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Outsiders within: The lived experience of African American students at the Shipley School

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  • Education
  • Bilingual And Multicultural|Education
  • Social Sciences
  • Education


In 1964 The Shipley School (Shipley) enrolled its first African American (Black) student. Since then, like other independent schools, Shipley has sought to attract Black students in order to affirm the School's commitment to diversity. In the past six years the number of Black children at Shipley has hovered around five percent of the total enrollment, while other schools in the same geographic area have met with greater success in increasing their critical mass of Black students. In an attempt to understand how to increase the number of Black students who attend Shipley, an in-depth study focusing on the lived experience of Black children at Shipley was conducted. With the belief that a qualitative analysis of Black students' experiences might help Shipley enhance their lives in ways that would make them happier, which eventually would lead to increased enrollment of Black students, interviews were conducted with Black alumni, Black and White students in the Lower, Middle and Upper Schools, and Black parents. These interviews provided a thick description of the Black experience at Shipley and confirmed other educational research findings that to be one of a small number of Black students in an independent school is a marginalizing experience. Frequently, Black students are ill prepared for, and unaware of how to negotiate, the cultural boundaries between their home and school environments. White majority students at independent schools often treat their Black peers as exotic, calling on stereotypical views to understand them and thus experiencing difficulty in welcoming them to the community. Implications for future research are discussed, identifying what Shipley and schools like it must do to serve the “whole” Black child, not only the parts with which the school is most comfortable. Through interviews with Black alumni of the School, some perspective was gained on the long-term effects of an independent school experience on Black children. Research with a longitudinal perspective would likely shed more light on the variety of factors that affect identity development of Black children, thus providing direction for independent schools that seek to attract and serve them. ^

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