WMU News

Harvard desegregation expert speaks at WMU

March 17, 2004

KALAMAZOO--Dr. Gary Orfield, the Harvard University professor known nationally for his research on integration and social policy in America's schools, will speak at Western Michigan University at 4:30 p.m. Friday, March 26, in Putney Auditorium of the Fetzer Center.

Orfield's talk, "Brown's Fate in the Heartland of Segregation," is free and open to the public. Orfield is the founding co-director of Harvard's Civil Rights Project and is one of the nation's leading scholars on equal opportunity in education. He is the author of several books, including "Diversity Challenged: Evidence on the Impact of Affirmative Action," "Dismantling Desegregation," and "Religion, Race and Justice in a Changing America."

In addition to being a highly sought-after source on such issues as educational equity, ethnic issues and school reform, Orfield is an expert on diversity in higher education.

In 2003, he was involved in the historic University of Michigan affirmative action case that altered the college admissions landscape. That same year, the Orfield and other researchers issued "Are We Losing the Dream?" an extensive report that examined patterns of racial enrollment and segregation in American public schools at the national, regional, state and district levels. One finding was that Illinois, Michigan and New York are the most segregated states for students.

Orfield's expertise also includes the impact of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education. The court's decision deemed "separate but equal" schools for blacks and whites unconstitutional, and public schools saw considerable integration and progress in the following decades.

Today, many school districts are abandoning the integration effort and slipping back to resegregation, according to Orfield's latest report, "Brown at 50: King's Dream or Plessy's Nightmare?"

"It's disheartening because we're losing a lot of the gains we've made," he says. "But around the country, people are reflective and thinking about how to turn it around."

Part of his March 26 discussion will examine why the Midwest is at the peak of resegregation, as well as the lessons learned from the U-M "victory."

"There are some benefits in the court decision, and more and more people are recognizing this," Orfield says. "It also will be an issue for the presidential election in that it will impact who gets named to the Supreme Court."

The lecture is sponsored by the WMU Center for the Study of Ethics and Society and by the University's GEAR UP Learning Center, a program partially funded by the U.S. Department of Education, and by the Lewis Walker Institute for Race and Ethnic Relations.

For more information, contact Dr. Sandra Borden, associate professor of communication, at (269) 387-3146 or Dr. Joseph Kretovics, professor of teaching, learning and leadership and director of the GEAR UP Learning Center, at (269) 387-6865.

Media contact: Gail Towns, 269 387-8400, gail.towns@wmich.edu

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