In 2003, Diane Hall, Howard Stevenson, and Edith Harrington, three researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, conducted a study called SAAS, or the Success of African American Students in Independent Schools Project, on how African American Students fare in predominately white (independent) schools. The researchers used both qualitative and quantitative data to complete the study: the qualitative data was gathered from 65 male and female students in grades 6-12 and from upper-school student focus groups. The quantitative data came from a series of questionnaires. The study found three trends that were universally relevant to the student survey results and interviews:
- Promoting black students’ connection to the school community and their emotional health is key to their academic success.
- Schools not only socialize students academically; they also socialize students racially.
- The experience of racism is a reality for Black youth that can compromise the quality of their school experience and tax their emotional resources.
When asked about self-esteem, students reported feeling the highest levels at home and the lowest at school. Additionally, 75% of Black students interviewed reported that they made special efforts to fit into school communities, 82% reported that they’ve had at least one negative experience at school, 40% of students stated that they did not believe the school treated all students the same, and 62% of the Black students interviewed and questioned reported that they did not think they belonged in their school. Though these social statistics are low, students did report high ranks for the quality of the curriculum and that they felt they would be adequately equipped for college as a result of the curriculum.
Teachers and administrators at predominately white schools often do not know how to deal with racial and cultural diversity. The majority of those interviewed stated they did not wish to focus on racial and cultural diversity in their classrooms at any point, which results in the trivialization of diversity and can be harmful to, not only the Black students, but the entire school. Teachers and administrators also reported that they did not think discrimination was a problem at their respective schools.
However, Black students painted a different picture when asked about their experiences with discrimination and adversity in school. 43% of Black students interviewed believed white people acted surprised at their intelligence and hard work, 41% said other students act out harmful stereotypes of Black people, and 40% of Black students felt it necessary to change their speech and appearance around white people. Discrimination in schools lowers Black students’ self-esteem, which has shown to be detrimental to academic success and contributes to behavioral issues in Black students.
“In school, youth learn what is expected of them in their roles as students and as citizens in the larger world. In independent schools, the majority of students are white and a great deal of economic resources are available in order to prepare students to enter into places and positions of power and prestige. Consequently, whiteness and privilege will shape the rules concerning what is appropriate behavior, which attributes are valued more than others, and how people are supposed to interact with one another in and out of the school community.”
The SAAS Project also identified specific measures that must be taken by independent school teachers and administrators as a result of this research. I will identify, examine and evaluate the perceived effectiveness of these measures in a future blog post.