Race and Space

Lindsay Custer, Cascadia Community College

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
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This page first made public: Oct 9, 2012


In this research report assignment students use United States Census data to identify racially segregated neighborhoods in their communities. Then, they utilize data from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction websites, as well as observational data gathered by visiting the individual neighborhoods, to explore the types of inequalities that exist in the two neighborhoods. This assignment exposes students to racial inequalities in their own communities and helps them to identify the impact of racial segregation on quality of life. The big ideas in this assignment are racial inequality, residential segregation, and environmental justice.

Learning Goals

The assignment brings to life the racial inequality that students are reading about in the course and helps them to identify the impact of racial inequality and segregation on quality of life and that may exist in their own local community.

The big ideas in this assignment are racial inequality, residential segregation, and environmental justice.

Context for Use

This assignment is used in an introductory level sociology class on race and ethnicity. The assignment would also be appropriate in a social problems course. The assignment brings to life the racial inequality that students are reading about in the course and illustrates that racial inequality exists in the local community.

This assignment is used in the middle of the quarter. Prior to the assignment students have spent one week learning about residential and school segregation and one week learning about health and environmental impacts of racial inequality. This assignment would also work well as an end of the quarter capstone project.

Description and Teaching Materials

Students need plenty of lead time on this assignment. The students are required to make at least one visit to two different neighborhoods and may need additional time to schedule a visit to a neighborhood school. In addition to the time spent in the field, students will conduct Internet and library research. Students should begin the assignment approximately two weeks before it is due.

The first part of the assignment requires students to use U.S. Census data to identify a predominantly non-white neighborhood in or near their community. The students will also select a predominantly white neighborhood for comparison. Using the Internet, students will gather statistical information on the environmental condition of each neighborhood and the quality of at least one school in each neighborhood. The students will also engage in active learning by visiting the two neighborhoods to gather observational data, noting things like the number and quality of food sources in each neighborhood, the types of transportation used, parks, etc...The students will connect their findings to course materials and concepts and will use outside sources to enhance their report. This assignment illustrates causes and consequences of racial segregation and exposes students to the idea of environmental justice.

The Learning Activities

Prior to engaging in the activity students read or view the following:
*All readings with an asterisk listed above can be found in the textbook, Rethinking the Color Line: Readings in Race and Ethnicity (4th edition) by Charles A Gallagher.

A. Unit on residential and school segregation

"Transformative Assets, The Racial Wealth Gap and the American Dream" by Thomas M. Shapiro*
"Residential Segregation and Neighborhood Conditions in U.S. Metropoloitan Areas" by Douglas S. Massey*
Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools by Jonathan Kozol
Film: "Race: The Power of an Illusion" (Part III-The House We Live In). Seattle's Segregation Story website

B. Unit on Race and Health

"Environmental Justice in the 21st Century: Race Still Matters" by Robert D. Bullard*
"Why Are There No Supermarkets in My Neighborhood? The Long Serch for Fresh Fruit, Produce, and Healthy Food"*
Place, Race, and Health: Promoting Opportunities for Good Health for All Children by Brian D. Smedley
"A River Lost" (Part II) article from the Seattle PI
The Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition's Homepage
Film: "Unnatural Causes" (any segment that you choose will most likely be relevant)

C. The assignment (see race and space research report attachment).

Race and Space Research Report Student Instructions ( 149kB Oct21 11)
Race and Space Research Report Grading Rubric ( 143kB Oct21 11)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students enjoy this assignment. It provides them with an opportunity to engage in active learning and to find out about their communities. They are always shocked by what they find.

The assignment asks students to visit (or just observe) a school in both neighborhoods. Students must be cautioned about obstacles they may face in this activity as well as what is appropriate (or not) with regards to a school visit.

Students are asked to take pictures for this assignment and may need some guidance on what is/isn't appropriate.


Currently, students write a report of their findings and this report is assessed using the research report rubric (see attachment). However, in the future I plan to have students present their findings as part of a poster session. The pictures that students take during their visits to the neighborhoods would be great to incorporate into a poster session or an oral presentation.

References and Resources

*All readings with an asterisk listed above can be found in the textbook, Rethinking the Color Line: Readings in Race and Ethnicity (4th edition) by Charles A Gallagher.

Jonathan Kozol's book Savage Inequalities has been turned into several short readings of various names available in a variety of readers. I use a reading taken from The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality (4th edition) by Tracy Ore.

Smedley has written several relevant articles on race and health. The one I use is available online at [www.firstfocus.net/Download/1-Smedley.pdf].

The "A River Lost" series was used. One could assign the entire series (they are relatively short) but I just use Part II.

The link for the Duwamish Clean Up Coalition is http://www.duwamishcleanup.org/.

Both films that are used to prepare students for this activity have excellent websites with companion lesson plans and resources:

Race the Power of an Illusion. http://www.pbs.org/race/000_About/002_04-teachers-02.htm.
Unnatural Causes. http://www.unnaturalcauses.org/.

The website on Seattle's segregation story can be found at http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/segregated.htm.

Websites that students are required to visit as part of the assignment are:

Census Viewer for King County: http://www.kingcounty.gov/services/gis/GISData.aspx (Census Viewer may be unavailable)
EPA's Enviromapper: http://www.epa.gov/epahome/commsearch.htm.
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Schools Report Card for Washington State: http://reportcard.ospi.k12.wa.us/summary.aspx?year=2007-08.

Evergreen State College