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Whitewater rallies against racism

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Kayla Bunge
June 1, 2009
— Parents and school officials hope a racist incident can be used as motivation to improve the community.

Whitewater rallied in a fight against hate after racial slurs were found written on a bathroom stall at Whitewater High School.


But instead of dwelling on the incident, students, staff and community members are using it as a springboard for educating one another about diversity.


"The important thing is to use the energy (we've generated) to create a better community," said Lauren Smith, a concerned parent who helped organize a recent campaign against hate.


A student found the graffiti—which named six black students and threatened death—in a bathroom Thursday, May 14.


School officials notified the students immediately, but they did not notify district families until Tuesday, May 19, when a letter was sent home with students.


School officials said the incident opened their eyes to what really is happening in school hallways.


"I think it was a wake-up call for us," said Vance Dalzin, high school principal. "We take a lot of pride in our school. We like to think we celebrate cultural diversity … and this was just a horrible, horrible incident that happened."


Community members said the incident has opened the conversation about race in the community.


"I was surprised and saddened by it," said Smith, whose biracial daughter is a fourth-grader at Washington Elementary School and has been the subject of "minor" name-calling and derogatory comments. "But it's not a problem of one person in one place. It's obviously an issue that requires some education."


Several students and community members organized a campaign against hate Tuesday.


They marched around the flagpole in silent protest and made and distributed hundreds of buttons that carried a simple message: "Stop the hate."


"(It was) just to show that we are united against hate," junior Elizabeth McComb told Channel 3 in Madison. "We as a student body do not support racism or any other type of hate. We make up the school and the school's image. We represent it, so we have to represent it in a positive way that represents what we believe."


Police and school officials said they have interviewed more than 30 students during their investigation. They have a few suspects, but the investigation is ongoing.


A $1,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to the conviction of the person responsible for the graffiti.


Some parents pulled their children out of school after the incident, Dalzin said. Some have returned, and some have not, he said.


Mary Sue Reutebuch, a local music teacher who also helped organize the campaign, said the community must take responsibility for educating its children about diversity.


"This is a community problem," she said. "I firmly believe it takes a village to raise a child, and I'm one of the villagers, and I have to do something about this."


The superintendent is forming a task force to coordinate diversity education, and school officials are planning to offer diversity education before school lets out, Dalzin said. They hope to demonstrate the school is not a place where hate is tolerated, he said.


"That's not what we're about as a school," he said. "That's not what we want to be."



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