Skip to main site content.
(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

'Wakeup call'

Racist posts on Snapchat at a Minnesota school spark a clash, an arrest — and an important dialogue

By WITW Staff on June 11, 2019

When a high school girl posted a selfie with friends on Snapchat with a hateful racial slur in the caption, the post shook up her community in Owatonna, Minn., sparking a clash among students, teachers, and police — and ultimately, sparking an important conversation about race.

After the high school student, who is white, shared the post in February, it quickly spread among students in the town of 25,000 residents, 90 percent of whom are white, according to The New York Times. Two other white students then shared posts with the same racial slur on Snapshot as well.

Black students came to school emotional and upset, demanding that the administration take action. “Students got out of control a bit, and we were losing what we thought was a safe, orderly environment in the school,” Jeffrey S. Elstad, the Owatonna High School superintendent, told the Times.

School administrators called the police. Students were directed to the gym, where the clash escalated. A black 16-year-old girl was tackled and arrested.

In the wake of the incident, black students told school officials that they didn’t simply want the school to ban racial slurs, according to the Times. They wanted deeper change, addressing why white students used the slur in the first place.

In response, school officials implemented training on race for teachers and students, and also hosted community events and forums. A mediator came to lead meetings in which the white students involved in the racist posts talked with the black students who were hurt by them.

The incident was a “wake-up call” for the predominantly white school, Elstad told the Times. “Race for us is something that we don’t have to think about all of the time because we are white,” he said. “Our students and our families of color think about race all the time. As white people, how are we OK with us just, only when it’s convenient, talking about race?”

Read the full story at The New York Times.

Related

New book explores the “criminalization” of black schoolgirls

First black woman legislator in Vermont resigns after white supremacists threaten safety of her family

University of Alabama honors its first black student — 60 years after her expulsion