Interracial Contact in High School Extracurricular Activities

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<ul><li><p>25</p><p>0042-0972/02/0300-0025/0 2002 Human Sciences Press, Inc.</p><p>The Urban Review, Vol. 34, No. 1, March 2002 ( 2002)</p><p>Interracial Contact in High SchoolExtracurricular Activities1</p><p>Charles T. ClotfelterUsing data from yearbooks for 193 high schools, this study examines the degree ofinterracial contact in 8,849 high school teams and other organizations. More than one-third of these groups were all-white, while only about 3% were exclusively nonwhite.Owing in large part to their overall numerical preponderance, white students rarelyfound themselves outnumbered in groups by as much as three to one; by contrast,nonwhites often were in this position. Tabulations show that the degree of interracialexposure was typically less than what would occur if all organizations in each schoolhad been racially balanced and was much less than the exposure that would haveoccurred if all organizations reflected the racial composition of the schools containingthem. Whereas the nonwhite percentage of the students enrolled in the sample highschools was 24.9%, the membership of clubs and teams was 20.7%, reflecting a lowerrate of participation by nonwhites. Furthermore, because the racial compositions ofclubs and teams were not uniform, the average white member was in an organizationthat was only 15.3% nonwhite. Although clearly less than its theoretical maximum, thisrate of contact nonetheless appears to be much higher than what would occur if friend-ships were the only vehicle for interracial contact outside the classroom. Finally, theextent of segregation associated with these organizations was the same or less in theSouth than in the rest of the country.</p><p>KEY WORDS: segregation; interracial contact; high school.</p><p>Contact among students of different racial and ethnic groups in schools re-mains an issue of profound social importance in this country. Despite the end oflegal public school segregation in 1954 and the halting but nonetheless markedincreases in school integration that occurred in the following two decades, thetopic remains a concern of policymakers and continues to receive considerableattention from scholars. As discussed in the social science literature, interracialcontact refers to the presence of members of different racial or ethnic groups inthe same small unit, such as a school, and is measured by exposure rates orsegregation indices.2 For example, an exposure rate of whites to nonwhites thatis calculated from school-level data is interpreted as the proportion nonwhite in</p><p>Address correspondence to Charles T. Clotfelter, Box 90245, Duke University, Durham, NC27708-0245;</p></li><li><p>26 THE URBAN REVIEW</p><p>the average white students school.3 Similar measures could also be calculatedwith classrooms, or city blocks, as the unit of analysis. Measures of contactsuch as these by no means imply friendship or even meaningful interaction,although contact appears to be a prerequisite for such relationships. The pur-pose of this paper is to document one form of interracial contact heretoforevirtually unexamined: that occurring in high school clubs and sports teams.4</p><p>This paper uses data on the racial makeup of school groups gathered byexamining a recent vintage of yearbooks for 193 public and private highschools. Information on participation and interracial exposure is calculated byschool and type of organization. The paper is primarily descriptive. It does notattempt to explore the causes of observed segregation. It seeks to measure nei-ther the depth nor the durability of the friendships that may arise from suchcontact. Nor does it assess other possible consequences of interracial contact, asimportant as those issues are. By focusing only on organizational membership,the paper does not attempt to distinguish the strength of friendship ties, thedegree of reciprocity involved, or, indeed, the degree to which the patterns arevoluntary.5 Instead, the aim of the paper is to document and measure the extentof interracial contact in these organized groups, a potentially important topicabout which little empirical analysis has previously been undertaken.</p><p>The first section of the paper provides background and motivation for thepaper, highlighting some questions that invite study. The second section offers abrief summary of relevant social science research, noting the connection thathas been made between contact and racial attitudes. The next section discussesthe methods and data employed in the paper. The fourth section presents find-ings showing patterns of interracial contact based on high schools in the sam-ple, and the last section discusses criteria for evaluating those findings andgives brief conclusions.</p><p>BACKGROUNDFew areas of social policy have experienced the kind of dramatic change that</p><p>has occurred in the extent of interracial contact in the nations public schools.One measure of the change wrought by school desegregation is the markeddecline in the percentage of black students in the public schools who attendedschools that were all or virtually all minority in racial composition. Between1968 and 1988, the percentage of black students in the United States who at-tended public schools with minority enrollments between 90% and 100%dropped by half, from 64% to 32%. Among the nations regions, this percent-age declined the most in the South. In fact, by 1988, the South had the smallestpercentage of black students attending such schools, 24%, while the Northeasthad the highest, 48% (Orfield, 1983, Table 2, p. 4; Orfield &amp; Monfort, 1992,Table 8, p. 6). Although some slippage in interracial contact has subsequently</p></li><li><p>INTERRACIAL CONTACT IN HIGH SCHOOL ACTIVITIES 27</p><p>occurred across the board, these regional patterns appear to have remainedmore or less constant into the 1990s.6 Much of the remaining segregation can beattributed to the large disparities in racial composition that exist across districtsin many states and metropolitan areas, rather than to segregation among schoolswithin public school districts.7</p><p>Despite these impressive reductions in segregation between schools, severalfactors may tend to limit the actual interracial contact within schools. One ofthese is academic tracking, the policy of dividing the students in some aca-demic subjects into separate classes offering instruction at different levels. Ifstudents of different racial groups are disproportionately assigned to differenttracks, interracial contact will necessarily be less than it would have been withrandom assignments. The racial disparities that result from such assignmentshave been one argument against tracking.8 A second force that would tend toreduce interracial contact in high schools would be a tendency toward self-segregation in students choices of friends. If students, like most adults, tend togravitate toward those similar to themselves, school racial compositions wouldoverstate actual exposure rates. A third factor influencing actual interracial con-tact in high schools is a largely overlooked vehicle for interaction: the teams,clubs, and other groups associated with extracurricular activities. Extracurricu-lar activities play a significant role in the high school experience, as illustratedby the fact that over half of all high school students participate in athletic teamsalone (McNeal, 1998, p. 187).</p><p>The purpose of this paper is to examine the last of these three mechanisms,to document the extent of actual contact among students of different racial andethnic groups on sports teams and in other student organizations. Casual obser-vation of such features as segregated cafeterias and nearly all-white soccer orgolf teams would suggest that there is less interracial contact within schoolsthan schoolwide enrollment figures would suggest, but there is little formalresearch to document those impressions. Among the questions that might beasked about interracial contact in high school extracurricular activities, proba-bly the most significant one is simply how much contact exists. To answer thisquestion, the paper presents measures of racial composition and interracial ex-posure that have been commonly used in studies of racial segregation. Relatedquestions of interest include how interracial contact differs across regions, be-tween public and private schools, and among types of organizations; how thiscontact compares to schools overall racial composition; whether students ofdifferent racial and ethnic groups participate in extracurricular activities at thesame rates; how many students of another race a typical student associates within organizations; and whether there exist racial thresholds beyond which stu-dents are reluctant to participate in an organization.</p></li><li><p>28 THE URBAN REVIEW</p><p>PREVIOUS RESEARCHTwo strands of social science research provide relevant background to this</p><p>investigation of extracurricular activities. First, research on interracial contactwithin schools offers a benchmark for assessing the relative importance of mea-sured differences in contact. Second, research on the effects of contact on atti-tudes and friendships suggests the social significance of the current investiga-tion.</p><p>The Extent of Interracial Contact Within Schools</p><p>In contrast to the extensive research on segregation between schools, rela-tively few studies have measured the interracial contact within schools. Perhapsthe most comprehensive attempt to measure within-school contact is Morganand McPartlands (1981) examination of classroom assignments in 43,738 pub-lic schools in the fall of 1976. They found a small degree of intraschool seg-regation in elementary and middle school grades and a more pronounced degreein high schools. They found such segregation to be more extreme in the Souththan elsewhere, and more in schools with approximately equal numbers ofblacks and whites than in those that were predominantly white or black. Theirfindings suggest that in-school segregation had the effect of reducing the inter-racial exposure rate by about 11% on average below what it would have beenhad classrooms been racially balanced.9 More recently, Oakes (1994) and Mick-elson (2001) have analyzed the effects of academic tracking on the racial com-position of individual classes. In particular, Mickelsons study of high schoolsreveals a marked degree of segregation in some courses. This finding impliesagain that within-school exposure rates are lower than corresponding schoolracial compositions, but her calculations do not make it possible to say exactlyhow much the overall exposure rate is reduced.</p><p>Turning from classroom assignments to friendship choices gives another per-spective on interracial contact within schools. Hallinan and Williams (1989)used students reports from the High School and Beyond sample to determinewho their best friends were in school. They found that same-race friendshipswere much more common than those between blacks and whites. Among soph-omores, same-race friendships were six times as common as cross-race ones;among seniors the ratio was 5.6 (p. 74). Joyner and Kao (2000, pp. 818819)examined similar questions put to students in Grades 712 in the NationalLongitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, focusing on each respondents first-named friend. Of those reporting a best friend of the same sex, they foundwhites, whose average school was 73% white, were much more likely to namea white as their best friend; males were 7.3 times as likely to name a same-racefriend, and females were 10.1 times. Blacks, who attended schools that were on</p></li><li><p>INTERRACIAL CONTACT IN HIGH SCHOOL ACTIVITIES 29</p><p>average 44% black, had comparable ratios of 3.8 and 5.7. At least on the basisof this criterion for friendship, therefore, students appear to give themselveslittle opportunity, outside class and other organized school activities, to associ-ate with members of other racial groups.</p><p>Effects of Interracial Contact on Attitudes</p><p>A question of long-standing interest has been the extent to which interracialcontact may lead to more tolerant racial attitudes. The classic presentation ofcontact theory, and the conditions under which contact can lead to reducedprejudice, are given by Allport (1954). As interpreted by St. John (1975, p. 85)for the case of school desegregation, contact between ethnic groups can lead toreduced prejudice if the contact is prolonged, if it is between equals who arepursuing a common goal, and if it is sanctioned by authorities. All of theseconditions would appear to be met by active school-sponsored organizations,especially school teams. Those who have examined the role of extracurricularorganizations in the personal development of adolescents appear to agree on theimportance of interracial contact, though views diverge on exactly what socialmechanisms are most important. From one perspective, extracurricular activitiesare valuable to the extent that they form a bridge to interracial friendships.Hallinan and Williams (1989, p. 68) emphasize the importance of groups forfostering friendships among students:</p><p>Since interaction, whether by chance or by choice, generally leads to positive senti-ment, students who are assigned or choose to belong to the same instructional groupsor participate in joint co-curricular and extracurricular activities are more likely tobecome friends than those who are in different groups.10</p><p>To observers such as Ellison and Powers (1994), contact is important chiefly tothe extent that it leads to friendships, which in turn are central to positiveeffects on attitudes.</p><p>A contrasting perspective on the importance of contact in extracurricularorganizations holds that the weak ties built in such groups are more importantto interracial relations because of their role as a bridge between the largelyhomogeneous social circles of school. Not only are cross-race friendships rela-tively rare, their presence may jeopardize same-race friendships. Mere acquain-tances have the virtue of linking otherwise separate groups (Granovetter, 1986,p. 87). Because they foster such weak ties, extracurricular organizations take onspecial significance:</p><p>In junior high and high school settings, extracurricular activities become a particu-lar focus of out-of-class student interaction, and may take on greater significance formany students than the formal educational process. (Granovetter, 1986, p. 83)</p></li><li><p>30 THE URBAN REVIEW</p><p>Although they differ in the importance they attach to friendships, both of theseperspectives support the commonsensical proposition that, other things beingequal, more interracial contact is better than less, in the sense of underminingnegative stereotypes and fostering positive racial attitudes. Thus, the kind ofinformal contact provided by teams and other extracurricular organizationsholds the promise for attitudes conducive to tolerance and cooperation amongmembers of different racial groups. Interracial contact may also have an impor-tant role in integrating students into the social networks that play a large role ingenerating subsequent job opportunities.11</p><p>As a vehicle...</p></li></ul>


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