"They know my struggle": Students' inter-ethnic friendships in ethnically diverse schools

Maria Papapolydorou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article explores the role of ethnicity in students' friendship formation within ethnically diverse schools. The formation of close friendships across and within ethnic groups is relevant to debates regarding school and community social cohesion, as students' close friendships across ethnic difference could comprise an indication of positive inter-ethnic attitudes and values-vital elements for socially cohesive environments. Drawing on data from indepth interviews with sixteen- to seventeen-year-old students in four London (United Kingdom) ethnically diverse schools, this article demonstrates that students valued and celebrated the ethnic diversity of their schools. In addition, most formed inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic friendships. Yet, a smaller group of students considered inter-ethnic friendships difficult to form and maintain. A number of barriers were brought forward that related to constructions of ethnic "otherness" and to lived and/or feared experiences of racism. This article concludes that despite the positive inter-ethnic mixing of most young people within ethnically diverse schools, impediments, such as racism and individual attitudes, still hinder the formation of inter-ethnic friendships among some students and generate tensions, both tacit and explicit, between ethnic groups.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-43
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Learner Diversity and Identities
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Ethnic "otherness," inter-ethnic friendships
  • Ethnicity
  • Racism
  • School ethnic diversity
  • Social cohesion

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