“If that’s what’s getting recorded, then there’s so much more that isn’t,”: Racist video surfaces at Edina


Iris Libson

“It’s baffling that white kids don’t go through this experience, like they have a normal childhood. Me? I didn’t have a normal childhood. I literally have trauma from people being racist. And coming to this school and facing the same damn thing everyday is really hurtful,” Ayelomi said.

Dedeepya Guthikonda, managing editor

Edina High School Junior Ayomide Ayelomi has been called the n-word. A monkey. A burnt biscuit. They’ve been called aggressive and the “angry Black woman” for trying to speak up for themselves. But Ayelomi describes the racism they have endured at EHS simply as an “everyday theme.” They’ve become used to it. 

“It’s baffling that white kids don’t go through this experience, like they have a normal childhood. Me? I didn’t have a normal childhood. I literally have trauma from people being racist. And coming to this school and facing the same damn thing everyday is really hurtful,” Ayelomi said. 

Just this past week, a racist incident within the community made state and national headlines. A video posted on social media featuring EHS students mocking Asian accents and giving the Nazi salute circulated widely among students across the state. The video, which was originally posted on a student’s Snapchat story, was recorded and posted on Instagram Monday night. Since then, students have flooded the comments with this resonating message: “it’s not okay.” National and state media outlets—including NextShark, Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and WCCO—have reported on this incident.

When senior Vivian Nash first transferred to EHS, she described the “culture shock” that followed her move. Nash, who is Black, is enrolled in Edina’s A Better Chance (ABC) program, designed specifically to allow students of color from underprivileged backgrounds to live with host families while attending EHS. “I’m not from Edina, but I’ve come to understand how you got to work,” she said. “It’s definitely a lot of tension when you first walk in.” 

But, over time, Nash has grown acclimated to Edina’s demographics. “Certain things just don’t faze me anymore,” she said. “Like, you know, my hair. I literally just look at [the white kids] and giggle and walk away. But I shouldn’t have to do that.” 

Edina’s demographics speak for themselves; students of color are largely isolated, with Edina’s minority enrollment being significantly lower than the state’s average. 70% of students are White, compared to an 8.9% Black or African-American student population and 6.7% Hispanic student population, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Education. Compared to a 36.9% White, 33.5% Black or African-American, and 17.2% Hispanic or Latino student population at neighboring school district, Minneapolis Public Schools, Edina’s stark difference is evident. 

Across the state, Edina has garnered a decades-long reputation as a predominantly-white, predominantly-wealthy city, with students dubbed as “cake-eaters.” Opposing student sections at sporting events—including just last week at the boys’ hockey state tournament—chant “daddy’s money.” Past members serving on the Edina School Board have publicly claimed that ‘equity and excellence cannot coexist.’ And efforts have been underway in recent years to uncover the city’s decade-long history with racial covenants and discriminatory zoning laws.

Nash and Ayelomi’s experiences are hardly isolated instances of racism experienced at EHS. Junior Ilhan Yasin recalled a time she was called a “terrorist,” in gym class. Junior Sarah Hu has repeatedly witnessed students mocking Asian accents. Nash reported being told to “go back to her country” and getting her afro pulled on several occasions. 

“If that’s what’s getting recorded, then there’s so much more that [isn’t],” Hu said. “You never know when you walk by a white person, you never know what they’re thinking.” 

On the evening of March 7th, the administration sent out an email regarding the incident to families in the district, which stated that they “responded immediately, investigated and took appropriate action in alignment with district policy and protocols.” On Tuesday, Principal Andrew Beaton organized a meeting with several leadership groups at Edina High School—among them, Edina Student Council, Black Student Union, and Mosaic. The meeting was originally designed to be led in breakout sessions, as Principal Beaton jotted three key phrases on the board: “I do, you do, we do,” calling for students to discuss action items. However, the 40-minute meeting quickly evolved into a “townhall,” session, with one resonating concern being the consequences the perpetrators of the video would face. 

Student privacy policy protects this information from being released to the public. But Principal Beaton acknowledged the situation was “handled and addressed immediately,” in accordance with the Edina Rights and Responsibility Handbook. According to district policy, depending on if the actions are classified as “verbal abuse,” “bullying or intimidating behavior,” “disorderly conduct,” or “disruptive or disrespectful behavior,” consequences can range from “disciplinary action assigned by building administration,” to a regulated one-to-three day suspension. However, punishments vary depending on the students’ past history of committing offenses, and the handbook does not clarify what “action assigned by administration,” can entail. 

Regardless, some of the perpetrators were witnessed walking the halls at school the next day. 

“People are still recovering and healing from that, and it’s almost as if there’s no remorse,” Nash said. “I felt like that wasn’t heard in the meeting, that [we] needed some time and space from the situation. I think it got ran over and swept under the rug.” 

An admin-student relationship defined by “a lack of trust.” 

Ayelomi notes that many POC students do not report racist incidents. 

They and Nash both describe instances of bringing concerns to administration in the past, only to be met with a lacking response. 

“It showed me that even if I report this, nothing is going happen,” Ayelomi said. “So it’s like, okay, we’re just gonna sit in and watch people be vicious to us, and we can’t do anything because the administration doesn’t know how to end situations like this. That’s why lots of POC students don’t report any racist incidents, because they have no connection. No trust.” 

The district website provides a Title IX complaint form that is designed to allow students to report incidents of discrimination, harassment, bullying, hazing, or violence. But Ayelomi notes several instances in which friends of theirs did not receive a follow-up to their submission. 

When Nash was told to “go back to her country,” by a classmate, she was told to “just ignore it,” by her teacher. This lack of subsequent action “enables students to be racist,” as Ayelomi said. 

“Even though the administration was trying to get people of color’s voices heard, it was really vague. It’s like no justice was served. So I’m going to listen to the rumors that I heard, I’m gonna assume that’s true, because what else can I assume?” Hu said.  

A particular concern raised at the meeting was the district’s use of the word “culturally insensitive,” —rather than “racist,”—to describe the video, in which students were clearly intending to imitate Asian accents and give Nazi salutes, in the initial email sent out to families. Principal Beaton reported that the response was made in collaboration with district communication and the district superintendent, Dr. Stanley. 

“It definitely feels like they’re shielding,” Hu said, “even though I understand that it’s for privacy reasons.” 

Principal Beaton did acknowledge the severity of the actions. “I want students to know that this behavior is racist and is totally unacceptable,” he said. 

But the culture this behavior cultivates hinders students of color in the school environment. “There are a lot of [people] who have a story of what just happened to them racially and haven’t gotten a chance to share it because they felt like they were going to get shut down,” Nash said. 

Many feel further isolated, alienated by the system which was designed to protect them. “I’ve gotten used to it because I see the people have been racist to me. I see them and I have to get used to it because I know nothing is gonna happen,” Nash said. So, as Ayelomi added, school no longer serves its purpose for POC students. 

“I come to school because I need a safe space, but I don’t have a safe space,” they said.

A system designed against POC students 

Many POC students deal with discrimination in the form of microaggressions on a day-to-day basis. Not only have they been told to “ignore their feelings,” but students describe having their ID checked numerous times, being approached about not attending class. “If I’m sitting in the Commons because I have a virtual sub, and there’s a group of white kids next to us making TikToks or something, [the security guard] wouldn’t ask them ‘where are you supposed to be?’ He would come to us every single time,” junior Ludfi Farah said. “It’s like you’re always doing something wrong. Even when you’re doing nothing at all.” 

Even in the classroom, students aren’t comfortable speaking up where their voices feel undervalued. Some mention how teachers talk to them differently, changing the pace or volume of their language. “If the way [teachers] are treating me makes me feel lesser, and like I shouldn’t be trying, then what’s the point of me trying?” Ayelomi said. 

“I’ll say something and then a student who’s not a student of color, a white person, could say the same exact thing. And the teacher thinks that it’s really insightful. But it’s like, okay, well I just said that. So what is it about me that makes you not acknowledge the fact that I have a brain and can speak for myself?” Nash said. “[Students of color] have to work twice as hard to get half as far, and that’s just a fact.” 

This lack of support results in a layer of these students’ wellbeing that’s being entirely disregarded. “Students of color have a whole [other] layer of mental health that you have to be able to understand because it impacts our learning and impacts how we function in school,” Nash said. She mentioned how many are still in a process of recovery—from George Floyd, Breonna Taylor. 

She called social worker Ebony Gums “her rock,” along with security monitor Tony Harmon and the few Black staff that are employed at EHS. 

While Nash recalled having plenty of Black teachers while attending school in Chicago, she can’t recall a single one at Edina. 

“I literally didn’t know it was possible to have a Black teacher,” junior Ilhan Yasin said. “I’ve been to this district all my life, and I’ve never seen one.” 

The lack of a diverse teaching staff can have detrimental impacts on students of color, as this study by the National School Boards Association reports. 

“The minimal Black staff that is here have been a help to us because they can relate to us,” Nash said. “Ebony is the only person that would understand why I was upset that someone pulled out my afro.” 

But without this support system, POC students often don’t know who to turn to. 

As a result, they often feel like they’re just “taught to ignore [their] feelings,” as Farah said.

Racism is an epidemic, so what if we treat it like masking? 

If there’s one resounding consensus among students, it’s that there is hope to improve the culture at Edina. But there’s a sense of urgency that this recent video has aroused, and it’s clear that students are vying for administration to change its practices. 

One concern raised by students is that it’s not the responsibility for students of color to bear the weight of shifting Edina’s culture, although many felt as if they were being asked to do just that in Tuesday’s meeting. “If you want to create a change, go ahead for it, but just know you’re not obligated to do it because it’s not your job. It’s the people and administrations’ job to make sure you feel safe and comfortable at school,” Ayelomi said, referring to the role of students of color. 

For example, February was Black History Month. Nash walked into her first-hour class saying “Happy Black History Month,” every day of the month. People heard her; she described some as being “annoyed.” But that was all. 

“Educate yourselves,” she said. “Why do we have to?”

However, Principal Beaton acknowledges there is work to be done. “We do plan to continue to work on this from a restorative standpoint, working with our staff. There’s more to this than just a single event that we’re hearing from students,” he said. “Faculty [met Tuesday morning] to discuss our equity efforts and what next steps are required to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for all students.”

Nash brings up a specifically notable example: “[Principal Beaton] should put the same effort that he put into masking,” she said. “They were very clear about expectations, and they let us know suspensions will be handed out. There were follow-up videos. If you can’t legally tell us a punishment, that’s fine, but you need to be implementing some things that make people aware.” 

Senior Robel Zena brings up another important point. He believes that teachers need to be looped into the conversation. “I’m over here showing my teachers videos…but they should be able to relate to us and give us the kind of security that we need in this space, without having to reach out to them first,” he said.

Other significant changes involve altering the Code of Conduct with student input involved; many agree that a one-day suspension for disorderly conduct isn’t sufficient. And Ayelomi emphasizes the importance of instituting a more widely known and easier to access system in place to allow students to report incidents of harassment. 

On Monday, March 14, the district sent out an email communication addressing the fact that there will be a student-led walk-out in response to “the racially targeted video.” The district stated that, “EPS respects students’ First Amendment right to peacefully assemble, and we will not discipline students for the act of protesting as long as the protest remains peaceful.” They later went on to encourage community members, parents and their children, to have a conversation about the protest and to discuss how they are feeling about this with each other.

“I think this needs to be a teachable moment,” Nash said. “It’s not the first time and it’s not the last. But how do we make an impact?” 

In a March 14 loudspeaker announcement to the high school, Principal Beaton noted that, “Student leaders will be coming together to begin discussing a community event to tackle these issues and support the wellbeing of our diverse and multifaith community.” 

But the video and subsequent backlash brought to light a deep-rooted issue in Edina’s culture. “It’s the culture of Edina,” Nash said, “that everything’s supposed to just go under, for the sake of making sure everybody is comfortable. Meaning as long as white people are comfortable, then we’re okay.”