"I intend to be disruptive not with my presence, but with my ideas"
July 10, 2019 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Fifty years ago, at a time when America was divided on questions of war, race, and gender, Alice de Rivera decided that she was fed up with John Jay High School, the local public school in Brooklyn. She was especially strong in math and science, and she scored in the ninety-ninth percentile on a city-wide math examination, but her high school was poor in those subjects, where Stuyvesant High School, a nearby specialized public school, excelled in those topic. But it was boys-only. How a Thirteen-Year-Old Girl Smashed the Gender Divide in American High Schools (New Yorker)

Ramona Ripston (L.A. Progressive, obit), an activist at the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, met with de Rivera and Mia Rublowsky, a tenth-grade math whiz who was also limited in her school options. Ripston convinced Eleanor Jackson Piel, an activist lawyer, to take on the case pro bono. Piel felt that barring academically talented girls from attending an élite public school violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal-protection clause, and took the school to court.
In her statements, Piel drew on the President’s Commission on the Status of Women’s report, from 1963 (ThoughtCo), and an article by Pauli Murray and Mary O. Eastwood (History.com) called “Jane Crow and the Law,” from 1965, which formulated constitutional arguments against gender discrimination. She compared the exclusion of women from élite public schools to the exclusion of women and black people from Southern juries, and emphasized the fact that the white liberal men in the room supported civil rights but were blind to the sexual discrimination in their back yards. At one point, to gasps in the courtroom, she pointed out that John Doar (Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City), the president of the Board of Education, which was fighting to keep de Rivera out of Stuyvesant, had once represented James Meredith in his famous quest to become the first black student admitted to the University of Mississippi. Doar evidently believed that gender discrimination was not an equal crime to racial injustice.
In May, just before the case was decided, rather than (continue) defending itself in Court, The Board of Education decided to repeal Stuyvesant’s sex restriction in May 1969. Twelve girls (ten sophomores and two freshmen) to enter Stuyvesant as the first class of women in Fall 1969 (Stuyvesant Alumni). And as noted in the New Yorker article, this was just the beginning --
the following year, more than two hundred girls enrolled. In the next few years, all of New York’s same-sex public schools, including Brooklyn Tech and Boys High, went coed. Yale and Princeton went coed later that year, and, within the next several years, Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth followed suit, as did prep schools like Andover, Phillips Exeter, and Boston Latin.
But the racial diversity of Stuyvesant students, and at other specialized public schools is an ongoing issue. Again from the New Yorker article:
The anniversary of de Rivera’s battle comes amid another controversy about diversity at Stuyvesant. The school accepts students based entirely on an entrance exam, and the result is that few black and Latino students are admitted. (Only ten black students were admitted to Stuyvesant’s incoming class last year.) Last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed eliminating the test for all of the specialized public schools in the city and offering admission to the top seven per cent of students in each district, insuring more diverse enrollment. Stuyvesant is currently seventy-three per cent Asian, and many Asian-Americans feel that the proposal is an attack on their community. De Rivera is disheartened by the low numbers of black and Latinos at specialized schools, and feels that racism is still built into the educational system, just as sexism was. She points out that Bates has eliminated mandatory reporting of S.A.T. scores from its admissions process. “How do we get those numbers up?” she said. “Taking a percentage of high achievers from each district makes moral sense.”
What's Next for New York's Elite High Schools Now That De Blasio's Diversity Plan Is Dead (Education Week blog, June 27, 2019)
posted by filthy light thief (7 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I had never heard this story before!
posted by tavella at 11:28 AM on July 10

This is so inspiring. I haven't read ALL the links yet, but I've added the whole thing to my To Read list.

In fact, I really appreciate the pairing that makes up this post. It's great to read about an important challenge we need to act on (improving diversity) linked right to the earlier story, when de Rivera made major change happen. Learning about people who made a difference, and being reminded of how things have changed, helps me keep plugging away toward the world I want to live in.

Thank you so much for this, filthy light thief!
posted by kristi at 12:03 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]

The gift from Jimi Hendrix says so much about both of them. Great, uplifting piece: thanks for posting, FLT.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 12:27 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]

Stuy '85 represent!
posted by AJaffe at 1:03 PM on July 10

Back in the courtroom, beat reporters were delighted to learn that de Rivera came from a feminist family, with a great-great-grandmother, Eugenie de Rivera, who was a suffragist at the turn of the century. “Mothers, teach your daughters to keep au courant with the leading vital issues of the day,” Eugenie wrote, in 1905. “If a taste for them has been crushed out by centuries of serfdom instill into them the fact that they will help their beloved America by their intelligent vote to suppress evil and blot out corrupt politics.”

Oh, I love this.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 2:12 PM on July 10 [10 favorites]

A great reminder that we all need to be vigilant about our own blind spots when it comes to equality.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:38 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]

This controversy has compelled me to quit a few Stuy alumni groups, where complaints that the Asian American community's voices are being ignored very frequently went hand-in-hand with casual anti-black sentiments, frequently from the same speakers.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:10 PM on July 10

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