As news stations across the United States aired footage of a Minneapolis police officer causing the death of George Floyd during an arrest, a post on the Waunakee Can We Talk Facebook page shared a video of three Waunakee students shouting racial slurs from a car window.

One would think, as we all face a common threat from the coronavirus, we would be more united at this time. But apparently, the virus has also emphasized disparities between racial and economic groups.

The comments in the Waunakee Can We Talk post show the deep impact of racist behavior. Students report feeling uncomfortable at school when, for instance, others show up wearing Confederate Flag t-shirts. Some also said they’ve experienced similar drive-by shoutings of racial epithets.

These incidents are disturbing, extremely hurtful, and should in no way be tolerated. Human rights deserve protection.

School officials are responsible for maintaining a safe, welcoming environment for all students, and the Waunakee district is making a concerted effort to do so. The Black Student Union, Los Soñadores and the Justice League are examples of student groups that have formed to ensure students feel they belong, that they have a voice, and have adults advocating for them.

A new ad hoc committee is also forming with community members to work on inclusion and equity issues.

Now village officials are embarking on similar endeavors, and as they should if they want Waunakee to grow as a healthy, diverse community. With racial incidents reported not only by this newspaper but by regional news stations, the village may be perceived as intolerant and less desirable, not only by people of color but by all who seek accepting communities to build their homes and businesses in.

Perhaps the school district’s ad hoc committee could include elected officials, as well, from Waunakee and the other towns, to keep communication lines open. Any work toward solutions will require buy-in from all Waunakee-area leaders, not just teachers and students. After all, in a normal year, students spend just two-thirds of it at school. Otherwise, they’re out mingling in places with fewer restrictions on racist, intolerant behavior.

Also, such incidents should be carefully tracked, so that we have metrics and can monitor upticks and downturns as we work on programs to foster acceptance and equity. As is, we have no way of measuring reports of racial incidents.

As awful as it is, the recent Waunakee Can We Talk Facebook post may serve as an opportunity. Waunakee-area school officials and leaders have faced challenges in the past and worked together to solve them. Obviously, changing behaviors that have divided this nation for centuries won’t come easy.

At least the village board has issued a draft statement expressing that such behavior will not be tolerated.

With knowledgeable leaders who care deeply about this community and residents willing to talk about uncomfortable issues, Waunakee has a chance at an even brighter future.

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