A group of public school students and supporters rallied Thursday night to urge the Minnetonka School District to confront racism and improve diversity.
About 100 people gathered outside the district’s headquarters to support changes that would include hiring more teachers of color, giving staffers diversity training, adopting a less “Eurocentric” curriculum and banning hate symbols in school dress codes.
The rally, hosted by the group Minnetonka Coalition for Equitable Education, stemmed in part from a Change.org petition criticizing the district’s handling of race. It has garnered about 4,800 signatures so far.
“Minnetonka has a culture of often sweeping racial issues under the rug in order to avoid talking about them,” said Lena Pak, an incoming senior at Minnetonka High School. “This results in uneducated white students that make [Black, Indigenous and people of color] feel unwelcome or unsafe and creates inequitable learning.”
Rally attendees held signs reading “Make Tonka Anti-Racist,” “Equality = excellence” and “Anti-racist curriculum now.” Originally the group had planned to make a presentation to the district’s Committee for Student Belonging, but speakers said the meeting was moved online as a result of the rally.
Incoming high school junior Jinhyoung Bang, who launched the petition, teared up as she addressed the crowd. “I really wasn’t expecting this many people to be here,” she said. “But I’m really thankful.”
Bang recounted being told, “Go back to the rice fields” by another student on the bus during one of her first days at Minnetonka Middle School East. When she was in seventh grade, a fellow student remarked that she was “his personal calculator.”
“I don’t blame my naïve and uneducated peers for their words. I know that they come from a place of ignorance and years of conditioning,” Bang said. “I blame the school system that did nothing to educate them about the harm of their words and continue to let incidents like mine [happen] to other Black, Indigenous students of color.”
Bang said she was inspired to write the petition after the May 25 killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody and the subsequent conversations about race.
“I knew that the changes being implemented nationwide could also be implemented within Minnetonka,” Bang said.
Incoming high school senior Ahlaam Abdulwali said she has encountered Islamophobia and racism at Hopkins and Minnetonka school districts. During a discussion of religion and Islam, for example, a Minnetonka student told her, “I’m glad that you’re one of the good terrorists.”
“I’ve overheard kids saying the N-word more times than I can count,” Abdulwali said. “I’ve seen kids write the Confederate flag more times than I can count.”
Abdulwali said her rigorous courseload already makes school mentally taxing. But she realized after Floyd’s death how regular “micro-aggressions” take a further toll on her mental health — and that other students are experiencing the same thing.