Diverse Schools Create Racial Divide

Kara Powell | Sep 14, 2009

Photo by Craig Whitehead

I continue to be fascinated by this Newsweek article on kids and race. In particular, here’'s a disturbing excerpt:

The unfortunate twist of diverse schools is that they don’t necessarily lead to more cross-race relationships. Often it’s the opposite. Duke University’s James Moody—an expert on how adolescents form and maintain social networks— analyzed data on more than 90,000 teenagers at 112 different schools from every region of the country. The students had been asked to name their five best male friends and their five best female friends. Moody matched the ethnicity of the student with the race of each named friend, then compared the number of each student’s cross-racial friendships with the school’s overall diversity.

Moody found that the more diverse the school, the more the kids self-segregate by race and ethnicity within the school, and thus the likelihood that any two kids of different races have a friendship goes down.

Moody included statistical controls for activities, sports, academic tracking, and other school-structural conditions that tend to desegregate (or segregate) students within the school. The rule still holds true: more diversity translates into more division among students. Those increased opportunities to interact are also, effectively, increased opportunities to reject each other. And that is what’s happening.

The article highlights the importance of adult/kid conversations as a way to process race and develop a more sophisticated understanding. I love diverse schools. Part of why I love living in Pasadena is because of the ethnic diversity. But we can’'t assume that diversity— without conversation— will bridge the racial divide.

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.


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