds to attend the institution.

“Inherently private schools tend to be less diverse. I would say, especially socioeconomically just because of tuition,” Pharo said, carefully laying out the problem. “Even though they offer financial aid, you know, they don’t have an endless pool. So that’s the harsh reality of private schools, which is really unfortunate sometimes.”

Pharo’s school also has a multitude of resources: qualified teachers, college resources, and challenging classes.  “I really admire many of my teachers and think they are amazing role models,” Pharo said.  These are the types of resources that cause parents nationwide to send their children to private schools; however, these schools are out of reach for many.

Pharo gave her ideas of how to successfully incorporate diversity in schools. “High schools have to have resources and adults available to talk.”  She ended with a final statement. “The generality of having diversity is getting to know tons of people who are unlike you, but initially I think students might need to know that they are not alone.”

Pharo believes that representation and resources to help students incorporate into schools are important enough to make a reality.

CAYLA

Attracting diversity to a school isn’t enough. It is also imperative that institutions take diversity a step further by accommodating the minorities who they attract. Failure to accommodate minorities results in a school where minorities may fall behind. This is seen in Cayla Clement’s high school.

CaylaClements_04_web“I think I would consider my school to be diverse, but we are very polarized,” Cayla said, “In my classes which are AP and Honors classes, I’m usually always one of maximum probably four people of color, and the rest of the people are basically just white. You know, there’s really no diversity in our classrooms.”

This is a stark achievement gap seen in many schools where white students may have higher achievement rates than their minority counterparts. In Cayla’s experience, although the school may have a variety of people of color, the classrooms are often segregated: white students are often in the advanced placement or honors classes, and minority students take up general or remedial classes.

Another stark reality to this problem is isolation. “Me not being in classes with a lot of people of color, I haven’t been exposed,” Cayla said, trying to gather her thoughts, “You know, if I were to walk up to a group of black students who, you know, were the same race as me, I would still feel uncomfortable and I feel like that’s a big problem.”

Cayla believes that minority students shouldn’t have to feel under resourced, underrepresented, or isolated within their own schools. She said that it isn’t enough for schools to merely attract diversity; they must also ensure that the students feel like they actually belong.

ALLAYNE

Allayne Thomas commented that her school is “pretty diverse.”  She kindly shared the statistics her school had published, and at 38%, blacks make up the largest population at her school.

AllayneThomas_02_webThis sounds like an ideal school environment.  Thomas attributes her school’s diverse atmosphere to the fact that it is a magnet school.  “You have to have a level of diversity in order to be considered for a magnet school,” she explained.

However, just because Thomas’ school feels diverse doesn’t mean that her classes share that diversity.  “My AP government class was a big class, but I think that I was the only black person.”

This situation is not confined just to an AP Government class.  Thomas confirms that it is pretty typical of upper level classes at her school.  Therefore, even in a school widely recognized for its success with diversity, higher level classes do not mirror the rest of the school.

If Thomas already finds that her diverse school sometimes clearly lacks the diversity it promotes, it may be hard to know what her experience would be like at a college or university with even less overall diversity.  “My first choice would probably be UNC, but it is majority white,” Thomas adds.  This is a reality facing many minorities when they start to select their dream colleges.  UNC works very hard at recognizing and improving its diversity, but there is no denying that it is still a Predominantly White Institution (PWI), as are many other colleges and universities.

 

MR. STEVE FARMER

Vice Provost for Enrollment and Undergraduate Admissions

After hearing four perspectives from students learning in very different high school environments, we talked to Mr. Farmer, the Vice Provost for Enrollment and Undergraduate Admissions at UNC.  We were curious to hear about diversity from someone who helps select students to come to the school.

160712_ChuckStone_048_webFarmer confirmed that Carolina does a lot of work to help students thrive and succeed.  He added that they are committed to aiding anyone who gets in however they can.  “Everyone who gets in belongs to be here,” he added.  He also said that a goal of the university is to help people find their way.

However, he also acknowledged some of the faults of the college application process.

“There is always more to the student than you can possibly gather in an application.”  However, he said that they try to start humbly and respectfully when reading any application, and they keep in mind that diversity is a “crucial ingredient.”

We tend to agree with Farmer: “colleges and universities should have the best, smartest people from the widest backgrounds.”  We should strive to study alongside people that make us better.