Magazine article Insight on the News

Self-Segregation May Be Chic, but Critics Call It Self-Defeating

Magazine article Insight on the News

Self-Segregation May Be Chic, but Critics Call It Self-Defeating

Article excerpt

The 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision outlawed racial segregation in schools. Four decades later, separation along gender and ethnic lines has become a popular concept in education.

Feeling bypassed by promised benefits of integration, students and parents in ethnically diverse states are opting out of mainstream schools to attend tailor-made facilities such as the Newcomer School for immigrant teens and the proposed Young Women's Leadership School in New York City.

Advocates say a comfortable school environment encourages academic commitment and makes students more productive members of society. Opponents insist the programs solidify stereotypes and promote long-term social intolerance. Moreover, these critics say, schools excluding other groups while accepting tax dollars violate civil-rights laws.

David L. Moore, lecturer at Cornell University's American Indian Program, believes "self-selected separation is not segregation." Moore defends Cornell's American Indian dormitory, Akwekon (pronounced Uhg-way-gun), arguing that it provides an essential "supportive community" for American Indian students whose cultural values are built around community.

According to Moore, American Indians who begin their college education at a two-year tribal college and then continue at a mainstream four-year university have an 80 percent graduation rate. American-Indian Cornell students who have not attended tribal college but reside in Akwekon have the same high graduation rate. Their peers who attend only mainstream colleges have a 20 percent completion rate

Besides, Moore adds, participation, in special programs is strictly voluntary, and university policy allows only 50 percent of Akwekon's 35 residents to be American Indians. The other students are black, white, Asian and Hispanic. "It's a multicultural experience from a strong Native American perspective," he says.

But Michael Meyers, the outspoken executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, calls Cornell's dorm a Jim Crow residence. A self-professed "militant integrationist," he bitterly opposes school segregation, forced or voluntary. "You cannot have quality education in a segregated school system," says Meyers, who is black and as a teenager helped integrate a white high school. "Segregation damages all children."

Meyers is challenging Akwekon and Cornell's Latino and African-American dorms on the grounds they violate students" civil rights. …

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