Heather O’Connell, Rice University – Modern Segregation

Heather O'Connell

Discussions about race and race relations are always in the news.

Today on The Academic Minute, Heather O’Connell, a post-doc at Rice’s Kinder Institute, examines the effects of slavery we can still observe today.

Heather A. O’Connell, currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Kinder Institute, completed her PhD in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her research interests revolve around issues related to racial disparities, poverty, and how they unfold across space.

Modern Segregation


Places are shaped in long-term ways by their histories. 

Some have suggested that slavery, in particular, has left enduring imprints on the United States.  In this research we add to this conversation by making direct connections between local slavery history and today’s manifestations of racial inequality.

This is true even after considering the number of private schools available in the area.

The persistence of this relationship in the face of multiple alternative explanations suggests that slavery’s effects are both subtle and pervasive.  It is possible that its connection to contemporary inequality is supported by even the most mundane and innocuous details of our social interactions.

Other findings from our research suggests that one way that history still influences us today is by providing the foundation for how we think about race and how we respond to people who we believe are different from ourselves. Critically, this consequence is just as relevant for the rest of the country as it is for the South.

Racial inequality is a persistent issue in the United States.  When we consider how best to address this issue, our research suggests giving special attention to the historical foundation of our school systems.  And the depth of that history reminds us that any meaningful solutions will not be easy and they cannot be short-term.

Read More: Rice News: Legacy of slavery still impacts education in the South

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