A report in the current issue of the American Journal of Sociology offers mixed news for educators concerned about promoting better race relations among students.
The bad news is that nearly 50 years after the era of desegregation began, American teenagers are not socializing much with peers of other races. The study’s data show that middle and high school students are, on average, twice as likely to name someone from their own race as a friend than they are to name someone from a different race.
The good news is that some school characteristics seem to add to the likelihood that students will form cross-racial friendships.
“We’ve spent enough time thinking about how to get students through the schoolhouse door. Now it’s time to start thinking about what to do with them once they get there,” said the study’s author, James Moody, a sociologist at Ohio State University in Columbus.
His analysis is based on responses from 90,000 secondary students across the country who were surveyed in 1994 as part of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Adolescent Health Study.
Students were most likely to choose friends from their own races in schools considered only “moderately” diverse. That tendency decreased, however, as a school’s student enrollment became more heterogeneous. Mr. Moody said that may be because having three or four different races in a school mitigates some of the “us versus them” mentality in schools with just two races of students.
Schools that separate students by grade—middle schools or high schools with 9th grade academies—also tended to score higher on the cross- racial friendship scale. Such friendships also flourished with integrated extracurricular activities.
“If you and I are on the same team, we’ll be friends with each other regardless of race, but there is a school climate effect that happens above and beyond that,” Mr. Moody said. “The key is having students working together to produce a product cooperatively.”
—Debra Viadero firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article appeared in the June 12, 2002 edition of Education Week