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Discrimination: Latinos and Blacks in a Wealthy High School

February 2021
It is no secret that in the United States, low-income, Latino, and African-Americans are groups that face various disadvantages, including discrimination. When Latinos and African Americans are in a wealthy environment, they tend to be excluded in one way or another. Sean Drake, assistant professor of sociology at New York University, investigated how these minorities are segregated in the wealthy environment of a prestigious “Pinnacle” high school in Valley View, California.

Pinnacle is recognized for its high achieving students, and its student body is comprised of White, Asian, Black and Latino students. However, Latinos represent only 7% of the student population. Pinnacle is connected to another alternative or continuation high school called “Crossroads,” a school where students can make up grades if they are credit deficient or are at risk of not graduating on time.

According to Professor Drake's study, Latino and African-American students make up 36% of the Crossroads population, essentially because Pinnacle teachers and administrators pressure them to transfer to Crossroads as soon as they see the slightest sign that they are dropping their GPA. This of course is not as common for wealthy white students, as their families can often hire private tutors to help their children.

“I went to Pinnacle for an orientation during the summer and the teacher who attended me told me that she didn't think I would be able to continue going to Pinnacle next year. No one informed my parents or me about this. When I went to the assistant principal's office, he told me that my grades were very low and that if I stayed at Pinnacle I would not be able to graduate. My mom wanted to hire me a private tutor, but that was too expensive for us,” said Edson, 17, a Latino student at Crossroads.

Low-income, black, and Latino students often do not talk about the college they are applying to in order to avoid being discriminated against by better-off or higher-average students for not being able to afford an expensive college.

“I wouldn't wear the sweater from the college I'm going to while I'm at Pinnacle. People who can go to the University of Los Angeles do, but I'm going to a community college next year and sometimes it's embarrassing when you know you can't go to a college of that caliber. You feel how people look at you with prejudice and wonder "what happened to you?" said Diana, 18, a Latina student at Pinnacle.

When students of color begin to drop their GPA, administrators and teachers alike begin to pressure them to transfer to Crossroads. Most students avoid transferring at all costs because even with a perfect 4.00 GPA, their only options after graduation are community colleges, the military, and low-wage jobs. These students are not eligible to go to a regular college because Crossroads has only the minimum classes and credits to award a high school degree. As if that weren't enough, his students are strictly prohibited from attending any other prestigious high school, including Pinnacle. Otherwise, they may be detained for security or receive some law enforcement.

For Drake, “a solution for this would be to correct this academic culture where students who go to community colleges or those who are the first in their family to go to university stop being looked down on. Another solution would be to eliminate Crossroads so that students have the opportunity to recover academically at Pinnacle without being sent to a separate school where the quality of education and the treatment they receive is inferior to that of other prestigious schools”.

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