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Denfeld students respond to hate speech with positive messages

Students wrote postive messages on Post-it notes and stuck them to the walls of Denfeld High School Monday and Tuesday, after racist graffiti was found in a girls' bathroom at the school last week. (Photo submitted by Melissa Thoreson Kliegle)

In the wake of racist graffiti found at Denfeld High School last week, students have plastered the walls of the school with uplifting Post-it messages, resurrecting a similar 2015 effort.

The leadership class Executive Board spent time Monday and Tuesday writing inspiring notes that included "we are not divided," "love each other" and "be kind."

The graffiti referenced President-elect Donald Trump, and was found in a stall in a girls' bathroom on Friday.

Denfeld senior Johanna Unden made a video of the notes spread throughout the school and posted it to Twitter on Tuesday with the hashtag #takebackourwalls and the message: "this is how Denfeld responds to hate."

Unden, the Denfeld student representative of the School Board, said at its Tuesday night meeting that students were shocked by what was written. She had friends who didn't want to go to school after news of the graffiti spread because they were afraid, she said.

"This isn't how it should be; I love my school. We are welcoming to everyone and I don't want the community to think we aren't," Unden said. "We want to look toward the positive and move on from what has happened."

Superintendent Bill Gronseth showed Unden's video during the board meeting and said "intolerant behavior" would result in "serious disciplinary measures." He acknowledged an increase in election-related behavior at elementary, middle and high schools that included intolerance of race, religion and gender identity. He said students should report all incidents.

He thanked student leaders for their efforts in helping to "mend" the community.

"At a time when our country is so divided we have to be vigilant — especially as educators — regardless of political affiliation, to do our best to ensure every student feels safe in our schools," Gronseth said.

In 2015 the same Denfeld government class started the Post-it project in an effort to combat bullying.

Spencer Frederickson, School Board student representative from East High School, shared a statement with the board expressing his school's commitment to being safe and welcoming.

Each of the secondary schools has been addressing election-related concerns with class discussions.

Following last week's election, racist graffiti was also found at both Maple Grove (Minn.) High School and the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, and hate speech has been aimed at some East students by another student via social media.

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