The Intersection of Race and Class in Wilmington, North Carolina’s Housing and Education System The Effects of Housing and Education on Children’s Exposure to Crime

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Mikaela Kesinger Kesinger


I am interested in how unequal access to adequate housing and education affects youth’s exposure to—and engagement with—violence and crime. Does racial segregation and relative deprivation in housing and education impact youth’s exposure and likelihood of engaging in crime?

According to Robert Merton’s strain theory, higher levels of economic deprivation lead to higher rates of crime. Areas with high levels of concentrated poverty tend to be racially segregated, and the schools in that area even more so. Schools have acted as a symbol of opportunity in our society, but historically we have seen those opportunities unequally distributed amongst race and gender. Unequal access to adequate schooling is correlated with physical location at both the neighborhood and city level (Shedd 2015). These daily interactions—and the different exposure that these low-income students get to the larger social world—shape their perceptions and guide students' behavior. One of Shedd’s main themes in her 2015 book, Unequal Cities, was that there are driving forces and unintended consequences behind school policies that have linked public schooling with our criminal justice system (Shedd 2015). With the mass amounts of public schools shutting their doors to “failure” students in these low-income communities, students of color are pushed into schools not much better than where they started; resources are spread even thinner to accommodate for the influx of students; and disciplinary actions are revamped and directed unequally at students of color than White students. Schools are beginning to resemble our prison system, and it’s this perception of injustice that shapes how a child chooses to interact with their peers inside and outside of the classroom, which can subsequently lead to criminal and deviant behavior. 

    Students of color, primarily Black students, have external barriers that are placed in their way which prevent social mobility. Crowder’s (2001) study on racial stratification and how that impacts the expectation of mobility for White versus people of Color looks at the many external barriers preventing people of Color from achieving social and residential mobility. African Americans are more likely to be forced to move involuntarily, and they are less likely to be homeowners (Crowder 2001). In cities like Wilmington, North Carolina, it could be interesting to look at the areas of residential versus rental homes and how that correlates with our incident reports data. Wilmington has plenty of areas where residential neighborhoods are positioned next to new college-student-intended apartments, so we want to examine the effects on the incidents data due to these racially segregated communities being adjacent to one another. Racial segregation is a strong predictor of property crime (burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft) according to Akins (2003), but what’s important to note is that this may be a result of the higher policing in these communities. Not only are police more likely to be present in racially segregated areas, but research shows that police are more likely to arrest people of Color and even act harsher than they would with Whites (Akins 2003). This directly impacts the arrest reports and police incidents data we collect, as it may be a result of harsher policing than these people’s likelihood of being involved in crime. The intersection of race and class imbeds itself in both our education system and housing, which can affect all aspects of a person’s life. Without equal access and opportunity to these two institutions, people of Color are left behind as the rest of society propels forwards onto bigger and better things, and as research shows, this can lead to crime and deviance in certain communities.

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How to Cite
Kesinger, M. K. (2023). The Intersection of Race and Class in Wilmington, North Carolina’s Housing and Education System: The Effects of Housing and Education on Children’s Exposure to Crime. Undergraduate Journal of Service Learning & Community-Based Research, 13(2), 53–68.
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