On Air
0:00
0:00
Open In Popup
MPR News

Post-election racism makes students uneasy

Share story

Students paint message
Maple Grove Senior High School students painted this message Wednesday following the discovery of racist graffiti scrawled on the walls of a bathroom the day before.
Photo submitted by Holly Johnson

The day after the election, messages including "whites only", "Trump Train" and the n-word were scrawled on a bathroom door at Maple Grove Senior High.

The district reacted by starting an investigation and contacting police. And the next morning, a parent told MPR News that her daughter found students smiling and handing out cookies, along with messages of acceptance posted on the wall.

Reactions to Tuesday's presidential election are playing out in schools around the state, with tension reported in some cases as students bring differing views to class. 

The smiles and cookies after the racist graffiti in Maple Grove were a step toward healing divisions — but they certainly won't solve a problem that is not unique to Maple Grove. 

Students around the state are struggling with divisions that mirror the country's deeply divided voting-age adults. 

East across the Mississippi River at Spring Lake Park High School, Principal Jane Stevenson wrote a Facebook post about a report of "disrespectful, inappropriate and racially offensive graffiti" on a girls' bathroom wall. Pictures of it made the rounds on social media, and Stevenson condemned the act.

Stevenson said the police are involved and the district is investigating.

In an interview before word of the graffiti spread to media, Spring Lake Park band teacher Nora Tycast said she hadn't seen an increase in racist incidents post-election, she said the school routinely struggles with racial tension.

"My colleagues and I see just a wide gamut of reactions from students, students that are really sad and scared, and students that are really excited and pleased," Tycast said. "So on Wednesday morning we saw a lot of fist pumping, and really kids really feeling free to express their excitement and kind of their pride in the country in a bunch of different ways. And we also had some students that were a lot more subdued."

It's unclear how many incidents similar to the racist graffiti in Maple Grove there may be. 

The Minnesota Department of Education says it's received three calls about incidents of harassment in schools. MPR News looked into a report of white students intimidating Latino students at Jefferson High School in Bloomington. The district says it's investigated the report and denies that physical intimidation happened.

But shy of explicit incidents, it's undeniable that some students are dealing with anxiety. Administrators in several districts sent letters home encouraging civility and denouncing racism and harassment.

Amy Hewett-Olatunde, who teaches English Language Learners at LEAP High School in St. Paul, said all her students are immigrants or refugees, and many of them are fearful.

"Many of them think that they need to think about where to go, if they go home. If they don't have a place to go home to, what should they do," she said. "Their parents are also extremely fearful of what may happen in terms of retaliation."

Higher Ground Academy, also in St. Paul, has a primarily African-American population. Teacher Catherine Eisele said she's sensed fear among her students since the primaries.

"I had three kids come up to me yesterday like, 'Am I going to get deported?' like quietly in the halls, not in front of everybody," she said.

But on Thursday in civics class, Eisele taught her students how the American government works — she's teaching them how to debate ideas. 

Her students have been split throughout the election on policies. For Lyla, a 10th grader, President-elect Donald Trump's views don't worry her too much.

"It's not like he's going to make every single decision," she said. "He has a cabinet behind him, they're going to help him make good decisions."

Another 10th grader, Adar, feels differently about Trump, saying she's afraid of an increase in hate crimes following the election.

"I am worried about his supporters," she said. "Racism has existed, you know, for a long time in our history, but I feel like he brought all the racists out, all the sexists out."

But Adar said she's not worried about being deported. She's been paying attention in civics class. 

"I know my rights", she said.