An Anoka-Hennepin School District employee said she’s willing to risk her job to voice her opposition to what she described as a racist and offensive diversity training program.
Laurie Thompson, a 15-year Anoka-Hennepin district employee and special education para in early childhood development, sent a written statement to the school board and superintendent this month, saying she was offended by material presented during an Oct. 2 staff development session. She said the session began with the assumption that white people are racist and instructed them to “decenter” their “whiteness.”
According to a slideshow from the training obtained by Alpha news, Anoka-Hennepin schools partnered with the University of Minnesota to present four training sessions this year in diversity, equity, and inclusion to the district’s early learning staff. Early childhood development includes ages 3-5. The complete program is 10 sessions.
The first session, entitled “My Role in Equity and Diversity,” explained to employees what they can expect from future training sessions. It was broken up into four sections: “Defining Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Social Justice Work,” “Understanding Social Identities,” “Bias, Privilege and Oppression,” and “Our Roles as Allies & Advocates.”
The initial session trained Anoka-Hennepin employees in “core concepts around equity, diversity, and social justice,” including “foundational terminology,” understanding identities, exploring bias and oppression, and how to be an ally and advocate to marginalized groups.
A slide entitled “What is Social Justice?” explained that social justice is when “equity and justice are achieved in every aspect of society rather than in only some aspects or for some people.” According to the slide, social justice includes “a society in which the distribution of resources is equitable” and “social advocates who have a sense of their own agency as well as a sense of social responsibility.”
Another slide entitled “Social Identities and Groupings” described social groupings as privileged — “the group that controls the value system and reward in a particular society” — and oppressed — “the group whose members have significantly less power and/or control over their own lives than do the members of a dominant group in a particular society.”
Some material from the first session educated employees in intersectionality, a phrase coined by controversial legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw, who is best known for her work defining critical race theory.
Thompson said the opening slide in the training infuriated her. It reads:
“We acknowledge the complexity of exploring roles within majority white spaces which are common in academia. We do not want to contribute to the heteronormativity, hypervisibility, tokenizing, and/or educactive labor of participants who are Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color, economically disenfranchised, disabled or gender non-conforming. Our goal today is to decenter whiteness and acknowledge the role of anti-Black racism that upholds and perpetuates white supremacy within our institution and beyond.”
“I will NOT decenter whiteness or any other race, but will continue to provide support to my students based on their own individual needs,” she wrote in her statement to the superintendent and school board.
Thompson said to assume she is racist just because she’s white is infuriating and anxiety-producing.
“I don’t treat people differently based on their skin color or cultural background. Never once have I looked at the kids that I work with that way,” she told Alpha News. “It infuriates me that they think I’m privileged or oppressive. I’m not. I treat everybody with respect as long as they treat me with respect in return. I don’t care what color they are. I don’t care what their cultural background is.”
White participants in the training who are assumed to have “dominate identities” were encouraged “to be aware of defensive and distancing strategies,” which can include:
- Deflecting accountability
- Taking up all the space
- Engaging in optical allyship for self-benefit
- Exempting oneself by centering one’s own marginalized identities and experiences
- Expecting People of Color to explain the impact of racism and white supremacy
Other portions of the training provided instruction on how to “move from audience to ally to advocate,” providing definitions for each term.
Thompson said she doesn’t know whether or not she has the option to skip future training sessions. She expects to receive a response from the school board chair, but for her own mental health, she said she will no longer participate in these types of programs.
“I’m not going to sit through it anymore,” she said. “I sent the school board my testimony along with a cover of the binder that we received in the session. That kind of stuff stresses me out.”
She said each participant in the workshop received materials in a binder, and she became angry as she read through them.
Thompson said if she knows beforehand that “controversial” material will be presented in a training session, she will not attend. If she is unaware and someone begins to present it, she said she will walk out.
“I’ve supported students of all races and ethnic backgrounds,” she told Alpha News.
She said other employees in the district who agree with her are afraid to speak out, but she hopes that by speaking up, others will be encouraged to do the same.
“If they end up firing me, then so be it. Then I will pursue some type of legal action against the school district,” she said. “If we were going to ‘de-center blackness’ and someone objected, that person would be treated much differently than I’m being treated. The same rules do not apply to everybody, unfortunately.”
Thompson further criticized the district for sending a signal to students that they are “incapable of learning and thriving because they have been victims of a racist and oppressive society.”
“We’re going to lower the standards for everybody, so we can just all be equal,” she told Alpha News.
She argued in her statement that the Anoka-Hennepin district has “been very selective when it comes to supporting and acknowledging different groups and belief systems.”
For instance, she said the district has denied requests in the past to hang images of a nativity scene during the Christmas season but allows BLM and rainbow flags to be displayed in classrooms and buildings. She also claimed the district “has done nothing to acknowledge or show support to our Jewish students” in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack against Israel.
Alpha News reached out to Jim Skelly, executive director of district communications and public relations for the Anoka-Hennepin district, for comment, but he did not respond.
Sheila Qualls is an award-winning journalist and former civilian editor of an Army newspaper. Prior to joining Alpha News, she was a Christian Marriage and Family columnist at Patheos.com and a personal coach. Her work has been published in The Upper Room, the MOPS blog, Grown and Flown, and The Christian Post. She speaks nationally on issues involving faith and family.