Photo Courtesy of Asian Student Union
Over the past year and half, one might have heard the phrase “uncomfortable truths” as a euphemism for the growing acknowledgement of the inequality baked into our country’s systems. While a rather awkward way to phrase it, these “uncomfortable truths” are all too present, not just on a state or national level, but as close as within our own school. Minnetonka is not free of racism and prejudice, as many students of color have described. In order to combat this, Minnetonka students have come together to create multiple student groups to represent themselves, the most prominent organization being the Minnetonka Coalition for Equitable Education (MCEE).
MCEE is a grassroots organization that aims to support and represent marginalized groups seeking equitable treatment from the Minnetonka School District.
“It’s important that students get to have a say in how school culture is determined,” said Maheen Rahmatullah, ‘24, a student leader of the organization. “A lot of times the decisions are made by adult members of the board who don’t understand what it’s like to be a student of color, sitting in the back of a math class and being called a terrorist.”
Since its emergence in the summer of 2020, the MCEE has caught the attention of many students.
“I think I first heard about them last year,” said Aisha Abdulwali, ‘23. “As a student of color, I feel really represented by them and appreciate what they’ve been doing.”
This growth has not gone unnoticed by members of the MCEE like Rahmatullah, who said she is encouraged by the growth of the organization this past year.
“I’ve started seeing people coming to support us that I never thought would care about it,” Rahmatullah said. “It mattered to me as a student of color to see so many people come out to support us in the change we want to make.”
Many students who were in the high school last year might remember the school-wide walkout held on May 13, 2020. The walkout was organized by the MCEE, Women of Color, Men of Color, and Asian Student Union groups.
“I actually heard about the walkout in class,” recalled Abdulwali, “which showed me that the MCEE was letting everyone know they’re here to help us and speak for us to the district. I took part in the walkout online because it is extremely important for our voices to be heard, and for Minnetonka to finally acknowledge the issues we have.”
Rahmatullah says that the goal of the protest was to show that “the students are here, and we care. The minority students care, our white allies care, and it’s time that you hand over the microphone and start listening.”
The MCEE already has plans to solve the student concerns they are bringing to light. Their initial goal was to urge the Minnetonka School District to fulfill their eleven imperatives, which they created to combat racism in the district.
The imperatives are as follows: an anti-racism statement from the district to the community, diversity training for staff, greater recruitment of BIPOC teachers, a dress code prohibiting symbols of hate on clothing items or accessories, a more diverse and anti-racist curriculum, a centralized system for incident reporting of discrimination, a restorative justice program aimed to re-educate students reprimanded for racist behaviors, an open-enrollment busing policy that makes busing more accessible to students outside the district, civil rights protections for teachers, participation in the Minnesota Statute 124D-861, and democratic representation of community voices. A few of these imperatives have been addressed by the district, but many members of the MCEE are not satisfied.
“It can be frustrating to put forward so much, and see little change in return,” Rahmatullah said.
Other students are echoing these same frustrations.
“The school board has been pretty slow in responding to the MCEE’s criticisms, and that’s disheartening to see as a student of color,” said Varun Viswanathan, ‘23.
However, the MCEE has big plans for the upcoming school year, including a revamp of their imperatives. They plan to remove the imperatives they consider completed and add new ones they feel are necessary to promote equity. The MCEE is also editing others that were partially completed, but not in the way they had hoped.
For example, one of the original imperatives had been the implementation of a reporting system for victims of discrimination. This was fulfilled by the district, but the new reporting system has many faults. When victims report an incident, they receive only an automated response with no information about whether or not there were consequences for the unjust action.
“The victims didn’t even know if their report had been seen by real people,” said Rahmatullah. “I think knowing that there were consequences for something unjustly done to you is an important part of closure.”
The MCEE plans on creating a reporting system that better achieves that goal. They also plan on further emphasizing the need for diversity training for teachers.
Rahmatullah said, “It’s important that teachers know how to approach “touchy subjects” in history, like what to tell students when they read To Kill a Mockingbird and how to address the complexities of Black history.”
Aside from the eleven imperatives, the MCEE is continuing to expand and find new ways to support marginalized students. Most recently, they created Affinity Group Counseling, a set of monthly support groups for BIPOC students and LGBTQ+ students. While these groups are not intended to substitute for therapy, they are facilitated by BIPOC and LGBTQ+ mental health professionals with the goal of creating safe spaces for students to discuss their experiences and build a community amongst other marginalized students. If MHS students are interested in joining either or both of these groups, they can click on the linktree in the MCEE’s bio on Instagram, where they can also find links to support or join the MCEE in their future endeavors.
While getting involved with student-led groups like the MCEE is a great way to support the Minnetonka community, there are also more immediate ways to make changes. The MCEE is currently focused on the upcoming school board elections, which they believe are vital to their plans for this year.
“It’s so important that of-age students vote for candidates that support pro-equity values and can help make the changes needed in our district,” Rahmatullah said. “It’s a great first opportunity for students to make a difference in their community.”
Overall, Rahmatullah is looking forward to taking part in the MCEE’s future plans.
“I wouldn’t wish for the things I and other students I know have gone through to happen to future Minntonka students. I want to make the necessary changes so that they don’t,” she said.
The MCEE will continue to grow this coming year.
“We started as a few students who were frustrated with the district,” Rahmatullah said, “but now have grown to a name that is known throughout the district, and that’s a wonderful thing.”