by Chris Tillen, Staff Writer, November 2021
Does racial segregation exist at Nobles? Wherever one looks, whether that’s in the Castle, the alcoves, or the arts center, there are groups of friends that all have similar skin tones. These groups include Black students bonding with other Black students, Asian students hanging out with other Asian students, and many more delineations due to race. By no means is this to say that students of color are only friends with other students of color, but there is an observable trend that encourages the question of what makes Nobles so separated. What leads to the creation of racially sectioned friend groups, and is beneficial or detrimental?
First, it’s important to uncover how these racially divided groups actually materialize. Katie Cheung (Class II) said, “When I’m trying to look for someone to sit with, being a student of color, I would feel more comfortable sitting with a table of majority Asian students than white students if I didn’t know them to begin with.” Even if not every Asian student has the exact same background, the race that they’re born with is an existing factor that can start a conversation.
What makes race such a uniting factor? Khalid Abdulle (Class I) said “It’s about being around people who make you comfortable and who know about you. You don’t have to explain yourself to them.”
But not all schools are like Nobles. Val Gualdron (Class III) had a different experience at her prior school, and she said, “We didn’t have any white students. Coming to Nobles I had that culture shock.” In her old school, there were no racial lines in friend groups between students of color and white students because the student body’s color was largely homogeneous. On the flip side, there are also white Nobles students who matriculate from Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). In both of these cases, some students come to Nobles from schools that are much less racially diverse. This means that there is an adjustment period where students learn how to interact with a completely new set of community members.
In contrast with her middle school, Gualdron reflected on Nobles and said, “It’s not on purpose, but it feels so uncomfortable being the only person of color in a mostly white space.” Gualdron’s experience could also be attributed to white students, who may not be as comfortable coming into a space with more people of color.
On the contrary, some students come to Nobles after attending a more welcoming previous school. Brendan McNamara (Class I) attended public school before coming to Nobles and he said, “Everyone seemed to mesh together. There wasn’t as much judgment or racial cliques.” Similarly, Khalid Abdulle (Class I) went to the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School before Nobles, where he recalls that friend groups weren’t based on race—students were just interacting with other students. Describing the transition into Nobles, Abdulle said that socializing in self-made safe spaces “helps the adjustment to Nobles in a sense—coming from a different environment like the city or a more diverse school.” In both McNamara’s and Abdulle’s experiences, their previous schools were much less divided.
The shift between schools fuels the need for friend groups that understand the difficulties of this process. As Abdulle and Gualdron outlined, being with other students of color made them more comfortable. But what makes Nobles different from the more diverse schools that McNamara and Abdulle attended?
Some of this resides in the history of our institution. There was not a black graduate until the class of 1968, over 100 years after this school was founded. This history is displayed on the Shattuck walls, where the portraits of graduated classes are predominantly white. On these pictures, Cheung said, “The photos on the walls of all white students who made up the previous Nobles classes is a constant reminder of Nobles’ past and how this school was not technically made for students of color.” Despite the wonderful and numerous strides that the administration has made for diversity and inclusion, the original purpose of this establishment was, in essence, to send white men to Harvard.
On Nobles’ history, Abdulle said “It’s not built for you. Everyone who isn’t white was an afterthought when it comes to private schools.” The heavy history of Nobles plays a role in the current culture. Despite all this, there has been progress made in terms of social inclusion. “The newer grades have been more diverse,” Abdulle said, further stating, “And from that diversity came more inclusion. I’m looking at the freshmen and I don’t see what I saw my sophomore year with the [then-]seniors divided. They’re just kids talking to kids.” Abdulle unpacks how race doesn’t seem to play as big a role in the freshman class, and newer students are able to form friendships across racial lines.
Arav Santhanam (Class IV) affirmed Khalid’s statements about the incoming freshman and said “Race plays an important role in the social dynamic, but I think that another aspect could be common interests or other factors that create bonds and friendships. At some point, it goes beyond race.” Santhanam confirmed these strides that Abdulle references and additionally said, “I really do feel welcomed.” Santhanam feels seen for his passions and talents rather than his skin color, a goal all grades should strive to achieve.
So why is Nobles broken into sects based on race? These students highlight that it’s because students of color feel that at Nobles, being surrounded by people that share culture and background is much more comfortable. On the Nobles experience for students of color, Abdulle said, students of color must know that “They’re in a community that wants them there. Not wanting them for statistics or numbers or advertisements, but wants them there for the sake of helping them have a future, helping them grow.”
The question now arises whether or not this is good. On one hand, Cheung said, “The assumption that students of color sitting with other students of color is a bad thing is something I don’t agree with.” On the other hand, there is an argument to be made that Nobles should push to break down these barriers based on race. How can Nobles achieve the inclusivity that Abdulle and McNamara experienced? Is there a future where students of color still have the opportunity to form these safe spaces if they choose, while Nobles also fosters a more mixed social dynamic?