South High student group hosts meeting on racial dialogue

6:33 PM, Feb 20, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Valentine's Day fight erupted in the South High lunch room, a small group of students had long predicted a tipping point.

On Wednesday night, about 100 students attended a private dinner with South High staff, sharing their concerns about the school's cultural gap.

The dinner was hosted by S.T.A.R.T. - Students Together as Allies for Racial Trust, a little known group that stepped into the spotlight after the fight.

"As a Somali student, of course people are going to take out negativity and stereotypes and associate you with that. With S.T.A.R.T, we try to get rid of those. It is pretty much dialogue," said senior Saida Mahamud.

"You talk about what the staff should do all the time and what the board should do, but it's also the question of what the students should do to help," said Lamia Abukhadra, a junior.

The S.T.A.R.T chapter began four years ago, when South High graduate Freesia Towle, now a student at the University of Minnesota, believed the demographic shift in Minneapolis should not segregate her school.

"There was little interaction between ethnic groups and there was a tension there," said Towle, who is white, and says she wanted to build friendships with other groups in the school.

Currently, her mother Kate Towle leads the group. She has worked as a racial justice facilitator for the YWCA for nearly a decade.

"We have imprinted institutional racism in our brains, in our neuropathways, so we all see the world through a racist lens," she said.

S.T.A.R.T. will soon be featured in a new textbook about race, which will detail why students saw the South High fight coming and how they've been proactive in breaking down racial barriers.

Towle says her students will continue to rally the district for a more diverse curriculum, as they have already.

"Their dream was to have an event where they could talk and staff would listen," she said. "With racism and sexism and 'isms' there is also adultism, which comes when we do things for children and not with them."

The group also hopes to expand to Washburn High School, which has seen another racial incident this year.

Freesia Towle says at the heart of the problem, minority students can sense they aren't as valued to the extent of white students.

"And that creates a mental oppression that is happening, the feeling of not being valued by teachers, staff, and other students that considered more privileged than you are, it creates tension," she said.

The mother daughter duo believes prejudice is learned and can be unlearned, and at South High, conversation is one place to start.

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