Red Wing High grad sues over 'Wigger Day'

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 3, 2011 - 11:09 PM

The suit, filed in federal court, contends a homecoming week event was bigoted. The district denies that the environment was hostile.

For years, dozens of Red Wing High School students mocked African-Americans in a "Wednesday Wigger Day" during homecoming week, sporting baggy pants and do-rags and flashing gang signs, according to a federal lawsuit filed last week.

The lawsuit maintains that the activity was an exercise in bigotry and bullying that sent Quera Pruitt, one of a small number of black students at the school, into a "deep depression" that almost prompted her to drop out.

"It's offensive to black folks and, frankly, it's offensive to anyone," said Joshua Williams, Pruitt's lawyer.

Wigger is a pejorative word used to tease a white person who emulates the mannerisms, language and fashions associated with black culture.

The school district denies the allegations.

"[Red Wing schools] has been and continues to be committed to providing an education to its students that is free from discrimination and harassment based upon race or otherwise," Superintendent Karsten Anderson said in a written statement.

"The district denies the allegations that it has created a racially hostile environment and looks forward to meeting these allegations in court. Since this concerns pending litigation, the district has no further comment at this time."

The district, about 45 miles southeast of St. Paul, has 879 students in eighth through 12th grades, of whom 3 percent are black, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. Homecoming spirit week features American Indian dancers, several schoolwide activities and dress-up days, according to school websites.

Although the student council has designated a "tropical day" during the Wednesday of homecoming week, about 70 juniors and seniors took it upon themselves to change it to "Wednesday Wigger Day" or "Wangsta Day," according to the lawsuit.

Although administrators knew of the activity, they "failed to take adequate steps to address the conduct," the lawsuit says.

Students dressed up for "Wednesday Wigger day" in 2007, 2008 and 2009, Pruitt contends. When Pruitt complained in 2009, then-Superintendent Stan Slessor told a television reporter that the district was disappointed in the students' actions and would "address issues of human relations."

The lawsuit was filed in federal court, Williams said, because the school violated Title VI, which protects students from discrimination based on race at a federally funded school. Pruitt is suing for more than $75,000.

Pruitt, who graduated from Red Wing High School in 2010, moved there from Little Rock, Ark., with her mother during her junior year, Williams said.

Pruitt eventually quit cheerleading, track and the student council, Williams said. She also refused to participate in the school's Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations.

"When she saw how her friends acted and how the school reacted, or rather, failed to react, it sent her into a pretty deep depression," Williams said. "Her mother had to pull her out of bed in order to go to school.

"Bullying is when someone is in a position of power and takes advantage of that power. That's kind of what happened here. My client was a minority at the school. There wasn't anything she could do when she's only one of a handful of minorities."

After graduating, Pruitt moved back to Arkansas.

Daarel Burnette II • 651-735-1695 Twitter: @DaarelStrib

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