Self-segregation is a natural human tendency, existing because humans are naturally drawn to others who are similar in appearance, values and beliefs, upbringing, or lifestyle. According to Bogardus (1928), members of the same identity group are most likely to maintain social roles that are the closest in distance. Ortiz and Patton (2012) explain that this theory has been used to explain residential segregation and in-group marriage. On the college campus, self-segregation acts as a positive tool for retention and identity negotiation among marginalized students.
Studies of empirical data have found that self-segregation in the form of “counter-spaces” have positive effects for people of marginalized sub-populations on college campuses. Counter-spaces, or groups comprised of culturally similar students, provide a place of safety as a response to rejection or marginalization on campus (Cerezo and Bergfeld, 2013). This video describes an example of counter-space among LGBT youth.
Researchers find that self-segregation supports retention of marginalized groups. Grier-Reed (2010) argues that AFAM (the African American Student Network) provides a sanctuary for black students at predominantly white institutions. Black students in AFAM have a place of “safety, connectedness…resilience…[and] empowerment…” (p. 187). Grier-Reed suggests that Black students involved in AFAM are more likely to remain in college because they have a place to escape their hostile college climate. Revilla (2010) finds a similar outcome when observing Raza Womyn, a UCLA organization for Latina/Chicana women that embraces women of the LGBTQ community. In her five-year study of observations, surveys, and in-depth interviews, Revilla found that the self-segregated organization not only provided a safe space for LGBTQ women, but was also the reason that many of these women “made it through UCLA.” Revilla claims that because of Raza Womyn, members “felt entitled to their education” and “advised each other on what classes to take, how to study…how to find financial support, and much more.”* Self-segregation improves retention among marginalized students, making it a necessary and positive aspect of higher education.
The word “segregation” has a negative connotation, which leads some to believe that self-segregation is a problem on college campuses. D’Souza (1991) argues that students who remain within the confines of their identity groups in college do not develop their full potential and do not emerge prepared to “assume positions of responsibility and leadership” in today’s society (p. 249). On the contrary, one of our class readings describes the importance of having a “homeplace” throughout the process of self-awareness (Ortiz and Patton, 2012). A homeplace, similar to counter-space, is “where judgments are suspended, and trusted friends and allies are there not only to listen but to encourage…” (p. 27). Self-segregation is often necessary for members of marginalized sub-populations to find a safe haven when faced with discomfort or “missteps” in diverse environments. In this way, self-segregation and counter-space prepare marginalized students to re-enter their diverse campus environments with self-confidence and self-awareness, which in turn prepares them to be better leaders of a diverse society.
Bogardus, E.S. (1928). Immigration and racial attitudes. Boston, MA: D.C. Heath.
Cerezo, A., & Bergfeld, J. (2013). Meaningful LGBTQ inclusion in schools: The importance of diversity representation and counterspaces. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, 7(4), 355–371.
D’Souza, D. (1991). Illiberal education: The politics of race and sex on campus. New York: Free Press.
Grier-Reed, T. L. (2010). The African American Student Network: Creating sanctuaries and counterspaces for coping With racial microaggressions in higher education settings. The Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, 49(2), 181–188.
Ortiz, A., & Patton, L. D. (2012). Awareness of self. In J. Arminio, V. Torres, & R. L. Pope (Eds.), Why aren’t we there yet: Taking personal responsibility for creating an inclusive campus (pp. 9-32). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing
Revilla, A. T. (2010). Raza Womyn—making it safe to be queer: Student organizations as retention tools in higher education. Black Women, Gender & Families, 4(1). *page numbers not included in article