Organization sees hijab incident as religious violence

Anti-Defamation League Regional Director criticizes administration’s choice to mediate


Director of Students Lauren Buxton speaks to students while counselor Heidi Cosgrove observes during a Nov. 14 forum in C350 on race relations at Park. Students voiced concern regarding a recent alleged incident where a senior pulled off a freshman’s hijab. Echo’s investigation into recent incidences at Park and their handling by the administration is ongoing.

By Ethan Brown and Sam Orloff, St. Louis Park High School

Echo investigations into recent events at Park and the handling of such events by the administration are ongoing, Raphy Gendler contributed to this article along with reporters Ethan Brown and Sam Orloff.

According to Anti-Defamation League Regional Director for Missouri and Southern Illinois Karen Aroesty, Park’s handling of a recent alleged incident of a senior pulling off a freshman’s hijab shouldn’t have been mediated between both parties because it should’ve been investigated as religious violence.

“I have no problem (with mediation) when, in the nature of conflict resolution, you do have a setting where both participants are more or less on a level playing field,” Aroesty said. “But the case like the one (at Park), I have a real problem with mediation in that context. The intentionality or meanness of pulling off a woman’s hijab, that requires a different kind of resolution.”

Aroesty said when investigating an alleged case of religious violence, considering the perpetrator’s intent is critical.

“You have to look very carefully at the intent of the person who did it,” Aroesty said. “Let’s take it out of the school setting. If it were something that happened in terms of the general public, and somebody walked up to a woman and pulled her hijab off her head, I would say that, that if the intent was to attack her because the perpetrator does not like Islam, or does not like the woman who covers her head with a hijab, then I would potentially classify that as a hate crime (in a public setting).”

According to Section/File 413, “Harassment and Violence,” the policy describes religious violence as, “a physical act of aggression or assault upon another group of individuals because of, or in a manner reasonably related to, religion.”

Human resources director Richard Kreyer said he believes the recent incident didn’t have any evidence to be classified as religious violence or harassment.

“My understanding is from the statements they received from the individuals … there wasn’t racial, religious motivated action,” Kreyer said. “If they had found something, they would’ve acted in a different manner.”
The most updated version of Section/File 413, “Harassment and Violence” makes a distinction between violence and harassment.

According to policy, the term harassment includes conduct that “has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working or academic environment; has the purpose or effect of substantially or unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or academic performance; or otherwise adversely affects an individual’s employment or academic opportunities.”

Under such a policy, religious harassment includes, “physical or verbal conduct, including, but not limited to, electronic communications, relating to an individual, or group of individuals’ … religion.”

Aroesty said she believes this incident fit the term violence because it didn’t occur consistently.

“When you say to me the word ‘harassment’ I think of something that’s consistent and ongoing; that’s more of a patterned behavior,” Aroesty said. “When you’re talking about something that’s a one time event, then I look at that more as an act of violence.”

Principal Scott Meyers and Assistant Principal Kari Schwietering declined to further comment and referred Echo reporters to District Director of Communications Sara Thompson on Wednesday, Nov. 30. As of Nov. 30, Echo has reached out to Thompson and has yet to receive a response.

Read the original story here.