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Column: Minnesota’s integration winners and losers, benefits vs. costs

By Myrle B. Cooper, Guest Commentator 

ST. CLOUD — Despite Minnesota’s historically liberal, politically blue state image boasting communities with national reputations for enviable livability and model environments, there are a few cities resisting peaceful racial integration.

Aside from Minnesota commonly ranking among the “best 10 states,” Minneapolis and St. Paul frequently rate among the nation’s best larger cities. (“It’s official: Twin Cities the best place to live in the U.S. says list of lists,” Star Tribune, 11/3/2015; “Here are the best states to live in America,” U.S. News & World Report, 2/28/2017)

Minnesota boasts several smaller cities mentioned as “best places to live” by various criteria. (e.g. Chanhassen, Chaska, Eden Prairie, Edina, Maple Grove, Northfield, Mankato, Plymouth, Rochester, St. Peter, Woodbury and Worthington).

Specifically related to welcoming people of color in general and Muslim Somalis particularly, Columbia Heights was honored. (“Columbia Heights named ‘All America City,’” WCCO, 6/21/2016)

By contrast, damning evidence from federal interventions, revelations by investigative news reporters plus scathing independent study findings, St. Cloud, Duluth and Owatonna appear as citadels of racism. (“Postcard from a lynching,” Minnesota Public Radio, 10/25/2003; “Feds to probe racial claims in St. Cloud, Owatonna schools,” Star Tribune, 5/25/2010; “St. Cloud school district admits anti-Somali discrimination, nears settlement with Department of Education,” City Pages, 10/20/2011; “UMD drops support for controversial anti-racism campaign,” Pioneer Press, 11/9/2015)

Since 2002, significant numbers of students of color have avoided or escaped St. Cloud and St. Cloud State University (SCSU) for the apparent respect, safety and welcome at Mankato and Minnesota State University-Mankato. (“St. Cloud State University: Professors warn against racism,” Pioneer Press, 12/17/2002; “St. Cloud’s racism is a long-looming storm,” Minnesota Public Radio, 4/27/2006; “St. Cloud tops state in hate crimes, but some dispute methodology,” Associated Press, 11/24/2007; “St. Cloud’s anti-Somali movement profiled on This American Life,” City Pages, 10/31/2016)

Since talk is cheap, consider more derogatory evidence: “The St. Cloud study implicates a hostile community and a campus that is equally hostile. Levels of ethnoviolence reported here exceed those in any campus or community study that we have reviewed. There is at St. Cloud a different normative structure than at any of the other [249] universities studied.”(“Campus Ethnoviolence and the Policy Options,” National Institute Against Prejudice & Violence, Report #4, March 1990)

SCSU’s late president, Earl Potter, admitted effects of local racism and threats of violence can distract students of color. “Safety for students of color is a historic concern.” (“SCSU minority student reports ‘Nazi salute,’” Star Tribune, 12/18/2007)

“Conclusions: Saint Cloud (MN), a historically white, urban hub surrounded by farm communities, saw an influx of residents of color during the 1980s due to demographic shifts in migration. It subsequently experienced one of the state’s highest rates of hate crimes.” (“Institute to study area’s race efforts,” St.Cloud Times, 5/30/2008)

Historians, investigative reporters and sociologists would likely agree that St. Cloud suffers more than any other Minnesota city for its racial intransigence. SCSU lost at least “5,266” students or “12.6%” of enrollment, mostly students of color. Multiply 5,266 fewer students by $8,500 each student would likely spend beyond books, fees and tuition and the economic price of racism becomes obvious. Merely changing St. Cloud’s brand/logo for deception or distraction changes nothing racially. (“St. Cloud Greater: Mayor debuts new brand, logo for city,” St. Cloud Times, 4/8/2014; “SCSU enrollment concerns all,” St. Cloud Times, 5/4/2014; “St. Cloud must overcome identity crisis,” St. Cloud Times, 7/16/2016; “What can be done to eliminate the label ‘white Cloud?’” St. Cloud Times, 11/6/2017)

Contrarily, Worthington is probably Minnesota’s best example of community diversity success despite inadequate recognition, minimal publicity and poor self promotion.  

With competent advice, logistical planning, market awareness and promotion, Worthington could became as well known for its diverse model city environment somewhat similar to Oberlin, Ohio’s, reputation for anti-exploitation, diversity and liberation.

Worthington’s population is larger with far more industry. Oberlin’s location is slightly more accessible to visitors. Evidence of Worthington’s integration is current and obvious. Oberlin’s beneficiaries and future leaders leave to influence other communities. Worthington’s environment is thriving.

Imagine Worthington as an annual destination for learners, lectures on anti-racism, community planning, diversity in education and enviable examples of livability not based on privilege or wealth.

Nearly a year ago, a proposal for such annual gatherings was submitted. No response.

Myrle B. Cooper is a retired St. Cloud State faculty member. His email is  CooperMB1976@gmail.com.

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