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Individuals address communal wounds

December 9, 2016

National tensions reflected locally

In recent weeks, hateful incidents have become mainstream, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) national communications director Ibrahim Hooper.

According to Hooper, many recent anti-Muslim incidents involve headscarves, and can be traced to public figures.

“The mainstreaming of anti-Muslim bigotry in America, due in large part to public figures like now President-elect Donald Trump, and that we see a tremendous increase in bullying of Muslim students, and many times it involves incidents with headscarves,” Hooper said.

St. Louis Park Public Schools director of communications Sara Thompson said further apprehension may arise from the upcoming Presidential inauguration.

“There’s likely going to be some additional concern and questioning around inauguration, so how do we support our students and our families and our staff as we move through this transitional period?” Thompson said.

According to Thompson, conversations regarding racial and religious tensions similar to those at Park are occurring throughout the nation.

“These conversations are happening in a lot of schools across the Metro and districts out of state,” Thompson said. “We just had a conference a couple of weeks ago, and we had some colleagues of mine from upstate.”

High Achievement Program advocate Peter Redmond said he thinks holding and attending cultural events within communities can help improve racial and religious relations.

“On a larger scale out in society there are (opportunities for students to discuss race and religion). We have the multicultural event that we have every year in the Twin Cities — that’s an example,” Redmond said. “If we have events and opportunities for people to learn about others I think that that’s a starting point, whether it’s in school or in our society.”

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Student response

In light of recent tensions, students are looking for ways they can take part in the healing process themselves.

Gerteis said students play a fundamental role in community healing, despite not always being able to change others’ minds.

“(Students can) look out for each other. The hard part is it is really hard to change somebody’s mind,” Gerteis said. “A committed bigot is going to be a committed bigot, and maybe they will change overtime, and maybe they won’t. What you can do is (try) to make the community a more lively and accepting place.”

Meyers said students should be principled and recognized their actions can have major impacts on the school and community.

“(Student action) is huge because when I hear about some of the more concerning statements that are being made, they’re being made in maybe when there is not an adult nearby (and) in places where our only hope is the person standing next to it,” Meyers said. “There is a really powerful element to (students) saying ‘please stop that’ even if sometimes it doesn’t stop.”

In regards to students taking action, Redmond said students should reach out to the trusted adults in their life to talk about perspectives.

“You can talk to adults in your life, that’s one thing. People that you trust. If you trust your mom, your grandma, your neighbor, it doesn’t matter,” Redmond said. “Talk to them about what’s going on and get a perspective. Talk to more than one person.”

Senior class president Megan Aune said Student Council took action by holding a Park Pride week in response to the recent events within the school.

“The idea of ‘take pride’ started a while back, but this week came about after the (hijab) incident happened,” Aune said.

Aune said the week aimed to restore student pride and trust in school.

“I personally hoped that the week would (help students) regain the trust in our school,” Aune said. “Kids in my classes were like, ‘I don’t even know what to take pride in’ and I was like, ‘well, you can take pride in the fact that we were even able to talk about the things that happened, or that our teachers are open about it.’”

Senior Suweyda Abdi said she, with the support of teachers and staff, is looking into holding a school-wide respect retreat.

“I was talking to some teachers and some staff members, and we thought about this idea of having this respect retreat,” Abdi said. “We were thinking of how the respect retreat, and those type of retreats, go and how we can incorporate that into our school.”

Abdi said she feels students taking action within the school by pushing for a respect retreat could send a positive message to students and staff.

“If we just do some sort of event, even if it doesn’t end up working — like I told Mr. Meyers, the fact that students at this school, especially colored students, (will) know that if anything like the incident, or any incident (happens), that they know that the school will do something and they have support,” Abdi said.

Abdi said students can help heal the community by starting a dialogue.

“I just feel like if people step up, ask questions if they want something clarified instead of being rude and disrespectful about it,” Abdi said. “They can just simply ask questions and communicate.”

Meyers said the administration actively looks to hear and address student concerns.

“We are listening and we are trying to plan carefully to make sure that we are not unintentionally creating a situation where we can’t have the intended outcome we wanted,” Meyers said.

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