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Volume 29, Number 1
January/February 2013

Preparing Schools for a Multiracial Society

An Interview with Gary Orfield


Gary Orfield, 71, has long been a prominent voice for civil rights and equal opportunity in education as codirector of the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is also a professor of education, law, political science, and urban planning. Harvard Education Letter editor Nancy Walser interviewed him on the eve of the publication of his most recent book, The Resegregation of Suburban Schools: A Hidden Crisis in American Education (Harvard Education Press, 2012), coedited with Erica Frankenberg, an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University.

What prompted you to found the Civil Rights Project in 1996?
It started 16 years ago at Harvard University after California and Texas abolished affirmative action. We held an emergency meeting in the basement of Gutman Library. Twenty-five college presidents, scholars, and civil rights leaders came on very short notice, and because of what we learned about the lack of basic information on key issues, we started to plan an intellectual think tank, a network of scholars with a broad agenda of trying to figure out what the patterns of racial inequality in the country are and to research the social and legal issues that need to be faced. So far we’ve completed 500 studies and 17 or 18 books. Our short-term mission is to inform the debate with the richest kind of social science we can find and prepare the country for what is the biggest change in racial composition in our history. In the long term, we want to train young people to carry on this work for many years and help define long-range challenges that haven’t even entered our political discourse yet.

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