Monday, July 28, 2014

High School Cafeteria Seating

No, this is not an ergonomics post about seating, posture, and back health.  It is my take on a really interesting story I heard on Youth Radio last night during a bout of insomnia.  (Does that count and serendipity or just a silver lining?  Perhaps a topic for a future post).  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Youth Radio, a young person creates a short (15-30 minute) documentary-style radio segment and PRX plays them overnight one after the other.  Despite low production values, the stories are often very engaging and insightful.  This was one of those.

The youth reporter was a half-black half-white high school student doing a story about race in his high school.  He noticed that in the cafeteria at lunchtime the students self-segregated into tables of black and white students.  When the principal announced a policy requesting that students try to mix more during lunchtime, he was “politely ignored.”  So the student went around to the black and white tables asking his schoolmates why they sat in these groups.  I found the responses intriguing. The highlight was that they spent lunch talking about music and girls.  So they sat at tables with other students who liked the same music and knew the same girls. It was unintentional that this led to race-specific groupings.  Perhaps they noticed that they were segregated, but it was not a racist behavior.

Since taste in girls and music sets in well before high school, it seems that this root cause has to be addressed with younger students than high school.  In high school, it doesn’t make sense to ask them to reconfigure their tables to be more integrated.  Instead, they should find a way to get them talking about topics that are more cross-race and let the race configuration change organically.

I missed the beginning of the story, so I don’t know if it was a boys-only school, if the student only felt comfortable going to boys’ tables, or if the presence of gender-specific tables even crossed his mind.  So that will have to wait for a future post.