New York Times investigative journalist discusses structural racism

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 - 5:22pm

Getting good grades, having the best teachers and applying to college are all integral parts of one’s education. But for students of color, many of these aspirations cannot be met due to structural racism and the broken pipeline within our educational system.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, a New York Times investigative journalist and 2017 MacArthur “Genius”, came to the University of Michigan's Institute of Social Research Wednesday to discuss educational segregation and racial inequities

Jones opened the conversation by discussing the prevalence of segregation within the public education system and why the system continues to be propagated.

Segregation has produced benefit for white Americans and harm for Black Americans,” she said.

Jones cited statistics that compared schools with a white majority and schools with students-of-color majority. Universities were not an exception to the presented inequality.

“The share of Black freshmen at elite schools is virtually unchanged since 1980,” Jones said. “Black students are just 6 percent of freshmen but 15 percent of college-age Americans.”

Jones continued to explain those in positions of privilege often believe they are fighting for equality, but do not acknowledge their own hypocrisy in separating their children by sending them to schools that have extremely small populations of students of color.

“We cannot say we want equal opportunity for all children then fight for the advantages of our own children,” she said.

Jones also spoke about her personal conflict when deciding whether to send her daughter to a predominately white school with better resources, versus the underfunded school with a higher population of Latino and African-American students.

“I had to make a choice: either live my values, when I know how harmful these schools can be, or was I going to use my privilege to get my daughter away from the kids who live next door to me” she said. “I decided that no child was worth less than my child.”

Jones explained this segregation is not occurring in remote locations far away from the University students she was addressing.

“Michigan schools are the second most segregated in the country,” she said. “Michigan schools have the worst test scores for Black kids in the country.”

She also explained the obvious problem of  underrepresentation at the University.

“You look at the flagship university, the University of Michigan, and it is 5 percent black and 30 miles away from a majority Black city,” she said.

Jones posed the question of which children should be left behind in the educational system. She gave an example of an African-American college student, Alicia, who was forced behind because of the broken educational pipeline within the American system.

“Alicia was part of the Tuscaloosa education system and she spent 13 years in entirely segregated schools that looked like her grandfather’s,” she said. “When Alicia took the ACT, she got a 16 … When I asked Alicia if she was going to take it again she responded, ‘Why? I can’t make up for everything, I haven’t had in time for this test.’”

Jones ended her talk by saying all students should have equal opportunities to go to schools which provide them with the resources necessary for success.

“You shouldn't have to be an exceptional child in this country to get a quality education,” she said.

The presentation then shifted to a series of smaller presentations from students and University alumni. The presentations focused on the underrepresentation of Black and Latinx teachers, the financial burden of education for students of color and how Students of Color of Rackham — a graduate student organization — has made its voice heard on campus.

SCOR President Rosalyn Kent explained the overwhelming burden students of color experience in institutions of higher education, as they must balance their school work and while confronting racial issues on campus.

“We have to produce this scholarly work and be responsible for the hateful acts that happen around us and make sure we don’t drown in that hate,” Kent said.

The presentation ended with a Q&A session between Hannah-Jones and Tabbye Chavous, the director of the National Center for Institutional Diversity.

Chavous’ first question addressed how to prepare students of color for an integrated context. Jones responded though integration would take careful planning and time, it’s vital for the future success for the country

I’m pushing for a radical rethinking of our education system. It has to be that the curriculum is reflective of all children and all American history,” Jones said. “I’m not pushing for small numbers of Black children in white schools and forced assimilation.”

Jones also spoke about the lack of resources that schools with majority Black or Latino students have compared to white students.

“The difference is the concentration of poverty. Ninety percent of the parents in my daughter's school cannot make up for the difference of what they do not get within the school” she said. “I wish we could disentangle race and resources.”

Rackham student Kayla Fike explained the necessity in coming to events like these to understand ones personal role in these issues.

“I think it’s valuable to come to these events because it helps us to see where our individual choices actually do make a difference and uphold inequality. I think it’s an interesting conversation to have with yourself and people around you because we sometimes don’t understand our role in maintaining or transforming the system,” she said.