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Spelman exec: Brace for more challenges to diversity programs

Spelman College President Beverly Tatum has championed
racially diverse relationships for most of her life: as a child growing up in
New England, as a young professor teaching about the psychology of racism, and
as an author writing about cross-racial interaction.

Her perspective as a self-titled “integration
baby” led her to predict the June 28 Supreme Court decision striking down
voluntary integration efforts in two public school districts.

“The current composition of the Supreme
Court…increases the possibility that the Court may side with the Department
of Education and rule that any use of race as a selection criteria is
unconstitutional,” she wrote in her latest book, “Can We Talk About
Race?” which was published in April.

The topic of resegregation has been on many minds following
the high court’s decision. The high court voted 5-4 to strike down school
integration plans in Louisville, Ky. and Seattle.

While the decision does not affect several hundred public
school districts under federal court order to desegregate, it does jeopardize
similar programs in hundreds of cities and counties using voluntary integration
as a means to diversify their schools.

The court’s majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John
Roberts, asserted that classifying students by race perpetuates the unequal
treatment outlawed by the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision which
banned the “separate but equal” education system.

“What was wrong in 1954 cannot be right today,”
wrote Justice Clarence Thomas, the court’s only black member, in a separate
opinion. He added that a colorblind Constitution means “such race-based
decision making is unconstitutional.”

Yet such a view ignores the important role of integration in
society, Tatum argues in her essay, “The Resegregation of Our Schools and
the Affirmation of Identity.” Without it, she wrote, much of the progress
made during the civil rights era could be lost as interracial contact

“Such a ruling will undoubtedly lead to the rapid
unraveling of voluntary integration plans, with few if any alternatives left to
try,” she said.

Tatum pointed out that adults with cross-racial friendships
will have children with cross-racial friendships. But the likelihood of having
a diverse set of friends, or even a single close interracial friendship is
often tied to one’s attendance of a racially mixed school as a child.

“As school districts move back to neighborhood school
policies, the next generation of white students will likely have less school
contact with people of color than their predecessors did,” Tatum wrote.

Tatum said the Supreme Court decision does not bode well for
people who would encourage a diverse environment for themselves and their
children. She pointed to housing patterns that continue to create fairly
homogeneous communities across the country meaning that even cities that are
diverse overall are separated on a block-by-block level.

Because many school districts are decided by where people
live, segregated neighborhoods will usually translate into segregated
classrooms, she said.

“When people leave work or turn off the television,
they find themselves in a non-diverse environment,” Tatum said. “In
their day-to-day interactions, children have fewer opportunities to interact
across racial lines. The choices are getting narrower and narrower.”

The cycle of segregation can be broken at the college level,
but with affirmative action programs threatened at institutions of higher
education, that opportunity may also be shrinking, Tatum said.

She pointed out that for years, cases have moved through the
courts chipping away at such strategies, first at the grade school level and
gradually shifting toward higher education. June’s Supreme Court ruling
“sets the stage for more challenges of diversity programs at the college
and university level,” she said.

Tatum does not hold out much hope that neighborhoods will
become more diverse, and said that integration will be the responsibility of
committed educators and parents.

“We cannot expect the composition of our neighborhoods
to alter the composition of our schools anytime soon,” she wrote.
“Therefore, educators must be intentional in working to address the
limitations created by racial isolation in our elementary and public

White children need an integrated school setting to combat
stereotypes and encourage their understanding of social justice issues, Tatum
said. And black children need access to the resources and opportunities that
often come with a more integrated environment. And teachers of all colors and
cultures must be willing to reflect on their own experiences with race and be
open minded about others to create a more inclusive atmosphere for students.

Desegregation must be more than a symbol from a forgotten
era, Tatum urged.

“Fundamentally it was a struggle for equal access to
publicly funded educational resources,” she wrote. “Clearly that
struggle continues.”

On the Net:

See Dr. Tatum’s comments on the recent Supreme Court ruling
in the transcripts of the Diverse Live Chat Event: “The Supreme Court and
Desegregation” at the link below:

– Associated Press

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