As the Director of Justice and Inclusion for Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools and a member of the Race, Justice, Diversity, and Inclusion Task Force for the City of Savage, I have received many emails and phone calls expressing my deep sadness, disgust, and concern for the people terrible racist video recently posted by a PLHS student. I have also received a lot of feedback on what needs to be done to make all students feel safe, welcome and respected in our schools.
In addition to suggestions, there were also offers to volunteer and support the students and the schools. I am grateful and grateful for all feedback. If anything, the past few days have provided even more evidence of the fact that more needs to be done in the work against racism, diversity, justice and inclusion in the Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools and the Prior Lake and Savage communities. I hope that we can come together in unity to do this important work.
As a colored person who grew up in Rochester, Minnesota, I remember firsthand how I had to overcome racism and hatred because of the color of my skin, the shape of my eyes, and the lived experiences that made me so different from other students around me .
My family was a survivor of the Cambodian killing fields. As a child, I often grew up feeling that I had no place where I belong. Every day when I went to school I felt like I was stepping into a strange land where I will always be the visitor forever. The decorations on the school walls, the stories told in books, the gatherings that were celebrated, if at all, all confirmed my existence. For some, I was forever the unwanted visitor.
Students, I can relate to your experience. This work is personal. What brought me to PLSAS was that I was aware that the district had invested time and energy in the work for justice and inclusion. The school council passed a resolution highlighting its commitment to justice and all teachers received training in culturally relevant pedagogy. The district’s commitment to Equal Opportunities and Inclusion is why I accepted the position as the first Director of Equal Opportunities and Inclusion in July.
It is perfectly fair to discuss and disagree about how much work has been done. People affected by systemic racism and racial hatred may conclude that the wrong job has been done. Regardless of our differing opinions, there shouldn’t be a difference of opinion that more work needs to be done. And it is this continuous work beyond the tragic event response phase that will help us achieve our goal of creating a more inclusive community where everyone is welcomed and respected.
I’ve only been here four months. However, in my short time here, I know that Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools and the Prior Lake and Savage Community have the right people, heart and soul, to be leaders in this work. I look forward to working in partnership with students, parents and community members.
Sam Ouk is the Director of Justice and Inclusion at Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools.