“They Know My Struggle”: Students’ Inter-ethnic Friendships in Ethnically Diverse Schools

By Maria Papapolydorou.

Published by The International Journal of Learner Diversity and Identities

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Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: November 14, 2016 $US5.00

This article explores the role of ethnicity in students’ friendship formation within ethnically diverse schools. The formation of close friendships across and within ethnic groups is relevant to debates regarding school and community social cohesion, as students’ close friendships across ethnic difference could comprise an indication of positive inter-ethnic attitudes and values—vital elements for socially cohesive environments. Drawing on data from in-depth interviews with sixteen- to seventeen-year-old students in four London (United Kingdom) ethnically diverse schools, this article demonstrates that students valued and celebrated the ethnic diversity of their schools. In addition, most formed inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic friendships. Yet, a smaller group of students considered inter-ethnic friendships difficult to form and maintain. A number of barriers were brought forward that related to constructions of ethnic “otherness” and to lived and/or feared experiences of racism. This article concludes that despite the positive inter-ethnic mixing of most young people within ethnically diverse schools, impediments, such as racism and individual attitudes, still hinder the formation of inter-ethnic friendships among some students and generate tensions, both tacit and explicit, between ethnic groups.

Keywords: Ethnicity, Ethnic “Otherness,” Inter-ethnic Friendships, Racism, School Ethnic Diversity, Social Cohesion

The International Journal of Learner Diversity and Identities, Volume 24, Issue 1, March 2017, pp.29-43. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: November 14, 2016 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 362.927KB)).

Dr. Maria Papapolydorou

Lecturer, School of Education, University of Nicosia; European University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus