I grew up in Stuyvesant Town where we had a huge contingent of solidly middle class residents. I just checked my Annals (yearbook) and in my class of almost 300 girls at HCHS, of those whose photos are included, we had seven Asian and ten black students. Only one black teacher is pictured. In those days, we never would have used the term “black” which would have been considered aggressively rude and racist.
I think single sex high schools are socially damaging since you don’t get to know the other gender at an important developmental stage of life, but academically I think they are far superior to coed schools, especially for girls. We were told that there was nothing we couldn’t do. Nothing we couldn’t do better than anyone else. It’s very liberating. We just did it all. At college, and I expressly chose a coed school, that definitely was not true. Boys were in charge of everything except the organizations that were all-girls or positions that were considered girl-oriented (e.g., I worked at a radio station and the News Director always was a boy, PR Director always was girl).
I don’t recall any cultural clubs as you have now; all of our clubs were academic. I was a member of the Math Club, the Russian Club and the Senior Madrigal Group.
I grew up in a household where everyone was welcome and had lots of friends of different races and religions, but it’s important to remember that my years at HCHS predated the Civil Rights Act so none of this was unusual in society as a whole.
Jane Tillman Irving ('65)
The class of 1965's diversity, among 187 girls was as follows: 178 whites, 5 blacks, 3 Asians, and 1 Spanish surname.
Hunter remains the defining educational experience for many of my classmates, as I'm sure it does for today's students and alumnae/i.
BETH SCHORR-LESNICK ('77)
The school went co-ed when I reached 9th grade. I loved attending an all girls school. There was no need to impress anyone with hair, makeup, nails, provocative clothing, etc. Girls occupied every position of leadership at every level. I was junior and senior class president. There was no feeling that you couldn't achieve in any particular field.
At the time, the racial and ethnicity mix I perceived included white, black, Hispanic, Chinese and a few Korean girls. There were no Japanese students that I was aware of, at least not in my grade and the vast majority of Latinos were Puerto Rican. I don't think I can recall anyone from India or Pakistan or the Middle East or anyone that wasn't Jewish, Christian or Catholic. Perhaps other religions were represented but they were not open about it. This was reflective of immigration patterns to NYC at the time, I believe. There was a tremendous number of first generation Americans at Hunter.
Going to school with so many diverse people made acclimation to diversity in the workplace easier.
Jonathan Plotzker ('82)
When I attended Hunter, I found it to be totally diverse - in my memory, the student body was probably the most diverse group of people I had ever met (I come from Co-op City in the Bronx, which had a very high Jewish population, as well as African American). My group of friends incorporated plenty of Irish & Italian Catholics, black kids, Hispanic kids and Asian American kids. I really enjoyed how my friends came from all different backgrounds - we got to celebrate every holiday at everyone’s house, and taste everyone’s mom’s ethnic dishes (Greek, Caribbean, Puerto Rican, etc).
Brian D. Scott ('83)
There were 23 black students in my grade. We were Generation X and grew up in the civil rights era. I was born one year after the Civil Rights Act was passed and our parents had a different focus of where they wanted their kids to be. Many pushed their children to apply to Hunter to receive a better education.
The students were all very welcoming and they created an environment where race, gender, and sexuality did not come into play. It was an adult who profiled my friend and me. We were sitting outside waiting for the 4th period bell to ring when the director of the school walked by. He stopped and asked us if we went to Hunter, thinking that we went to a nearby school with a reputation for troublemaking. When we responded that, yes, we did attend Hunter, he responded, "The hell you do".
From randomness comes cohesiveness. Hunter was the best representation of the place I wanted to be. Color never became a factor among students. There was no need to add the extra label.
Marvin Young ('85)
There were wealthy white kids that got C's and there were poor minority kids that got A's. Experiencing that dynamic at such a young age was something that helped me for my entire life. As an adult I would go into a competitive situation thinking that the smarter/more qualified person would win, not the richer/white one. It turned out that I had a different outlook than most people I met, minority or otherwise.
There weren't an abundance of minority students, but we were friends and that helped us during our time at Hunter. Not sure of rough percentages, but definitely more than your numbers today. [As of 2015, from the official BEDS report, Black, Latino, Hispanic and Native American/Pacific Islander students make up 5.78% of the students 7-12th grade in Hunter. There are 26 black students, 45 Hispanic or Latino students and 0 Native American or Pacific Islander students out of the 1,232 students at Hunter.]
There were about 190 students who graduated with me in 1985. Around 20 of those were black or Hispanic. Surviving that academic gauntlet at such a young age gave me an advantage over most of the people I would meet in college and beyond. As an adult, if I found myself in a competitive situation where I was the only black person in the room, I would think back to Hunter and recall that I was once in that group of 20 who outlasted nearly 3,000 other kids to pass the test, be admitted, attend for six years and graduate from Hunter.
*Marvin Young is also known as Young MC.
Mynette Louie ('93)
I think there were 9 or 10 black students and maybe 3-5 Latino students in my year at Hunter. When I was there, it seemed to me that the majority of Hunterites came from relatively advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.
I am a film producer and financier, and since the film industry is dominated by white men, I'm acutely aware of the need to normalize the industry by introducing more female voices and filmmakers of color. I think having come from a less privileged background than most Hunterites made me aware at a young age of the concept and benefits of privilege, and I've taken that with me throughout my life.
Even though Hunter was relatively privileged for a public school, I still felt that most students and teachers recognized the importance of diversity more than my fellow classmates at Harvard.
Helene Darmanin ('06)
My friend group was probably about 50% white and 50% Asian-American. Many of my white friends were Jewish and we often joked that it would be the only time in my life that as a white Christian I'd be in the minority.
Diversity is something that we talked a lot about while I was at Hunter, but sadly, it was mostly to laugh at the lack of diversity, at least the lack of racial diversity. There were a number of student organizations centered around diversity, and the one that I remember the most was Gay Straight Alliance.
Edward Kim ('08)
I think the fact that we had an open-campus policy in Manhattan was critical. At that time, 96th street was a fairly sharp division of privilege- the police precinct ended at 96th, and parking tickets halved as you went onto 97th- and that juxtaposition was jarring at times.
I had mostly Chinese and Korean friends. When I was 11 or 12 I already had some Asian friends from prep academies that I religiously attended as a kid. From there on, it was social inertia that prevented me from reaching out to other groups. After I graduated I had relatively few Asian friends- I'd say I was close to around 5 during my time at Cornell. I didn't judge people based on that kind of characteristic. I did find that a lot of Asian internationals and Asian Americans hung out exclusively with their own groups (and not even each other) and excluding people based on a characteristic they didn't choose was unappealing to me.
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