Nearly 300 New Jersey high school students got together at Rutgers University-Newark in February to tackle one of the state’s thorniest problems: how to solve school segregation.
The students, who were brought together by Rutgers Law School Professor Elise Boddie and her academic center, The Inclusion Project, came from 15 schools in the city of Newark, and schools from other towns that included Palisades Park, Ridgewood, Cliffside Park, Cresskill, Neptune, and Hillsborough.
Opening the event was Rutgers University-Newark Executive Vice Chancellor Sherri-Ann Butterfield who talked about the power of diversity.
“Segregation is damaging to all of us, as students, teachers and society as a whole," Butterfield said. "We must do better.”
In preparation for the summit, students had studied the history of school segregation in their classrooms then created small groups with students from other schools to discuss different issues in teacher-led groups.
“Segregation has been a topic, even in the Newark Public School District, for years now,” said Aze Williams, a senior at Science Park High School. “It’s overlooked because people become complacent. When you benefit from residential segregation in New Jersey you’re not going to want to fix it,”
In their groups, students talked about different issues – the responsibility of state and federal governments in regards to segregation, issues of predatory loan practices, redlining, and the placement of highways through ethnic neighborhoods.
Besides talking about matters that influence segregation, students also said they got a chance to hear other student perspectives and meet new people from other towns. “Events like this expose us to things we didn’t know about,” said Khalif Thompson, a junior at Newark Collegiate Academy. “It’s a learning opportunity for a lot of students. I didn’t know segregation was so high in my city.”
Boddie says that it’s been her dream to create opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds and different school districts to discuss segregation and how to fix it, “It’s their education and their future that’s most affected by this system, which is why we have to make sure we’re listening to what they have to say. Their voices are essential to this work.”
Besides working in the discussion groups, students also had breakfast and lunch together and sat around talking in casual groups.
London Fillmore, a junior at Shabazz High School in Newark, said she enjoyed discussing solutions to school segregation with students from different parts of New Jersey and thought they could make a difference in the future. “Even though it will be a challenge, segregation has been directly and indirectly embedded in our nation.,” she said. “With the younger generation, we can, if we’re really driven to do it. It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Other students said they hoped to continue the work started at the summit. Pablo Herrera, a senior from Cliffside Park, below in red, said, “I hope this is a conversation that gets talked about a lot.”
Editor's Note: Elizabeth Moore is the public information officer at Rutgers University Law School.