Erika Wilson's Research on School Segregation

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Erika Wilson
Erika Wilson

Erika Wilson’s Research on School Segregation

As more localities in the South and elsewhere consider leaving their county-based school districts — essentially re-segregating by creating independent systems — research by Carolina Law professor Erika Wilson is adding perspective to those important discussions.

Research on Race and Class in Education Inequality Joins National Conversation

Wilson focuses on causes and results of educational inequalities based on race and class in public schools. Her article, “The New School Segregation,” was published in the Cornell Law Review and chosen for the prestigious Yale/Stanford/Harvard Junior Faculty Forum in 2016.

Recently her scholarship has been the basis for discussions and articles about school-district secessions. Her paper was available as a community resource for residents of Hamilton County, Tennessee, where Signal Mountain town officials are pursuing secession. The paper also was a pivotal reference for an article on school-district secession by the nonprofit EdBuild, which focuses on public-school funding. And Wilson shared her research in her keynote lecture at the National Education Association’s board of directors meeting this year.

“Having my research be part of a national conversation on a critical issue, having my research used by a community concerned about and impacted by an issue, and speaking directly to educators and administrators on the frontline of issues I write about are absolutely the most rewarding aspects of seeing my research discussed outside of academia,” Wilson says. 

A Unique Angle: Local Government’s Role in School Segregation

With many Southern school districts no longer supervised by federal courts regarding racial desegregation, Wilson’s paper notes that secessions usually leave the seceding locality with a mostly white, affluent school system and the remaining county-based district with a larger percentage of low-income and minority students.  

“My research is unique because it focuses on the role of local-government law structures in influencing the educational opportunities available to poor minority students, particularly their role in creating and maintaining segregated schools. This is an angle that few scholars, particularly legal scholars, consider the problem of school segregation and inequality,” says Wilson, who received Carolina Law’s 2017 James H. Chadbourn Award for Excellence in Scholarship.   

The Wall Street Journal, New York public radio WYNC, the news website Vox and other media outlets have contacted Wilson about her article.

As she continues to address real-world issues with her writing, Wilson is expanding on her scholarship with a paper that explores possible legal challenges to school-district secessions that would result in increased segregation.

“I hope policymakers and courts will examine more critically the ways in which local-government laws and structures — secessions, annexations, drawing of district boundary lines — are race-neutral devices that have a decidedly race-positive impact on the educational opportunities available to students,” Wilson says, “especially students of color.”

-October 16, 2017

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