“It really doesn’t matter what age the person is. Whether it’s [high schoolers], even younger, [or] older people,” Edina Mayor James Hovland said. “We all want to make sure that we’re part of a community.” (Maggie Baker)
“It really doesn’t matter what age the person is. Whether it’s [high schoolers], even younger, [or] older people,” Edina Mayor James Hovland said. “We all want to make sure that we’re part of a community.”

Maggie Baker

Edina’s steps towards unity: Government, school, and the student body

October 13, 2022

Rich. White. Privileged. Edina has a median household income of $108,576 and white people account for 85.6% of the city’s population according to the 2020 census. Historically, Edina has struggled with ignorance in the community and this poses a question: How is the city looking to change that?

The community effects of prejudice

In the past year, prejudice within Edina has never been more evident.

In early March 2022, a racist and antisemitic video produced by Edina High School students was publicized on social media. The video depicted the students mocking East Asian accents and one student performing the Nazi salute while the friends laughed. Superintendent Dr. Stacie Stanley sent an email to families and students on March 10, standing with Asian and Jewish communities.

“I think it’s also just, not everyone at our school is accepting of Jewish people, as [the video] showed,” senior Sally Rendleman said. “And I think the most striking thing about that video was the fact that I deal with [it] weekly, daily.”

On July 18, Edina Community Center’s tennis courts were found covered with derogatory anti-Asian, anti-Black, anti-Hispanic, and anti-LGBTQ slurs. “I was actually very shocked [by the graffiti],” senior Richanta Pollard said. “I knew Edina has been known to [be] racist and like, and oftentimes it can be, but I didn’t think it was to that extreme of a level.”

About a week after the graffiti incident, on July 26, a noose was found in the courtyard of the Edina Community Center. In response, the district sent out a statement to the community citing the noose as a symbol “long known for its intimidation, harm, and violence against Black/African American and more recently towards non-dominant groups,” and condemning racist hatred. The Edina Police Department further investigated the hate crime, asking citizens of Edina to identify a suspect via an email blast and Twitter. Two suspects were identified but the city of Edina cannot further release information on this topic.

The news impacted community members personally. “My heart dropped. It was like a sense of isolation because I am one of the few Black people in the school. And then it was frustrating because [it] meant that my brothers would have to deal with this as well,” senior Kayla Thomas said.

While Edina’s discriminatory culture only makes the news a few times a year, minorities throughout Edina face the sentiment every day. “We live in a city especially that has a horrible culture addressing people of color and while we can make it seem better at the end of the day, it’s a cultural issue that people aren’t willing to change and that there’s no other way to change that type of generational change,” Co-President of Asian American Pacific Islander Student Union and President of Student Senate Sabeehudeen Mirza said.

Jewish people have remained a target of discrimination in Edina. “It’s just been a consistent lack of knowledge on students’ [parts], teachers’ parts, and administration’s part on how Judaism works,” Rendleman said. “[Antisemitism] didn’t get attention until that video came out and even then, it consistently felt like Jewish students were pushed to the side.”

Edina’s stereotype also plays a vital role in how people perceive the city. “I feel like the face of Edina is like what people think of us is, very snobby, and rich and stuff like that,” Thomas said. “And I feel like those are sometimes the people that have represented us in the past, but we’re really a community, and we’re just trying our hardest to make friends and get through high school.”

Edina looks to make a change

“Government has an extraordinarily important role with respect to all of these issues in terms of modeling behavior, or setting standards for behavior, or describing what is permissible in a town or how we treat each other, how we interact with each other,” Edina Mayor James Hovland said. “I think that everyone wants to feel like they belong to something and that they belong to a community that they’re part of and they want to be involved in something bigger than themselves.”

After facing issues with prejudice in the past, the Edina government created support systems to better assist the community.

When the city first had problems regarding its lack of diversity and representation, the city decided to create a Human Rights Commission in 1968 (now called the Human Relations Commission) to support education and alleviate any issues related to human rights in Edina.

As Edina saw an increase in civil rights reforms, in 1972, Edina created a chapter of A Better Chance Foundation, a program that sends academically talented students of color to top high schools to receive a higher quality education.

October 12, 2006 marked a momentous day for the Edina government. According to the Star Tribune, a video of a white Edina police officer “confronting” a black man walking down a road sparked outrage across the nation. “Nobody got physically hurt. But it led us to look at what we could do in the city,” Mayor Hovland said. “That led to the formation of [the] recent equity task force.”

On Oct. 2, Edina’s Human Rights and Relations Commission hosted the “How to Stop the Hate” discussion at the Edina City Hall. “It really doesn’t matter what age the person is. Whether it’s [high schoolers], even younger, [or] older people. We all want to make sure that we’re part of a community,” Mayor Hovland said. “And so I think that’s what we continue to do with these events like [the] ‘Stop The Hate’ event that occurred”

Edina Public Schools administration has also made an effort to make the city more of an accepting community. Superintendent Dr. Stanley came into her job last year with goals of uniting Edina as one, creating One Town, One Family events in conjunction with the city, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Edina Community Foundation. The goal of these events, which are held every few months, is to create a vision and action plan together with community members of all ages to improve Edina’s atmosphere and inclusivity. 

“There’s been 400 people from the community. That’s students, staff, family members, community members, and city residents, the mayor, City Council, all of our principals, and my cabinet who have been involved,” Dr. Stanley said. “As long as I’m superintendent, One Town, One Family will be a way that we continue to get together so that we can do our very best to make certain that we meet the vision [made by the original members] to feel welcome in Edina.”

In addition to One Town One Family, new district policy 506 and EPS Student Handbook changes have been implemented, explicitly prohibiting racism, religious based discrimination, xenophobia, sexual orientation, and gender identity discrimination. “[Change] comes from accountability and consequences and letting kids know that it’s totally unacceptable in the school,” Principal Andrew Beaton said. “It also has to come from changing hearts and minds, talking about this, and looking at some things that we can do in schools.”

The school board leaned heavily on the Superintendent and her cabinet in the development process of district policy 506, who brought suggested language changes. In this process, Principal Beaton wrote the updated language which was further reviewed by other EPS principals. Afterwards, the policy was reviewed and approved by the Assistant Superintendent, Randal Smasal, and Superintendent Dr. Stanley. It was then reviewed again by the school board and approved.

The policy 506 change was followed with immense support by student activists. “An action that can cause permanent damage to a person’s self-esteem or overall mental health deserves a permanent consequence,” junior Rakiya Sheikhosman said. 

With ongoing efforts to make Edina a more accepting community, diversity in EPS has spiked. EHS has  65.54% white students this year, in comparison to 82% in 2014. “In the last 10 years, the diversity has increased, especially in the last three years. We are seeing this huge increase in the number of people of color in Edina,” EPS cultural liaison Sayali Amarpurkar said.

A decade ago, Amarapurkar was hesitant to enroll her children in Edina due to its lack of diversity. “My son was in second grade and he [had] maybe one or two other kids of color in the classroom,” Amarakpurkar said. 

In recent years, EPS has hired cultural liaisons such as Amarapurkar to support the numerous cultures represented in the school district. Currently, EPS has three liaisons to engage Somali, Southeast Asian, and Spanish-speaking residents in the educational system.

Sustaining change within the student body

Lately, multiple student groups have formed to initiate conversations about the racism students face in the district.

The AAPI Student Union was created towards the end of the 2021-2022 school year to be a safe space for AAPI students and advocate against Asian hate. “We’ve done a lot of work with a community organization called [the Edina Asian American Alliance], especially talking about policy 506, talks of disciplinary policies,” Mirza said. “We worked with the community to run a college-career panel which destigmatized college applications and [put] forward Asian students.”

Mosaic is another group looking to provide a platform for people seeking change in Edina. “A lot of it is informative in the sense of, Edina has the stereotype of not doing much to better diversify themselves,” Mosaic co-lead Shayaan Gandhi said. “Showing some of the students that there are opportunities to get involved and this is the work that clubs of our school are doing.”

Mosaic’s primary goal is to increase diversity and inclusion throughout EHS. The group works closely with administration, specifically Assistant Principal Michael Pretasky, in order to carry forward their agenda.

“Mosaic is really focusing on the district-wide scenario, we’re going into elementary schools,” co-lead Ashlee Kalair said. “I think what’s important for Edina to solve these issues is to start young and start in the elementary schools… we have to teach them young because those habits are going to go into high school. And that’s why all of this is happening in our school.”

In the past few years, EHS’ Black Student Union had similar ideas to bring students together. “My goal for BSU is to create a welcoming environment and healthy outlet for Black students at the high school,” BSU President Almaaz Braasch said. “[W]e can establish a designated place where we as students can interact with each other in [an area] where we feel our voices are heard and valued.”

Edina also houses plenty of student activists in various groups like Edina Truth, which was formed to shed light on inequitable student experiences through EHS and holds other events independently.

“I really would like to see more teachers having harder conversations with students,” Thomas said. “Avoiding the conversation means that they’ll avoid the conversation as adults. And just because it’s uncomfortable to have the ‘this is wrong, this is racism’ [conversation].”

Regardless of the city’s racist events, people believe there is hope. “[Racism in Edina is] just oftentimes kind of swept on the cover,” Pollard said. “But I’ve seen us break the stereotype multiple times…I’ve also seen us live up to the stereotype multiple times.”

Efforts continue to be made by students, administration, and the city but in the end, it’s up to the individual people. “We always talk about Minnesota pride. You know what I mean? Go Gophers, stuff like that,” Thomas said. “But we’re not honest with ourselves. And I think that when we’re honest with our prejudice and what has happened in the past, we can work on moving forward in the future.”

This piece was originally published in Zephyrus’ print edition on Oct. 13.

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