|TEACH RESPECT||NOT RACISM|
Diversity Day decision shadows entire community
Follow these links if you want to see the type of extremists who find these kinds of local decisions encouraging. �
National Vanguard Viroqua Article http://www.nationalvanguard.org/printer.php?id=2617,
The Wisconsin Christians United organization has targeted small rural communities like Viroqua in their battle against the "homo-fascist movement" with a campaign called "Operation Saturation".� They may have links to the recent petition drive as Viroqua shows up on their newsletter but I haven't been able to confirm it yet. Some of the rhetoric is similar to what I heard speaking to both Iva Lee Baumgartner and the Church of Christ minister.� The organization is a front for a radical pastor Ralph Ovadal who advocates public harassment of homosexuals and legislation to make homosexual behavior a crime.� Check it out and let me know if you are aware of any local connections. http://www.wcuweb.com/Documents/NEWSLETTERS/2003,9-13.htm
These are truly strange times we live in. �
David K. Banner, PhD
Background on National Alliance (creator of National Vanguard magazine)
of late William Pierce, Nazi author of the Turner Diaries http://www.nizkor.org/hweb/orgs/american/national-alliance
Diversity Day decision shadows entire community
The Diversity Day program at Viroqua High School may have been just a half-day of grant-funded cultural education for juniors and seniors, yet the act�of canceling Diversity Day has proved it was much more than that. The Viroqua School�Board made the wrong decision in canceling Diversity Day and the whole community now bears a Scarlet Letter of shame. Viroqua will be viewed as a place of intolerance.
School board members were presented with a petition including 400 signatures which sought to have a homosexual speaker eliminated from Diversity Day. The board made an "all or nothing" decision last week�to cancel Diversity Day on a 4-3 vote.
The issue isn't about presenting inappropriate material to children. The students in question are older and undoubtedly aware homosexuals exist. In fact, the students are probably much better informed about the concept of the homosexual community than a great number of those who signed the petition. The Diversity Day program allowed children to choose which sessions they wanted to attend.�Students weren't�forced to sit through any particular Diversity Day session.
The issue is tolerance.
Anyone living in the greater Viroqua community knows that the school district is already dealing with some heavy issues regarding insensitivity to minorities. Native American groups have lobbied to have the "Blackhawks" mascot changed. Native American groups protested the play "Little Mary Sunshine" last November. Native American speakers regularly visit Viroqua School Board meetings asking that students be given more educational opportunities to learn about other cultures and how racial and cultural stereotypes are insensitive.
The school board's vote to eliminate Diversity Day provides evidence toward the hypothesis that there are serious problems in the Viroqua School District when it comes to issues related to diversity.
Since the vote to cancel Diversity Day, Viroqua has taken it on the chin. Matt James' column in the La Crosse Tribune last Thursday took to task the school board members voting to cancel Diversity Day, saying that inside their heads was a "scary place." The Tribune on Sunday also opined that local students would lose out on an important educational opportunity and that canceling the program was a mistake.
The circumstance is horrible in its effect.
Some people invariably will see Viroqua as an unfriendly place. It certainly can't help the school district in its plans to combat declining enrollment.
The board members who made the decision were thinking about the public when they cast their votes. That should always be a factor in the decision-making process. Unfortunately, it overshadowed doing the right thing. The right thing to do would have been to forward the entire slate of Diversity Day presenters as planned.
There are a great number of positive things going on in the Viroqua School District. One of those positive things is the agreement between the district and Vernon Memorial Healthcare concerning the running of the Bigley Pool. Scores of children were at the pool Saturday for an Easter egg hunt. While the majority of children were white, also playing with them were a number of African-American, Asian-American and Latino children. Nobody batted an eyelash or pointed a finger because diversity, even if it is to a smaller degree, is normal in Viroqua.
The board's decision may have cancelled only a half-day program, but it casts a tall shadow over both the school district and the community.
Diversity Day cancelled at VHS
by Matt Johnson
The Viroqua School Board voted 4-3, Tuesday, to cancel this year's Diversity Day program at the high school after members of the public lobbied against the inclusion of homosexual speakers at the event.
The school board was presented with a petition, including roughly 400 signatures, in which people asked that the homosexual lifestyle not be included in the program. Board member Phil Solverson, who voted to cancel Diversity Day, said it was simply a matter of following the wishes of district residents.
"The feedback we were getting was overwhelmingly against the concept of the homosexual community - some were even against Diversity Day all together," Solverson said. "I would have liked to have had Diversity Day but without the homosexual speaker. The board thought that it was an all or nothing issue."
The Diversity Day program was scheduled to be held April 30. The program had previously been held in 2000 and 2002. Ellen Byers, a high school teacher and one of the event's organizers, said in the past information about the homosexual lifestyle, provided by homosexual speakers, was included in Diversity Days.
"I thought it wouldn't be a problem," Byers said. "When I found out it was cancelled I was in shock. Oh, my gosh. We're trying to teach tolerance and respect. What message does this send?" Solverson said he wasn't "homophobic," but the opinion of those against having a homosexual speaker, in part, was based the reaction of some students after the 2002 Diversity Day session. "Some people were offended by what the children were told," Solverson said. "It's an event for students and I wasn't there, but last time people were offended."
Viroqua Interim District Administrator David Johnston said Diversity Day was for juniors and seniors. He called it a way to "expose youngsters to various different viewpoints so they would have an idea of what to expect when they step out of the schoolhouse doors."
In addition to homosexual speakers from the Straights and Gays for Equality group from La Crosse, Byers said this year's Diversity Day would have included sessions featuring the Hmong, Jews, African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Amish and Native Americans. The program is funded through a grant. The keynote speaker was to be Dr. Gregory Wegner, a UW-La Crosse professor, who was to address Nazi Germany's use of racial stereotypes to manipulate public education, Byers said.
The Viroqua School Board has recently been criticized for failing to be sensitive to minorities. In November of 2003, the school district distanced itself from the high school play "Little Mary Sunshine" after Native American groups said that the play included racial stereotypes. The play still went on, but it was moved from school grounds to the Temple Theatre and sponsored by the Wild West Days Committee.
Native American groups, including the UW-La Crosse Native American Student Association, have attended Viroqua School Board meetings asking that more information be given to students on the topic of racial diversity. Native American groups have also asked the district to change the high school's mascot name, "Blackhawks," after War Chief Black Hawk of the Sac Tribe.
Gregg Attleson, a Spanish teacher and another Diversity Day organizer, called cancelling the event, "an incredible mistake."
"I'm afraid the message that we'll be sending out to people (of diversity) is that they're not welcome in Viroqua," Attleson said.
Attleson said the Diversity Day program has been in the works since September. The event's cancellation has left him with "an overwhelming feeling of disappointment and sadness."
"When you think about all the different times and places in history where evil existed, whether it be Nazi Germany, in Croatia, in the Middle East... in every situation the key attitude was one of intolerance of people who are different," Attleson said.
Inga Jacobson, a senior at Viroqua High School and a student representative to the school board, said the board's action will send a message to other communities that Viroqua isn't a tolerant place.
"Board members said they thought that diversity education was already included in the school's curriculum," Jacobson said. "If it is it must not be working. The social psychology class and Diversity Club have been recording comments made by students in the halls as a way to make people more aware of intolerant comments.
"We're constantly seeing comments that are homophobic or racist," Jacobson continued. "It might be something as simple as someone saying, 'That's so gay,' but people don't realize comments like that hurt other people."
On a motion made by Carl Volden and seconded by Jim Olson, Diversity Day was cancelled. Joining Volden and Olson in the majority were Solverson and Robert Nigh. Voting against were Garith Steiner, Scott Mills and Susan Jacobson.
The action to cancel Diversity Day came at a special meeting where public comment wasn't taken. The board will meet for its regular monthly meeting on April 19 at Liberty Pole, where public comment will be on the agenda.
Native American interests outline complaints
by Tim Hundt
Reaction to Viroqua High School's involvement with the musical Little Mary Sunshine in 2003 continued Monday night at the regular monthly meeting of the Viroqua School Board.
Advertise Here Directory Six different speakers representing several Native American organizations addressed the board in the public comment portion of the meeting. Representatives of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association, the Native American Student Association, the Wisconsin State Human Relations Association and several retired University of Wisconsin professors all spoke to the board.
Kent Koppelman of UW-La Crosse said the fact the play went on and those who protested were ignored showed students that those in power can do whatever they want and that it's all right to ignore minorities.
Little Mary Sunshine was not the only issue addressed. Retired UW-Eau Claire professor Harvey Gundersen said Viroqua's Blackhawk logo is offensive and needs to be changed.
"The use of stereotypes such as your Blackhawk logo leads to dehumanization of American Indians, which leads to desensitization and enables people to ignore harm from a play like Little Mary Sunshine," Gundersen said.
Gundersen urged the board to take action to change the logo.
"Those who didn't intend to do harm and were unaware of these stereotypes can be forgiven," Gundersen said. "However, once a person is told that a nickname is harmful, if that person continues to promote its use, any harm that occurs thereafter is intentional. As school board members you have been informed that these nicknames are harmful, accordingly, any harm occurring henceforth is being done with the full knowledge and intention of the school board."
Retired UW-Stout professor Carol Gundersen said those on the Viroqua High School staff who raised objections about the production of Little Mary Sunshine have been the target of retaliation. She did not cite any specific examples, but said it has created a hostile environment toward Native Americans at the school.
Gundersen said she attended the production of Little Mary Sunshine and prepared an analysis of what it was like to watch the play through the eyes of a Native American. She gave copies of that analysis to the board and has also forwarded that to the state Department of Public Instruction.
All of those who spoke on the topic at the meeting asked the school board to take action to educate students to undo the stereotypes they believed were learned during the rehearsal and production of Little Mary Sunshine.
As the speakers ended their comments, Barbara Munson of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association asked that some sort of dialogue would begin between these organizations and the board or administration of Viroqua schools.
"I would like to invite you to please respond to us," Munson said. "Just some form of contact so that we can continue a dialogue and actually affect a remedy here in Viroqua. We really need to hear from your side of the table. Without that we have to continue to press."
American Indians File Complaints with Viroqua School Board
On January 19, 2004, representatives from several American Indian education and human rights groups registered complaints at the Viroqua Area School Board meeting. Five discrimination complaints have previously been filed against the Viroqua school district. On November 14, over fifty American Indians and supporters protested the school's performance of the controversial musical "Little Mary Sunshine". Speakers expressed concern about a hostile environment existing for American Indians in the Viroqua school system, including retaliation against American Indian complainants. Concerns linked a hostile environment to racial stereotyping of American Indians through the school's "Blackhawks" nickname. .
Barbara Munson, Chair of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association "Indian" Mascot and Logo Taskforce, expressed concern that, "Student complainants have incurred severe damages to their education including being forced out of a school or school district. That happened in Medford, Mukwanago and right here in Viroqua."
Dr. Harvey Gunderson, retired UW-Eau Claire professor, presented a complaint concerning the district's continued use of an "Indian" athletic nickname and logo. He said that 35 years after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., "American Indian children are still not being treated equally in the Viroqua schools. A hostile environment clearly exists for American Indians." Barbara Munson, Chair of the Wiscons in Carol Gunderson, retired UW-Stout professor, described the cultural insensitivity present in the district's recent production of the "Little Mary Sunshine" musical. An Oneida tribal member who saw the Viroqua performance, Gunderson gave the school board copies of an analysis to help school board members "learn what the play looks like through American Indian eyes."
Matt Stewart, president of the La Crosse Native American Student Association, related the need for proactive education on diversity and Indian history. Stewart asked why Viroqua has such a long history of entertainment that hurts others.
Jim Knutson-Kolodzne, Wisconsin Indian Education Association board member, read a statement prepared by that organization suggesting several remedies to the Little Mary Sunshine debacle. He stated that several American Indian Studies educators in the UW system have offered to provide resources to help re-educate the Viroqua students who "learned, rehearsed, and acted out core stereotypes about Indian people" as cast members in the play.
Finally, Kent Koppelman of UW-La Crosse appeared as new Chairperson of the Wisconsin State Human Relations Association. He offered the Association's expertise and support to the school district in correcting the educational harm done to American Indian and other students by the "Little Mary Sunshine" musical.
Dr. Harvey Gunderson, Professor Emeritus
Sheku Friends in Advocacy,
Harvey and Carol Gunderson and I are on the agenda of the Viroqua School Board Meeting 7:30 at Elementary School on Monday Dec.15 to present our complaints and letters to the board. The following information will help you get to the meeting to provide witness and support.
The Viroqua School Board meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, December 15 in the Cafetorium (i.e., a combination cafeteria/auditorium) at the Elementary School located at 115 N. Education Avenue. The Elementary School and the District Administration offices are combined in the same building. To locate the Elementary School building once you have found the combined High/Middle School building (at 100 Blackhawk Drive), drive around the left end of the high school building, turn right at the bottom of the small hill. As you drive along behind the back of the high school building, you will see another building toward the top of the small hill and to your left. There is a parking lot right in front of the Elementary School/District building. The door to the far right of the parking lot enters the Elementary School.
According to Mapquest, the following are directions:
To get to the Elementary School, follow US-61/ US-14 into Viroqua (this is also called Main Street in Viroqua).
Assuming you are coming from the north, Turn RIGHT onto W BROADWAY ST. and proceed 0.71 miles.
Turn LEFT onto EDUCATION AVE. for .39 miles.
To get to the High/Middle School, follow US-61/ US-14 into Viroqua.
Assuming you are coming from the north, Turn RIGHT onto WI-56/ W DECKER ST. for 0.48 miles.
Turn SLIGHT LEFT onto BLACKHAWK DR. for 0.01 miles.
The following link should show a map. You may need to copy/paste to add the second line to the URL:
Why the Protest of Viroqua High School�s
Call For ACTION against the play Little Mary Sunshine
A protest will be held Friday Nov. 14th
Indians are people not mascots
Racist Play in Viroqua, WI page 2
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