A recent article in The New York Times documented how students representing diversity at New York City private schools still encounter cultural and often economic divides, despite the increasing number of students of color at these schools.
While the percent of children of color (which includes African-American, Hispanic, and Asian children) at New York City private schools has grown from 21.4% ten years ago to 29.8 percent, students of color at these schools still report that they feel excluded, mainly out of indifference to their different economic and cultural backgrounds, than out of intentional exclusion.
Part of the problem, students of color at these schools report, is that they are often able to attend these private schools (where tuition often reaches $40,000 a year or more) because of financial aid, meaning that there is often not only a racial divide but also a financial divide between students of color and other students. For example, at the Trinity School, often ranked at or near the top in national rankings of private schools, 37% of students now represent diversity, and the school, like others in the city, has made an attempt to increase its diversity. As a result, financial aid has risen to $5.7 million per year, up from $2.7 million a decade ago, according to the New York Times article.
Students of color at these schools report that other students often live in ways that are unattainable to them and make assumptions that make the students of color feel uncomfortable. For example, a student who recently graduated from Trinity and now attends the University of Pennsylvania commented on the expectations of his classmates that he would go on a $1,300 senior trip to the Bahamas, an expense that was well beyond his family's means.
Now, different groups at Trinity, Calhoun, and Dalton are making films about what it's like to be a student of color at their schools. The films document an indifference to the students' experience that may seem subtle to others but that they describe as having affected them greatly, even years after graduation. In addition to feeling that there was an economic gulf separating them from other students, many students in the film describe a kind of cultural and geographic isolation, as many of them come from areas outside of Manhattan, such as Brooklyn, the Bronx, or Queens. Often, these students must travel far distances to reach elite private schools in Manhattan, and their classmates are not usually likely to visit them in their homes in the outer boroughs. Instead, social visits are likely to occur in Manhattan, and students of color can feel like visitors but not truly at home in their school and at their classmates' homes. The students also report that they even gathered and ate lunch in different parts of their school, in part because they could not afford to go out to eat, as many of the wealthier students do regularly.
Administrators in the New York Times article report being saddened when they realized how isolated students of color can feel at their schools. Students hope that the three films now in production will at least stimulate a conversation in the private school community in New York about what it's like to attend these schools if a student is not wealthy and white. In addition, though the article does not mention this group, the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) sponsors an annual People of Color Conference and Student Diversity Leadership Conference for students in grades 9-12 to encourage self-reflection among diverse, multicultural groups of students in private schools. These conferences are a way for students to spark conversations about diversity that they can then bring back to their schools.