Interpersonal segregation limits student exposure to diversity

The term “interpersonal segregation” refers to the idea of individuals socializing with people to whom they have similar backgrounds. This can be on the basis of race, gender, age, disability, etc. At Berkeley High School, interpersonal segregation is something that inhibits students from being able to learn from the diversity of their peers.

One form of interpersonal segregation at BHS is through Small Learning Communities (SLCs). Berkeley International High School (BIHS), for instance, has long acknowledged that it needs to work on increasing diversity. According to The Daily Californian, only 11 percent of BIHS students identify as Black, while this number is 15 percent for Academic Choice (AC), 26 percent for Communications Arts and Sciences (CAS), 31 percent for Arts and Humanities Academy, and 38 percent for Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS).

“I think, honestly, the largest determiner of the segregation, more so even than race, is socioeconomics, though race is definitely also a big part,” Savannah Johnson, a junior in BIHS, said. “For example, a lot of wealthier, white, private-school kids end up in BIHS.”

This lack of diversity is something that extends to many AP classes in AC. Laniya Kirkwood, a junior in AC, said, “I think classes should be way more mixed because in my (AP) history class that I have next period there are only two Black people in the class, which is not a very comforting environment.”

This points to another form of interpersonal segregation at BHS. For people belonging to historically marginalized groups, there can be safety and security found in being surrounded by people with similar backgrounds. This is because they don’t have to worry about being judged for their identity, or misunderstood.

“I have to be more mindful when talking to some people because sometimes I just have a feeling that I might be seen in a different way when talking about my background and my up(bringing) and in my past people have said rude things,” Haleemah Mujahid, a junior in CAS, said.

This, paired with the fact that humans naturally gravitate toward people that are similar to them, makes interpersonal segregation difficult to tackle. According to a study conducted by Dr. Angela Bahans and Dr. Chris Crandall of the University of Kansas, “future friends or partners are already similar at the outset of their social connection.”

Such types of segregation mean that students are constantly surrounded by those who share similar backgrounds, experiences, and by extension, viewpoints. They are inevitably going to end up making friends with those people, creating a cycle of interpersonal segregation. Not only can this make students oblivious to other peoples’ realities, but it can give them a narrow minded view of the world.

“I don’t think it’s a conscious thing, so you can’t really do anything about that unless (BHS Administration) could make the classes more diverse,” Kirkwood said.

One of the important steps BHS has already taken toward helping students learn from the diversity of their peers is the implementation of Universal Ninth grade, which allows students to interact with a variety of people before interpersonal segregation occurs via SLCs. Perhaps this approach can be taken regarding other classes. Maybe all students should be made to take certain higher level classes, while subjects like math have only one “level” for all students.

“I don’t know how to help desegregate the school,” Johnson said. “It’s funny because I feel like I’m in that documentary about Berkeley High from the 90s, School Colors, which says a lot about how little we’ve improved in 30 years.”

The documentary she referenced talks about the lasting impacts of segregation on students at BHS 40 years after Brown v. Board, both socially and academically. When it initially came out, the Seattle Times wrote that “Berkeley (High School) had total integration by 1968. Yet the overwhelming feeling from this dynamic report is that the integration has resulted in a new kind of segregation, the segregation of multiculturalism.”

This same division can be felt at BHS today, and acknowledging it is the first step towards building a unified school community.