Dozens of Maple Grove High School students skipped school Thursday to protest racist graffiti found in a bathroom, while other students mobilized to show their classmates of color some love.
More than 60 students gathered to share their fears and anger over the graffiti found in a school bathroom Wednesday, which included messages such as "#whitesonly," "Trump Train" and "#gobacktoafrica." They called on school leaders to do more.
"I want to feel safe at my school and feel like I am a part of my school," said Morgan Eames, a 17-year-old senior who helped organize the gathering outside the Maple Grove Library. "This affects everyone, not just the black students or the students of color."
Parents and Osseo High School students also came to show solidarity.
The graffiti was among several incidents of harassment reported at Minnesota schools and colleges in the wake of Donald Trump's election Tuesday.
At the University of St. Thomas, a racial slur appeared on a campus sidewalk. A statement from university President Julie Sullivan and Provost Richard Plumb said that the university was investigating and would host a forum to discuss the incident.
Linda Williams, mother of a ninth-grade son at Maple Grove Senior High, said officials need to do more to make sure students feel safe.
"The powers that be are not doing an effective ongoing job at addressing the situation," she said.
Students of color who went to school Thursday were greeted by cheering students lined up to welcome them, and signs with messages like, "Love always wins" and "One world."
Students covered a large rock with their own graffiti saying, "Love will conquer all." They also spread messages of love and support on social media with the hashtag #crimsonfamily.
In his morning announcement Principal Bart Becker said students need to let their genuine, positive actions speak for the school.
"Be about love," Becker said. "I love you all very deeply."
But some students felt that the display was not enough. "Why do something now? This should have been done before," Mercie Neufville, a 15-year-old sophomore, said.
Maple Grove High has about 458 students of color out of 2,271 students. Some students said they have been targeted for their skin color.
Peter-George Jackson, a 17-year-old senior, said it was not the first time he has seen graffiti in the bathroom. "I wasn't really shocked when I initially saw the post," he said. "I do feel persecuted, left out and just alone sometimes."
Fred Ndip received a text from his son Wednesday saying he felt scared. "He wants to go to a different school," Ndip said. "Right now, I don't even know what to do."
The district and Maple Grove police have launched an investigation to determine who wrote the graffiti.
"We find it horrifying," said Barb Olson, spokeswoman for the Osseo Area School District.
On Thursday night, Superintendent Kate Maguire sent out a lengthy "open letter to the Osseo Area Schools community," condemning the graffiti and outlining ways in which the district will seek to address such issues.
"While I am horrified by yesterday's incident, I am determined to continue our work to create safe and respectful school communities where we can have productive conversations about race and honor multiple perspectives," she wrote. "... I want to assure you that we will persist in our work for racial equity, and we will continue engaging in conversations about race and the devastating impact of racism in our nation, our communities and our schools."
After the incident Wednesday, Becker wrote in a statement: "Racist messages like the one found in our school endanger the safety of our students and staff of color, and create a climate that is not conducive to learning."
Students say they plan a peaceful protest during school Friday where they will wear black and carry signs. They are also working with administrators to plan a forum at the school.
"I am at the point now where it is time to make a change and make things better," Eames said.
Beatrice Dupuy • 612-673-1707