It is sad and disturbing to hear about racial-cultural conflicts at Tech High School in St. Cloud.
Sad but not surprising.
On March 18, about 100 Somali students and some of their parents staged a protest on the grounds outside of Tech. They were trying to bring attention to the injustices the students say they have experienced, including unfair and unequal disciplinary actions against them, incidents of bullying and name-calling, and lack of inclusiveness.
What apparently sparked the protest was a vicious posting on social media of a Somali student, who was made to appear as if she is in a wheelchair, along with words that implied she is somehow a part of an Islamic terrorist group.
School officials have been meeting with the protesters to hear more specifically about their grievances. We are glad to hear that, but we hope some genuine steps are taken toward conflict resolution instead of just “conversations.”
The surest way toward that goal – conflict resolution – is to open the lines of communication and to encourage all students to express their grievances before those feelings erupt into unhealthy outlets. It’s also important to educate all students about the importance of tolerance and respect for cultural differences. The history of America is rife with instances of prejudice, cruelty and even violence to immigrants of different colors and cultural backgrounds. It happened when Irish immigrants arrived in the mid-1800s, when the Chinese arrived to help build our railroads and – most obviously – against Afro-Americans. Right here in the Tri-County area, prejudice, mutual suspicions and acts of meanness occurred between Catholics and Protestants in the 19th Century and even into the 20th Century.
It takes a lot of effort to overcome these prejudices, which can eat at the edges of an otherwise thriving society. And make no mistake: prejudice against Somalis occurs in the greater St. Cloud area. It ranges from distrust and sneering comments to irrational fears and baseless attitudes that they are all aligned with Islamic terrorists groups. There are also multiple acts of vandalism against their places of worship in St. Cloud. If that kind of hostility is afoot in our streets, it’s bound to be in our schools, too.
We believe the overwhelming number of people in this area are not mean-spirited or prejudiced. Our school district is trying its best to defuse conflicts and to try to make every student feel comfortable and secure. The district also has a good anti-bullying policy. Nevertheless, these student grievances must be thoroughly considered, and actions must be taken, including disciplinary actions against the bullies, not the bullied.
In the meantime, all of us who live here must speak up to challenge hurtful comments and ludicrous stereotypes against our good neighbors, the Somalis, as well as others who may be targets of bigotry. The poison of prejudice runs most deep when it goes unchallenged, and our collective silence is an accessory to the crime.