Danns continues work exploring school desegregation in new book

Professor Dionne Danns

In the late 1980s, Chicago public schools had high dropout rates and high levels of segregation. The majority of students were Black, with an increasing amount of Latino students and less than 10% white students. Chicago school desegregation was an important tool for students to attend high quality schools, but was highly ineffective in ending school segregation and inequality.

It’s a topic that still has implications in the present day. Dionne Danns, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, delves into the experiences of over sixty graduates of the class of 1988 in three desegregated Chicago high schools in her newest book, Crossing Segregated Boundaries: Remembering Chicago School Desegregation, to be released on October 16.

Danns has written about Chicago public schools throughout her career. As she began to write about school desegregation in the city, she thought it would be important to hear about the experiences of graduates of desegregated schools from their perspectives.

“Scholars were just beginning to include more of the student voices in their research as I began this project in 2008,” she said. “I thought I could write about policy and student experiences in one book, but ended up with two books on Chicago desegregation.”

“Desegregation provided school choice, and participants of this study took the opportunity to go to higher quality schools than their neighborhood schools could deliver. Desegregation, the purposeful policies that brought students of different racial groups together, led to integration, the interaction that occurs when students are together in or are zoned to the same schools, largely because the students themselves pushed for it,” Danns continued. “Students were able to gain tolerance, learn from each other and make friends across racial and ethnic lines. For those how fully engaged, they were transformed from the experience.”

The voices of those who experience history is an important way to understand the past. I only hope that we can continue cross segregated and ideological boundaries to come together as a nation.

Dionne Danns

One of Danns’ findings: Even something as basic as transportation to and from school provided an educational experience for students. When they used public transportation, they learned about different ethnic neighborhoods, downtown and the broader cosmopolitan city by traveling through those areas on the way to and from school.

“I also didn’t expect that in elementary school, Latinos in the Ashburn and Chicago Lawn communities would experience discrimination as they integrated schools and neighborhoods, but would be accepted once Black students were bused into for school desegregation,” she added. “This tri-ethnic racial stratification was a significant finding.”

While in schools, boundary crossing became an important phenomenon to capture the literal crossing of racial and ethnic neighborhood boundaries in Chicago, as well as how students negotiated boundaries within desegregated schools.

In a time of civil unrest and racial injustice, desegregation is still important for building understanding across groups and providing access to quality education, according to Danns: “In an era where we are becoming increasingly divided, it is helpful to have students in schools together learning that they are not as different as they seem and to better understand different perspectives.”

“The voices of those who experience history is an important way to understand the past. I appreciate all the participants who shared their stories, my former graduate students who helped me collect the stories and my current graduate students, family and colleagues who helped me make meaning of their stories,” she added. “I only hope that we can continue cross segregated and ideological boundaries to come together as a nation.”