Compton Unified’s Trauma Troubles Tied to Residential Segregation

In May, three students and two teachers filed a complaint against Compton Unified School District (CUSD) for failing to accommodate students who have experienced trauma. The lawsuit calls for the school district to provide academic and counseling services to students who have experienced trauma, recognizing the trauma as a disability.

There is considerable evidence that trauma does indeed have various negative effects, including a child’s ability to focus and propensity to engage in aggressive behavior—which, in the case of some students in Compton Unified, has resulted in their expulsion. In light of this evidence, addressing trauma by providing appropriate services and training to staff is a needed step forward.

However, I’d like to take a moment to talk about an even deeper issue here: residential segregation.

This is not a new issue, especially in large urban centers like Los Angeles, where there are Latinos in East L.A., black people in Compton and Chinese in Monterey Park. Residential segregation is matter-of-fact to native Angelenos like myself. But as ubiquitous as it is, de facto segregation is directly related to systemic inequalities in public services, like food availability, access to healthcare, and, as in the case of CUSD, education and safety.

Based on the conviction that “residential segregation was the wellspring of all other racial inequalities,” Congress passed the Fair Housing Act six days after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in 1968. In short, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 made racial discrimination illegal in selling and renting houses and required government action to create more integrated living patterns.

It has been forty-seven years since the passing of the Fair Housing Act, and while there has been some progress (especially in the more blatant acts of racism in housing, like block busting), residential segregation is still a palpable reality that limits opportunities for whole populations.

It is not okay that in highly segregated neighborhoods like Compton, children grow up surrounded by violence—multiple students involved in the lawsuit disclosed that they have witnessed numerous shootings and even have been victims of gun violence themselves. In the meantime, someone like me, who grew up in Northridge and went to school in the surrounding areas, has never witnessed a shooting in my life. And violence is only one of the many unequal opportunities that come with residential segregation.

It is well past time that we begin again to vigorously fight for the integration that the Fair Housing Act of 1968 originally aimed for and envisioned. It is time that Americans everywhere of every ethnicity become aware of the residential segregation in their cities, and that integration, fair housing and desegregation become household words.

I was born in L.A. to Korean parents, surrounded by my Korean friends at school and in my personal social circles. I never stopped to think about the injustice of residential segregation because it seemed to me like a choice, just like the choice I made to hang out with fellow Korean-Americans at my public high school in the Valley. But residential segregation is so much more than that, with roots that go deep into institutionalized, racist policies and attitudes that continue to indirectly, and perhaps unintentionally, impact housing patterns today. By addressing residential segregation, Los Angeles can begin to redress its intolerant, broken past to become a truly diverse city.

The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released in July of this year gives reason to be optimistic about the future of fair housing, clarifying the role that HUD has to play in desegregation among other things; however, public perception of residential segregation still has an important role to play in making fair housing more of a reality.

Melissa Cha is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in social work at the University of Southern California.

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