The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Building One Nation: A Study of What is Being Done Today in Schools, Neighborhoods, and the Workplace

Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund - 1996

Executive Summary

In December of 1995 the Leadership Conference Education Fund (LCEF) received a grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation to examine the dynamics of race and intergroup relations within three major realms in American society -- educational institutions, neighborhoods, and the workplace. Systemic problems would be addressed, and effective programs that promote constructive race relations would be explored. The goal of the project was to assist the Mott Foundation and other funders in their work on race relations by identifying strategies that reduce prejudice and promote intergroup understanding.

Through roundtables on education and integrated neighborhoods and community programs, interviews with academicians and practitioners, site visits, and an extensive literature review, we have collected information on the current state of intergroup relations and how to promote positive interaction within each of the three major societal institutions. Our report presents a summary of the research and a series of snapshots of successful programs in schools, neighborhoods, and the workplace.

The 144 page report provides a context for the discussion of race relations, an examination of the topic's complexity, a summary of the research on the development of racial attitudes, separate chapters on improving intergroup relations within the institutions examined (schools, neighborhoods, and the workplace), as well as community programs, an extensive bibliography, a list of organizations around the country working on intergroup relations, and final thoughts and suggestions for next steps.

Below, we outline the topics discussed in the report and present our final thoughts:


Moving Americans From Assimilation To Diversity As Our Civic Ideal

Race has played a paradoxical role in American society since the founding of the country. While our racial and ethnic diversity has been a source of great strength, it has also been our central moral challenge. Our nation has made great strides in addressing prejudice and discrimination during this century. Laws that denied citizenship to people because of their race or ethnicity have been repealed. Discrimination at the ballot box and in housing, employment, education, and public facilities is illegal. Segregated lunch counters, movie theaters, water fountains, and restrooms are no longer part of the American landscape. Racial tolerance and understanding have increased manyfold. At the same time, research and everyday experience demonstrate that discrimination continues to infest American society, resulting in lost opportunities for too many individuals.

The notion that American pluralism is a tapestry of vivid hues celebrating our differences has not completely replaced the assimilationist pluralism prevalent at the turn of the century. Just how far we have traveled along the continuum between adopting assimilationism and embracing diversity is difficult to say. But as we near the millennium, there exists in some communities a vision of an America in which difference is accepted as our legacy, challenge, and strength.


Improving Intergroup Relations: What Do We Mean?

In the course of our work, we have found it useful to discuss three distinct and important aspects of improving intergroup relations. The first is prejudice reduction. The second is appreciation and creation of intergroup contact situations in which the debate is implicitly or explicitly engaged. The third is translation of the debate into action designed to transform institutions and norms -- changing racial attitudes by changing racial practices. Although different approaches are appropriate for different ages, groups, and institutional settings, these are the three most common arenas in which to engage Americans in dialogue about diversity. Some programs may encompass all three approaches, while more modest programs will focus on one or two. Most experts believe that institutional change drives behavioral change, which in turn has the power to change attitudes, and that there is considerable overlap.


Development of Racial Attitudes

This chapter presents a review of the research on racial attitudes from early childhood through adulthood. Different approaches to prejudice prevention and reduction, intergroup contact, and activism toward transforming institutions are highlighted for each age, depending on how appropriate and effective they are likely to be. While the importance of early intervention is stressed, tools for attitude change in adulthood also are addressed. There are many points of entry for positively improving intergroup relations. The earlier and longer lasting the intervention, the better. Yet racial attitudes can be changed for the better at any age.


Educational Approaches And Strategies (K-12) A school is a natural setting in which to forge enduring bonds among children from different backgrounds. Research -- primarily in integrated educational situations -- clearly demonstrates that when individuals are permitted to deal with one another across racial and ethnic lines in cooperative, equal-status activities with plenty of room for one-on-one exchanges and with support from authority figures, there is an excellent chance that positive intergroup relations will evolve. In this section we consider numerous strategies for improving the rapport among children in Kindergarten through high school, under the following headings:

  • Curriculum Reform
  • Training and Retraining of Teachers
  • School Desegregation
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Paired Programs
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Youth Leadership Training in Desegregated Settings.


Diversity In Higher Education

Given the level of segregation in our nation's communities as well as in our primary and secondary schools, many students meet across racial lines for the first time when they reach college. Colleges and universities therefore play a pivotal role in conveying an appreciation of American diversity and in breaking the cycle of intolerance.

In this chapter we review research on some of the barriers inhibiting positive intergroup relations on campus and promising initiatives that have made a difference. We summarize recent research on how diversity affects students. The bulk of the chapter details a case study at the University of Michigan because it devotes substantial energy to challenging institutional racism and to organizing a range of opportunities for students and faculty to tackle diversity issues. This section also reviews the approaches that many institutions of higher education are taking to adapt to the changing realities on their campuses.


Integrated Neighborhoods

In this chapter we discuss integrated neighborhoods -- the site of Americans' physical homes, in cities and in suburbs -- that have struggled to maintain their history of positive intergroup relations, some for up to three decades, as well as more recently desegregated neighborhoods whose diversity occurred quite by chance. We discuss several subjects:

  • Residential segregation in the 20th Century
  • Research on integrated neighborhoods that grew out of the civil rights movement
  • A recent study of two types of stable communities that have maintained their diversity for as long as 30 years

Also included are brief case studies of Oak Park, IL; Shaker Heights, OH; West Mount Airy, PA; and Columbia, MD.


Community Programs

In spite of the palpable sense of frustration over the state of racial and ethnic relations, there are many promising local multiracial initiatives that spring from a common desire to improve intergroup relations and a deeply felt need for connection. The desire for honest, and meaningful conversation, especially about race, provides an impetus for many groups. These local initiatives use different points of entry, rely on different analyses of the problem, and address different aspects of the challenges faced by a diverse society. Some of them work toward individual attitudinal change, while others concentrate on combating institutional racism. This chapter provides examples of community initiatives culled from across the country.


Intergroup Relations In The Workplace

When LCEF began this project, we believed that, of the three societal institutions we were to examine, the workplace might hold the greatest potential for addressing intergroup relations. The workplace alone enables adults to spend a significant portion of their daily lives with individuals from different racial and ethnic groups. We found, however, that enhancing intergroup relations is not a high priority on the business agenda.

What is needed is an integrated approach to diversity that includes policies, programs, and strategies that empower every employee to perform to his or her full potential, unencumbered by obstacles that lead to an uncomfortable work environment. Affirmative action is essential to increase the numbers of underrepresented individuals. In addition, a commitment to diversity requires leadership from the top.

Final Thoughts

1. Efforts to improve intergroup understanding should be grounded in knowledge of the links among race/ethnicity, discrimination, and poverty. Recognizing that discrimination, historical and present day, helps to cause the level of poverty experienced by communities of color is an important component.

2. Improving intergroup relations within institutions must also include an examination of how institutional policies, practices and arrangements may contribute to unequal distribution of benefits based on race. Thus, for example, within educational institutions such efforts must be coupled with the broader issue of school reform. As one educator commented, race relations are not likely to improve in a school where the honors classes are predominantly white and the lower level classes are predominantly minority.

3. In many cases, institutional arrangements will need to be changed so that people will meet on the basis of equality. As reported in the chapter on higher education: "Institutional change helps not only ensure success in student recruitment and retention, but also improves all students' satisfaction, academic success, cognitive development and commitment to diversity." In the workplace chapter, we state: "There is little chance...that a workplace will undergo the fundamental change necessary to challenge institutional racism without a systemic approach that integrates diversity into every facet of an organization's business strategy....Such an approach includes implementing policies, programs, and strategies that empower every employee to his or her full potential, unencumbered by obstacles that lead to an uncomfortable work environment."

4. Research dating back at least to 1954 clearly demonstrates that the optimal conditions for improving intergroup relations are active exchanges between people of equal status in pursuit of common goals who are given the opportunity to interact as individuals, and when such interaction is supported by authority figures. While dialogue is not a goal in and of itself, it is an important and necessary starting point. As David Shipler writes in his book, A Country of Strangers, "Talking about race is one of the most difficult endeavors in America. Shouting is easy. Muttering and whining and posturing are done with facility. But conversing -- black and white, white with black -- is a rare and heavy accomplishment. The color line is a curtain of silence." LCEF would expand Shipler's comments to include other racial and ethnic backgrounds.

5. Many of the programs highlighted in the report and others have compiled impressive records based on the responses of program participants. What is needed are more in-depth evaluations that assess changes in attitudes and behavior both short-term and long-term. Also needed are longitudinal studies that track the impact of desegregated experiences and integrated neighborhoods on the attitudes and life choices of children who grow up in such settings.

6. Support is needed for the production and distribution of materials and tools for children, educators, and parents to provide direct assistance in improving intergroup relations. Many people we spoke with in the course of this project expressed a strong desire to work on improving intergroup relations and the need for help in beginning and continuing the process.

7. Work on improving intergroup relations cannot start too early. Research shows that pre-verbal children notice color and gender differences in people. Even at this early age, children are far from color-blind and by the age of three, many children already show bias across racial lines. Preventive efforts with young children may be the most effective.

8. The goal of integration has been replaced by less active terms such as tolerance and anti-racist. We seem clear as to what we don't want to be, or experience, but less clear about what we would like to become individually and as a country. As Sherlynn Dudley Reid, Director of Community Relations with the Village of Oak Park, Ill. said: "We need a national policy that encourages communities to be racially diverse. We should see that as a strength, not a weakness. Our message should be that you have not arrived until your community is racially diverse."

9. Educators should view improving intergroup relations as an important component of the educational curriculum. Schools can play a pivotal role in conveying an appreciation of American diversity and in breaking the cycle of intolerance given their role in shaping civic values and expanding students' horizons.

10. Change in the racial and ethnic make-up of the workplace is inevitable as the country grows more diverse. Attempts to preserve the historical model of a largely white corporate culture will hurt an employer's ability to remain competitive. The scope and effectiveness of diversity initiatives will expand as the composition of the workforce shifts and as markets grow more global. Research is needed to demonstrate that efforts within the workplace to improve intergroup relations have a value-added effect on a company's bottom line.

11. A very tangible way the federal government can support neighborhood integration is to seek increased funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Moving to Opportunity Program that currently sets aside a portion of rental certificates and vouchers for households moving from poverty concentrations to census tracts with low poverty rates (10 percent or less). A similar set-aside could be established to reduce racial isolation and promote integration. This would give content to the President's expressed desire to have more mixed income integrated housing.

12. The President's recently announced proposal to create opportunity zones to promote educational reform in poor urban and rural areas needs content. Title 1 of the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994 already requires all school districts to establish high standards and engage in comprehensive reform. While it may be appropriate to use opportunity zones to recognize districts that do a particularly outstanding job, they are no substitute for enforcing the law with respect to all districts. In addition, the Administration should assist districts on changing structures that impede children from interacting on an equal basis across racial and ethnic lines.

A starting point for developing the program would be an examination of the Emergency School Aid Act (ESAA) enacted in 1972 and eliminated in 1981. ESAA assisted school districts with special needs related to school desegregation. Evaluations of the program found that it had a positive impact on reducing racial tensions and promoting positive racial attitudes in many school districts.

13. Improving race relations is an enterprise for the long-distance runner. We should not set arbitrary time limits for projects and expect instant results. We have been a diverse country since our founding and grow more so. What we are engaged in is a continuing struggle for progress.

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