VOLUME 22 #1

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Beverly Daniel Tatum with students
Photo by Evan Krape
Beverly Daniel Tatum (front, center) visits with audience members after her lecture.

Schools fail to reflect nation's diversity

ON THE GREEN | Just as the U.S. population is growing increasingly diverse, the nation’s K-12 schools are becoming more segregated—a situation that poses a threat to the quality of higher education for all groups and to the success of American democracy.

That was the message delivered by Beverly Daniel Tatum, president of Spelman College and a writer and psychologist whose specialty is race relations, to an audience on campus last fall. Her talk, “Diversity, Democracy and Leadership: Education for the 21st Century,” was UD’s 2013 Distinguished Lecture on Diversity in Higher Education.

“The decision makers of the future are the college students of today,” Tatum said, calling higher education “a location where crucial connections can be forged” among diverse groups. Research finds that young people who interact with those from different racial, ethnic, religious and socioeconomic groups while in college tend to continue that habit, living in more diverse neighborhoods and having a more diverse group of friends as they get older, she said.

And because this generation will live and work in a highly diverse society, becoming comfortable with people different from oneself is a necessary skill, she said, not just for individual success but also for America’s civic and societal success.

But, Tatum said, school desegregation efforts that became common in the 1980s have more recently been replaced by the concept of neighborhood schools, leading to resegregation in many K-12 classrooms.

“This is a threat to higher education because both white students and students of color will come to college less prepared for higher education,” she said. Students of color will enter college from schools that offered them fewer academic opportunities, and white students will come to campus less socially prepared to interact with a diverse population.

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