“…Don’t think for a minute that ‘Minnesota Nice’ means anything…”
Minnesotans, perhaps typically of most Northerners, like to believe that racism still only happens south of the Mason-Dixon line–which makes us hard-pressed to explain events that occur with alarming frequency in St. Cloud.
The Communities of Color Coalition, of which Terrill is a member, paid a visit to St. Cloud the week before this Voices United forum convened. Korbel was scheduled to make another trip to the town on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And according to Korbel and Terrill, in their time in St. Cloud looking into accusations of rampant discrimination, racism and hate crimes, they have learned about such incidents as a Latino student being spit on while walking across campus, a black student being assaulted by a group of white males while on campus and a black student being covered in barbecue sauce and thrown out a window. Just since November 2007, approximately a dozen drawings or carvings of swastikas have appeared in public areas on the campus of St. Cloud State University, along with a drawing of a Ku Klux Klan hood and a burning cross. Less recently, but of equal relevance, the regional office of the EEOC investigated the university in February of 2002 and found that the faculty and staff believe systemic sexism, racism and anti-Semitism exists at the school.
The troubled campus has even been the focus of national media scrutiny. As reported by the Associated Press and published on January 28, 2009 on msnbc.com:
In 2002, retired black SCSU professor, Myrle Cooper and another black professor sent letters to several dozen high schools and churches in the Twin Cities urging minority students not to attend St. Cloud State [and] warning of a “long and sordid record of racism.” He said he’d do the same today.
About the same time Cooper and his colleague were writing their letters, St. Cloud State settled a federal class action lawsuit filed by current and former faculty members who alleged that school officials had discriminated against Jews and other minority groups for years. As part of the settlement, the school established a Jewish Studies and Resource Center, increased campus security, upped diversity training and reformed discrimination-complaint procedures.
Yet the problems persisted. An anonymous survey of faculty members contained anti-Semitic remarks. The University’s neighbors found anti-Semitic and racist fliers on their cars.
While St. Cloud might be the first place that comes to mind when someone thinks of racism and Minnesota, it is by no means the only city in the state with a festering problem. On January 4, 2008, students used a noose to hang a black doll inside Chatfield High School, a school in a town about 20 miles south of Rochester. And on February 24, 2008, Nick Coleman’s Star Tribune column focused on public reaction to the deaths of four schoolchildren who were in an accident caused by an undocumented immigrant driving without a license and the short line between rage and lynch mob mentality. Coleman cited a blogger on a Web site called Lake Minnetonka Liberty who wrote of the driver, “She should be swinging by her neck on the end of a rope.”