Tara Madhav

Department: 
Class of 2022
Bio/CV: 

Tara Madhav is a senior majoring in history and political science. Her research interests include twentieth-century American legal history, particularly with regards to the history of housing segregation and the history of educational inequality. Tara is an associate editor for Clio's Scroll, the undergraduate history journal, an undergraduate library fellow and a Travers Fellow at the Commonwealth Club of California.

Research Description: My thesis project examines the politics of integration in majority-black communities with a focus on the history of desegregation in East Palo Alto, California. My research question is: What led American school districts, in the absence of a clear legal remedy from Brown v. Board of Education, to close black-majority schools to desegregate public education? To desegregate, some school districts closed schools in black-majority neighborhoods and black students were bused to white-majority schools to boost minority enrollment. Black-majority school closures facilitated integration, yet the impact of school closures, and the criticisms of black community leaders towards the conditions of integration, have not been comprehensively addressed in the historical literature. My research spans from 1958, the year that Ravenswood High School opened, to roughly 1986, the year that Tinsley v. Superior Court of San Mateo, a desegregation lawsuit, was settled. Ravenswood, East Palo Alto’s only high school, had a black population that increased from 60 percent in 1965 to 94 percent in 1970, prompting calls for desegregation.

While black community members were initially strong proponents of integration, as racial tensions increased at neighboring schools, these leaders opposed the Sequoia Union Unified School District’s push to close the school in 1972. The closure left the city without a public high school and students were bused to high schools within and beyond Sequoia Union. After the Tinsley case, East Palo Alto established the only voluntary interdistrict desegregation program in the country with suburban-to-suburban student transfers to neighboring districts.

My research addresses a broader question in American politics — how do existing patterns of economic and racial segregation affect policy change? My research is part of a field that studies the causes of urban and suburban inequality in America. In particular, the root economic causes of educational inequality have long gone understudied. My research postulates that the success of desegregation is historically tied to trends of economic growth and development. Financial deficits, combined with a reticence to institute a mandatory desegregation program, led the Sequoia Union High School District to close Ravenswood; while the closure desegregated the district, it also left the East Palo Alto community without a local high school against the wishes of many residents. In explaining why a region willing to desegregate their educational institutions failed to affirm quality schools under local control, I argue that housing segregation restricted the ability of public officials to enact voluntary desegregation across town boundaries. This was particularly true in areas with outspoken property owners that opposed sending their children to what they deemed were educationally “inferior” schools.

Research interests: 

Major(s): History and Political Science

Minor(s):