It’s no secret that the backlash against diversity, equity and inclusion has been strongest in suburban school districts that are growing more racially diverse. We’ve seen that across the country, and we saw it this year in Indiana, where some school board candidates campaigned against “critical race theory.”
It probably shouldn’t be surprising. The stereotype of suburbs is that they are largely white, middle-class and comfortable. Some people, certainly, moved there for those qualities. As suburbs become more Black and Brown, it’s reflected in the schools, which may cause some discomfort.
There’s also an element of political strategy. Ever since Glenn Youngkin was elected governor of Virginia last year on a “parents’ rights” platform, Republicans have seen school issues as a key to holding onto suburban areas where Democrats were making gains.
An NBC News analysis of suburban school districts that had “faced rancor over equity initiatives” found they had seen marked increases in students of color. The same has been true in Indiana.
In districts where slates of candidates ran against CRT and diversity programs, the share of white students declined between 10 and 24 percentage points in the past 15 years, according to state data. In Hamilton County, north of Indianapolis, white enrollment declined from 82.1% to 68% in Hamilton Southeastern schools and from 83% to 69.6% in Carmel Clay schools. In Hendricks County west of Indy, it dropped from 86.9% to 67.7% in Brownsburg and from $80.3% to 56.5% in Avon.
It’s not just suburban schools that have grown more diverse. Statewide, enrollment of white students in public schools dropped from 77.1% in 2007 to 65.2% in 2022. Hispanic enrollment more than doubled.
Some of the increase in Hispanic students was in urban areas, like Indianapolis, East Chicago and Hammond. But Hispanic enrollment grew dramatically in a few rural areas and small cities. In Frankfort, Goshen and West Noble schools, more than half of all students are Hispanic. Logansport, Seymuor and North White also saw large increases.
As a supporter of diverse and integrated schools, I think this is fine. Call me sentimental, but I’m still moved by Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a time when “little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.” If only their elders would let it happen.