Chicago-area high school provides segregated classes for black and Hispanic students

At issue for those who advocate for segregated education is the well-being of black students who have been "expected to conform to a white standard."

Libby Emmons Brooklyn NY
A high school in Evanston, Illinois, home of Northwestern University, has embarked on a new plan to try to get grades up for minority students: segregation. The classes, segregated by race for black and Hispanic students, are called "affinity classes," and while they are not enforced, they were offered for black and Hispanic students only.

The classes have non-white teachers and no white students are permitted in the courses. Students can decide to opt in to these courses, and many do. The Wall Street Journal reports that almost 200 students signed up for math and writing courses in 2023. The idea is that black and Hispanic students will do better in classes if they are separated from white students. 

In 2021, a Chicago middle school undertook segregated field trips. Jefferson Middle School District in Chicago wanted to facilitate the camaraderie between black teachers and black students.

One student said that, in the segregated classes, she feels more confident because she doesn't feel pressure to speak for the entire black race. The courses were brought in as a way to try to bring minority students up to speed where they had been falling behind. The Evanston school board vice president said, "Our Black students are, for lack of a better word…at the bottom, consistently still. And they are being outperformed consistently. It's not good."

School districts across the US have attempted segregated classes, all of which are done voluntarily, since it is illegal to discriminate against students for their race. The law banning segregation was passed in 1964, and was called the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Concerns then were that black students were being discriminated against and being given a lesser education due to their race. The new forms of segregation are to ensure that they get a better education, also due to their race.

While segregation has long been condemned as an outright evil, some of these programs are reaping positive results for their black and Hispanic students. "Researchers have found some small improvements in grades and retention from such programs. Other studies have shown some improved educational outcomes, such as graduation rates, for Black and Latino students taught by teachers of the same race," WSJ reports.

What is at issue for those who advocate for segregated education is the well-being of black students who have been "expected to conform to a white standard," said Dena Luna, who works on black student-achievement in Minneapolis Public Schools. "In our spaces, you don’t have to shed one ounce of yourself because everything about our space is rooted in Blackness," she said.

In that school district, the segregated classes improved attendance. The courses offered were specifically geared towards black students as well, with African American history offerings and student support. In Evanston, however, it's not just electives, but core foundational courses that are offered in segregated settings. The AXLE program in Evanston for black students, and the GANAS program for Hispanic students, offer mathematics and English as well. 

Evanston Schools superintendent Marcus Campbell spoke to the student newspaper about the courses, saying that they are intended to offer "a different, more familiar setting to kids who feel really anxious about being in an AP class." The program began in 2019, but the district hasn't offered statistics on how well students have done in them.

The school does not appear to offer affinity classes for Asian American students or students who are not part of a minority group. The school is 44 percent white, 24 percent black, 20 percent Hispanic and 5 percent Asian.

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