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Students see self-segregation

Sophomore Michelle Bholan called her mother freshman year, confused and troubled by the lack of interaction among races at Duke. Her mother told her that sometimes, self-segregation is just the way the world works.


   Several months earlier, in summer 2002, Duke was rated first by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education among highly selective universities for success in integrating African Americans. This disparity between rankings and reality has led many other students to doubt the rankings, saying instead that racial self-segregation is the norm on campus despite administrative efforts toward diversity.


   Students said a lack of practical diversity in their daily lives belies the high diversity rankings that have been bestowed in the last few years by such publications as JBHE and Black Enterprise. A more salient metric for many was the inclusion of Duke on The Princeton Review's list of colleges with "little race/class interaction."


   "I don't think there's a lot of interaction [between races]. Most of my friends are Asian, I'm Asian, and I don't know if I do that consciously, but that's how it is for me," said freshman Diana Shin, moments before she fielded a cellular phone call in a foreign language.

Bholan observed that most segregation takes place in social settings.  

   "Black people stay with black people and white people stay with white people, and if you don't fit in with any of those groups you don't really have a place on campus," she said.


   Students said some areas of University life are more integrated than others. Classes, athletics and residence halls--particularly East Campus dormitories--tended to get higher marks for diversity than social life and clubs.


   Despite a tremendous commitment to diversity from nearly all quarters of the University's senior administration, students questioned how much of a role the administration can play in further integrating students.


   "The administration has made strong steps but the student body is simply resistant," said senior Nathanael Holley, who is black. He said independents, greeks and other student groups have to make a conscious decision to make integration a priority.


   "I don't see what you can do," said sophomore Anson Reilly. "People are going to hang out with their friends and if they choose their friends through ethnicity, that's just the way it's going to be."

Students were mixed on the subject of whether racism exists among undergraduate students, with most saying they had never personally experienced discrimination based on race but acknowledging that it could exist in some form.


   Tan Gulek, a senior from Turkey, saw self-segregation as a reflection of friction to integration. "When you look into some peoples' eyes you see a tendency of a resistance to diversity," he said.


   The JBHE rankings were calculated based on quantitative data such as the percentage and growth rate of blacks in the student body and faculty, as well as graduation rates. They excluded factors like patterns of residential segregation and attitudes of white students toward racial minorities--more qualitative considerations that affect diversity as it is experienced in daily life.


   As of fall 2002, 11.4 percent of undergraduates were Asian American, 10.4 percent were black and 6 percent were Hispanic. These rates are somewhat comparable to many of Duke's peer schools, such as Harvard University and Yale University.


   "From what I see on campus, we might be number one, but I still feel like we have a long way to go," said junior Dan Southam about the JBHE rankings, echoing many administrators.


   Most students agreed that diversity at the University was desirable and the administration's long-existing efforts to increase diversity on campus are a good start--but only a start.


   "Diversity is a good thing to have if it's integrated," Bholan said. "You can't just have diversity; it has to be accepted by everyone."


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