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World Today

Self-Segregation Dividing Students Along Ethnic Lines

Aired May 30, 2000 - 8:46 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: In "Focus" tonight, a look at campus life 46 years after the Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in public schools. The high court's ruling in Brown Versus Board of Education changed the country, but one author has noticed something unusual: that just putting students of different races in the same building doesn't necessarily bring them together.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): It's visible across campus, outside class, in the student union, in the cafeteria: Students are self-segregating.

JAMES BOND, STUDENT: Socially, they feel more comfortable hanging out with people of their own race.

BLITZER: We asked a group of students at the University of Maryland why this is happening despite increased racial diversity on campus.

LISY LARA, STUDENT: I identify more with other Hispanics and other Latinos, because, you know, they understand culturally like what my parents expected or what I was facing in terms of, you know, juggling my family, a job.

RYAN SPIEGEL, STUDENT: I do feel comfortable hanging out with my fellow Caucasian Jewish male friends. I have a bond with them because we have similar childhoods, we have similar religious beliefs.

JAMILA HALL, STUDENT: Most of my classes, I am the only African- American student, sometimes the only woman. And so when I leave class, I've already had my experience, so to speak, and that's kind of the time where I really want to go to someone that understands being in my position.

BLITZER (on camera): Here at the University of Maryland and at many other campuses across the country, students may all be attending the same classes but they often wind up socializing only with people of the same race or ethnic background.

(voice-over): Beverly Daniel Tatum explores this phenomenon, known as Balkanization, in a book entitled "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?"

BEVERLY DANIEL TATUM, DEAN, MT. HOLYOKE COLLEGE: I think it is a developmental process. As young people move into their teenage years, they start really thinking about questions of identity. They do start looking for people who are having similar experiences, similar backgrounds to them, and they do tend to cluster in that way.

BLITZER: Some of this clustering is organized around racial and ethnic clubs, like the Latino Student Union and the Asian-American Student Union.

For many students, these groups provide a sense of identity.

ANGELA LAGDAMEO, STUDENT: That is where I find my cultural and ethnic understanding that is often neglected in our university.

BLITZER: For others, these groups are a way to cope with racism.

HALL: When I walked into my -- one of my freshmen-year honor seminars, somebody looked at me and asked me if I had the right room. I take that as they thought that maybe I didn't belong in that class.

BLITZER: But some critics say these student groups promote separation, intolerance, even racism.

DINESH D'SOUZA, AUTHOR, "ILLIBERAL EDUCATION": If you create a diverse campus and then the African-American students keep to themselves and the Hispanic students keep to themselves, you defeat the purposes of diversity itself. What you create is in a sense ethnically homogeneous camps within a diverse framework.

BLITZER: Some students of color agree.

AISHA JALEEL, STUDENT: I'm not a member of any Asian groups on campus, because I think that -- I think that diversity divides more than helps.

BLITZER: But studies show students involvement in racial and ethnic clubs actually increases their interaction across racial lines.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITCHELL CHANG, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, UCLA: So I like to use this as a springboard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Mitchell Chang studies diversity in higher education at UCLA.

CHANG: They're more likely to be involved in campus activities, and when students are more likely to be involved in campus activities, they're more likely socialize across race.

BLITZER: Whether self-segregation is even a problem may be a matter of perception.

TATUM: When white students are together, it's not seen as -- quote -- "a group of white students." It's a group of individuals getting together, having fun, whatever that is.

When black students or Latino students or Asian students are sitting together, the first thing that people tend to comment on is that group label.

BLITZER: Whatever the label, most agree it's important to encourage interaction between students of all races.

C.D. MOTE, PRESIDENT, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: How much they learn from each other, how they can work together, and how they can be prepared to live and prosper in our society is of course what this university is all about.

SPIEGEL: As long as we continue to make sure that self- segregation isn't the only thing that happens, as long as it has as its counterpart the ability and the willingness to go out and to interact with students who are not similar to yourself, then it's OK to self-segregate, as long as you have both.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Some statistics now on the racial makeup of college campuses in the near future. A study that began in 1995 and was released only last week says there will be an additional 2 1/2 million new students enrolled by 2015, and more than 80 percent of those will be minorities. That means of the expected student population of 16 million students in the year 2015, 37 percent will be minorities.

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