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Diversity More Difficult In The Lunchroom Than In The Classroom

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WAKE FOREST — The Wake County School board reassigns students so that schools will be more diverse. But, the moves are painful and sometimes divisive.

The events of 9-11 gave some high school students a new appreciation of differences in a way that reassignment has not. If you want to see how far diveristy has come in schools, Wake Forest-Rolesville High students say you need only go as far as the lunchroom.

There is nothing unusual about Wake Forest-Rolesville High's cafeteria, but there is one persistent pattern. Black students sit together. White students sit somewhere else.

Senior student Ruthanna Vogt explains, "People tend to stay with people that they're comfortable with."

Comfort is a big issue with high school students.

Her classmate Billy Smith nods, "It could be worse, but I also feel that we're not doing our best, definfitely."

Students say diversity works in the classroom because it has to.

"Because you're forced to work with people you wouldn't spend time with on your own," according to Vogt.

You still see the polarity, desk by desk; Black students in the back on the left of one science class, white students together up front.

Student reassignment does force diversity. Wake Forest students have not been affected much. All five on the students talking about this issue in their Media Center have spent all of their high school years in the same school.

Ruthanna, a white student, says you cannot gain comfort without the exposure. She attended Durant Middle School and says the student body was mostly upper middle class white people. When she arrived at Wake Forest-Rolesville High, she was shocked by student disagreements with racial overtones.

But her friend Chris Allen, who is black, thinks forcing people across neighborhood boundaries creates an unnatural tension.

"Just let us come together. I think that would be the best way. Because, if you just put us together, you might just stir up even more trouble," Allen says.

He says it's a little different on the ballfield.

"There's nothing like competition, with races trying to compete with one another, and to me, it brings the races together," Allen says.

Students say their comfort with the racial status quo was challenged on September 11 when Americans were killed, and the terrorists didn't care what color the victims were.

Marilyn Lee does not know if it's because of the attacks or because her friends are seniors and about to leave campus, but one by one, students are reaching beyond their comfort zones.

"A lot of people have come together and spread out and gotten to know different people," she says, glancing at Chris Allen and smiling.

Carlos Panameno says at least some good came from the ugly event,

"It kind of opened my eyes and I said, 'We're all in this together,'" Panameno says.

He thinks racial harmony and acceptance is a slower process. He'd like to be President of the United States, but believes there is no chance until a woman and a black man hold the offfice first. As a Hispanic, he feels he must wait his turn.

But he also thinks his generation is on to a good idea, even if it took a war to make them recognize it.

"In a war, everybody is supposed to be behind their own country. I think that war is evil, but it does bring peace, in the end," he says.

The seniors hope pioneers in the lunchroom take classmates to a new place in this post-9-11 world.