Kathy Soba remembers her classmates’ disbelieving reactions when they heard she had never met anyone who was not black or Hispanic before coming to the High School of American Studies at Lehman College.
“They kind of laughed. They were like, Kathy, you’ve never met a white person before, a Jewish person? And I was like, honestly, no,” she said, sitting outside American Studies on a recent August afternoon.
A major report released earlier this year shows her experience is not out of the ordinary. Schools in New York State — and especially the city — are the most segregated in the nation, according to the Civil Rights Project at UCLA’s “New York State’s Extreme School Segregation: Inequality, Inaction and a Damaged Future.”
The March report found that in 2010, 85 percent of black students attended schools with 10 percent or fewer white students; for Hispanic students, that figure stood at 75 percent.
The report considers schools where 50 to 100 percent of the student body are students of color to be segregated; 90 to 100 percent would be considered intensely segregated, and 99 to 100 percent would be considered an “apartheid” school. Within Community Board 8’s boundaries, five of 22 schools are considered segregated by the report’s standards, while 15 are considered intensely segregated; one, Bronx Engineering and Technology Academy, would be considered an apartheid school. American Studies, in fact, is the only school that is not considered segregated by report standards, with black, Asian, Hispanic and other students making up 46.5 percent of the student body.
A Bronx native who lives in Gun Hill, 17-year-old Kathy identifies as Hispanic. Her mother is an immigrant from Ecuador who emigrated at the age of 16; her father, born in the Bronx, is of Puerto Rican descent.
Kathy’s middle school, the William W. Niles School (M.S. 118) on 179th Street, was predominantly Hispanic. She says making the transition to American Studies, a specialized high school where white and Asian students make up 76 percent of the student body, was a challenge.