Home > Uncategorized > Trump IX – Students Follow the President-Elect’s Lead and Bullying Begins

Trump IX – Students Follow the President-Elect’s Lead and Bullying Begins

I was sickened to read Julie Bosman’s article in today’s NYTimes describing the tension that is emerging at West High School in Iowa City, Iowa. Here are some of the incidents described at the outset of the report:

At lunchtime, Lujayn Hamad was in the cafeteria when she said a boy she barely knew roughly bumped into her and swore at her.

“Go back home,” he told Ms. Hamad, who is 15, and an American citizen, and wears a hijab.

The comment, overheard by a friend at Ms. Hamad’s side — though denied by the male student — set off a turbulent week of tears, fury and demonstrations at West High, a large public school in this university town, which prides itself on its openness and progressivism. Minorities make up nearly 40 percent of the student body at West High, a far more diverse mix than the typical Iowan school.

In the hours and days after Ms. Hamad’s encounter in the cafeteria, similar incidents followed, students said. One girl said she was surrounded by heckling students and called a terrorist. Another said she saw people chanting “Trump” in the hallways when they passed black students. In one classroom, a student noted the absence of a Latino classmate and announced to the others, “I wonder if she got deported.”

The article did a good job of capturing how the election results played out, describing protests against the election led by some students and how students on both ends of the political spectrum felt disenfranchised by their peers on the opposite side. Two quotes stood out for me:

“It’s a different environment now,” said Jade Merriwether, 16. “I feel very upset and afraid for my friends. People are using the election as an excuse to discriminate against each other openly.”

Mason Hanson, 16, a member of the Young Republicans club, said he had publicly supported Mr. Trump during the campaign but was upset by the slurs directed at students in the aftermath.

Now other students are angrily blaming him for Mr. Trump’s victory; he no longer wears his “Hillary for Prison” T-shirt because he does not want to be lumped in with the people accused of making insulting comments to minorities.

“After hearing about that stuff, I was honestly surprised,” he said. “I hadn’t heard it before. Usually we’re all polite to each other.”

Both of these young men are describing the effect of electing someone whose boorish behavior is now deemed as “acceptable” by enough voters to gain the highest office in the land. While I did not support the positions of President Reagan or either President Bush I DID find them to be statesmanlike. They all urged us to be civil towards each other and to embrace our differences of opinion. While some of their election tactics were smarmy (e.g. the Willie Horton ad) their conduct and use of language was always exemplary. But now we have elected a man who uses 140 characters to distill his “thinking” and who is not at all hesitant to use racist, sexist, and xenophobic slurs. Worse, his comments tend to support bullying tactics in our relationships with other countries and within our own country. He has communicated to those students who share his beliefs and bullying tendencies that those beliefs and behaviors are not only acceptable, but those who push back against them are “soft” and trying to enforce “politically correct” thinking. The consequence of Mr. Trump’s election will play out first and foremost in public schools across the country, as Ms. Bosman notes in her article:

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been tracking thousands of such episodes since the election, said the most commonly reported locations for harassment were K-12 schools.

“It’s impossible to wall schools off from the rest of society,” said Maureen Costello, the director of Teaching Tolerance, a program of the law center. “It’s just seeped into the culture. Kids are hearing it at home and they’re amplifying it.”

Public schools are going to have their hands full in the weeks ahead as are school administrators and school boards. And if the schools are expected to play any role in the identification of immigrant students, those of us who believe in our country’s inclusiveness will need to stand ready to support our local school boards when they push back…. as I trust they will. That means if federal funds are withdrawn, we’ll have to be ready to dig into our pockets to pay higher property taxes to ensure that the children in our schools get the message that we oppose discrimination and value civility.

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