Residential Segregation & Educational Opportunity


Growing up in Chambersburg’s Black neighborhood, I became familiar with the disgust others hold for my part of town. I remember a teacher joking about feeling unsafe in my neighborhood and people would often wield stigmas and assumptions to admonish me for walking to my own home.They feared crossing an invisible line, which bound a history of racism to the living conditions and perceptions of the people it targets.

Schools in CASD like Stevens, Ben Chambers, and Andrew Buchanan have a higher minority enrollment than their counterparts. Historically, schools with minority enrollment have less funding because redlining has denied financial resources to Black communities while school funding is based on local property taxes. Lack of adequate ESL resources, food security, housing stability and healthcare also affect students’ ability to focus on school.Frequent contact with carceral violence out of school and suspensions in school only worsen the ability of Black students to thrive academically while their peers weaponize and contort statistics against them to try to prove that Blackness is synonymous with culpability. Without synthesizing history with these present day conditions, they will do anything to justify their hatred for my side of town and what happens to the people who live in it.

Despite the feelings of discomfort by people on the other side of town, I never see confederate flags or get dirty looks from strangers walking along these streets. The block housing Southgate Mall, a Black church and my favorite taco shop is where I feel safest, even if there is grass bursting out the sidewalk cracks and no national chain restaurants. As a child, I made memories walking to the ice cream shop in my neighborhood and playing rec department soccer in the Stevens field, which basically felt like an extension of my backyard. My family was so happy to move to our Habitat for Humanity house after our first few years in America were riddled with uncertainty. Initially, my parents did not have cars and had to walk miles in adverse weather to get to work because of inadequate public transportation. 

Despite being in a town that is racially segregated, CASHS brings students from all parts of town to one high school. While barriers to education such as AP exam costs continue to separate students on racial lines, lunch rooms are where all groups of students come together. In eleventh grade, I witnessed this manifest in a rise in tensions rather than a moment of unity. Staff frequently broke up fights between students of different races, which were aggravated by racial slurs. Eventually, a football game was cancelled because of racial threats. 

This was not the first time Chambersburg schools experienced racial tensions. Similar events are documented to have occurred at Faust in 1994 and 2003. When looking at integration more broadly, there is a national precedent for white vitriol. After Brown vs The Board of Education, which ruled that racial segregation in schools is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, white people expressed outrage at the presence of Black students in formerly white schools. One example is when a white mob hurled death threats at the Little Rock Nine, the first Black students chosen to attend Central High School in 1957, while the National Guard swarmed to block them from entering at the governor’s request.

Experiencing and processing white hostility relates to Du Bois’s idea of double consciousness. This is a different type of coming of age – one which leaves Black youth crestfallen at the hands of white supremacy. By shrouding Black people in a “veil of Blackness” that presents them as different and limits their opportunities, their consciousness of themselves is confined by social constructions of what Blackness is. 

As Black children, it was hard to understand the significance of race. We recognized that we looked different than our white counterparts but could not necessarily explain how the deeper social problems connected to history. We were given uncomplicated explanations in school that did not even go into depth on the limitations of integration. 

Adolescence shed this ignorance. From videos of police brutality on our timelines to racially motivated fights in our own high school, we were exposed to harsh realizations about what being different meant. Driving past houses dappled with confederate flags in a town with no claims of heritage after being burnt by confederate forces emblematized this feeling for me.

For a long time, I questioned why Chambersburg is the way that it is. Some will tell you that diversity is the cause of the divide but I believe that a fundamental lack of empathetic reasoning and cognizance of how race has been constructed are bigger obstacles than our presence. Schools must take the lead in strengthening these ways of thinking.

School teaches students that knowledge is the same thing as regurgitating information, which some have learned to be racist assumptions they learned at home or online. Students need to take risks and challenge what they think they already know rather than just repeat information informed by socialization. Rather than try to mold children’s minds with binary thinking and devolving our biases to them, we need to teach children to take control of their minds.

Students need to learn to ask why. Like education on segregation, we learn about the Holocaust as a stand alone event but never the preceding history of antisemitism or its present-day manifestations. Coming out of a decade in which both the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting and the Charleston Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting occurred in the U.S., why aren’t we making a conscious effort to combat white supremacy in our schools?

After COVID-19 disproportionately killed Black and Indigenous people and made Asian and Jewish people scapegoats for violence, more people saw the different ways in which white supremacy manifests itself. Why do we need someone to bleed on a news station screen to recognize that white supremacy is lethal, complex and ongoing?

Whenever a threat happens at CASHS, phones take the blame. Law enforcement officials stand before a mic to reprimand us. Then we move on. How do we engage relevant and ongoing pedagogy that teaches students to challenge the root of social problems in their own way?

Schools should be great equalizers but instead many students fear racial violence, lack resources, and experience (racialized) sexual harassment with little support from staff. Teachers and administrators need to work to not only take students of different backgrounds but actively include them with an awareness of their unique backgrounds and struggles. 

It is not enough to house Black and white students in the same school. We must work to instill an awareness of the root of structural inequalities, encourage critical thinking about race, ethnicity and religion, and foster an environment where Black humanity is understood and recognized so that the mere idea of threatening to kill vanishes as a thought.