St. Cloud racism: rarely right but never in doubt

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If you are black (or a person of color), over 8 years old, and a Minnesota resident for more than a month, you have probably heard about this state’s capital of racism, St. Cloud. There is probably no community in Minnesota (with a resident university) that has such a well-documented racist history.

Despite the lynching of three innocent black men on June 15, 1920, Duluth has, at very least, grudgingly admitted and confronted, if not yet transcended, its overtly racist past. Diametrically opposed is St. Cloud (a.k.a. “White Cloud”), where a psychotic trailer-park mentality relies on its racist reputation. One might assume that the resident four-year college (supposedly training more Minnesota teachers than any other institution) would provide insight for addressing community feelings of inadequacy and progressive leadership for diversity.

St. Cloud State University (SCSU) students, staff, faculty and administrators, with rare exceptions, have willingly accommodated community racism since 1869. The late Nellie Stone Johnson was the first and only Minnesota State Colleges and Universities board member to recognize and challenge SCSU’s racist environment.

Despite occasional student demonstrations, nearly $6 million of taxpayer’s money squandered on lost discrimination lawsuits, a plethora of scathing critical newspaper articles, and devastating statewide media attention attracted by a couple of Black SCSU whistleblowers, campus and city administrators have been too obtuse for self examination — rarely right but never in doubt.

The name St. Cloud is synonymous with racism. Rather than providing progressive community leadership similar to Hubert H. Humphrey as mayor of Minneapolis (1945 – 1948), a succession of city administrations have adopted a George Wallace approach. Ex-mayor Larry Meyer referred to SCSU’s Black whistleblowers as “hardcore malcontents” and was torn between balancing demands by a local racist group leader and effectively attacking community racism.

Racial conditions in St. Cloud reached national attention when Dr. Howard Ehrlich, director of Baltimore’s National Institute Against Prejudice and Violence, investigated 250 college/university campuses and their respective communities. Ehrlich concluded: “The St. Cloud study implicates a hostile community and a campus that is equally hostile. Levels of ethnoviolence reported here exceed those in any other campus or community study we have reviewed. There is at St. Cloud a different normative structure than at any of the other universities studied.” (“Campus Ethnoviolence and the Policy Options,” March 1990).

Since many of you have high school-aged daughters, sons, other relatives and friends interested in higher education, examine St. Cloud’s racist and dysfunctional environment through the evidence of others. Begin with “Community not enthusiastic about minority recruiting” (St. Cloud Times, April 15, 1985), if not the collective opinions of many people of color.

Despite efforts to delay, invalidate, suspend and/or ignore the findings of investigations by outsiders, 12 independent studies have focused on St. Cloud’s racism: (1) Governor’s Commission on out-state racism, January 1988; (2) “Campus Ethnoviolence & Policy Options,” March 1990; (3) Minnesota Fair Housing Center report, February 1998; (4) U.S. State Department report, August 1998; (5) Bettye King’s report, April 1999; (6) Minnesota racial “profiling” report, March 2001; (7) Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) report, February 2002; (8) Edwin Nichols’ Cultural Audit, October 2002; (9) Sue Rankin/Pen State University: SCSU Campus Climate Assessment, February 2003; (10) Geoffrey Maruyama’s report, October 2003; (11) the Healy Final Report, October 2003; and (12) FBI report on Minnesota hate crimes, November 2004. SCSU administrators have tried their best to ignore community racial bigotry in order to “go along to get along” with city hall and a succession of openly racist city officials throughout the last 133 years.

The Nichols’ Cultural Audit was such a devastating indictment of SCSU/St. Cloud racism that Showtime channel’s Penn and Teller program was prompted by several SCSU faculty members unable to prevent or refute Nichol’s findings. SCSU was ridiculed for supposedly bowing to “political correctness” and humiliating whistleblowing.

Showtime compared Nichols and Black Harlem-reared SCSU professor Michael Davis with well-known anti-racist, education reformer and peace activist Noam Chomsky. Camera crews went to Louisiana State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Wisconsin-River Falls, University of Southern California and SCSU, among others, spending $80,000 or more to cry foul and grovel in denial. Naturally, findings of racism by Nichols were conveniently omitted.

To read Nichols’ and EEOC reports: (a) go to the SCSU home page; (b) click on “Faculty/Staff (across the bottom); (c) click on “Administrative Documents (at right);” and (d) scroll down to “Diversity Documents.”

Why send paying students of color to such an openly hostile and racist environment so historically incapable of respecting its students, its own minority employees and local minorities, and too hypocritical to challenge blatantly racist local police? Plus, their water is polluted.

Myrle “Buster” Cooper, a former St. Cloud State University professor and one of the whistleblowers referred to in his commentary, continues to reside in St. Cloud.

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