The Aftermath of Trump: A Challenge for Education Leaders and a Call for Youth Activism
Today, more than ever, young people need to become advocates for what is right, moral, and ethical.
Since the election, open acts of hatred; racism, sexism, hate speech, and defiance have been seen throughout the US, including on high school and university campuses. The Southern Poverty Law Center has catalogued over 1000 incidents of hateful acts including harassment or intimidation towards immigrant and minority religious groups in the month since Trump’s election (Eltagouri, 2017).
The current president has done extensive damage and undone the tireless work of educators, outreach programs, and organizations during a relentless barrage of hate speech, unfounded attacks, and Twitter rants displaying no moral compass. This behavior has not been curtailed and only seems to be getting worse.
How can our young adults rise above what their President demonstrates as “acceptable” social conduct?
Bullying, a topic educators, counselors, and administrators deal with on a daily basis, (more so with the advent of social media), has been brought to the forefront amidst students “believing” certain behaviors are now acceptable, since the president advocates and condones them. A recent incident took place at Woodside High School in Woodside, CA, an affluent community on the San Francisco Peninsula and one of the wealthiest communities in the United States. The on-campus confrontation occurred after, in the aftermath of the presidential election, hate-filled comments were made on Instagram about Mexican-American students attending the school (Giarrusso & McGee, 2016). Other racist incidents were reported at the University of Michigan, where Muslim female students were threatened for wearing the hijab; at the University of Pennsylvania towards black students in racial slurs and discussion of daily lynching; and at the University of California-San Diego where anti-Semitic graffiti was found on campus (Reilly, 2016). Such incidents continue six weeks into Trump’s presidential term. At Indiana University Bloomington, white supremacist fliers were posted on the office doors of faculty of color and scholars of ethnic minorities (“White supremacist posters,” 2017). Minority religious groups have been particularly targeted, (including a series of bomb threats made against Jewish Community Centers, many of which house pre-schools), with an increase in such threats taking place during the months of January and February (Burke, 2017). Nationwide, tension and fear is ever-present and has been heightened since January 20th. Minorities, immigrants, and undocumented workers, students, and their families do not know whom to trust. These concerns are especially true for students, who are trying to understand what is happening in their schools, communities, and the nation.
In the case of Woodside High School, the day after the on-campus incident the school’s administrators addressed the concerns and mounting tension. Students led a massive sit-in, which the school’s administration supported as long as the protest and discussions remained peaceful. Students, teachers, and administrators held an outdoor microphone discussion, allowing individuals to express feelings and reactions to the events of the elections “as well as [to] those of racism and sexism” (Giarrusso & McGee, 2016, para. 12). The discussions proved to be emotional for numerous students on campus, with many students leaving at the end of the event. The principal of Woodside High School, Diane Burbank, reaffirmed the school’s position of inclusion and support for all members of the school community (Giarrusso & McGee). The event, while it eased tensions, is just the start.
Schools must react positively amid the pain and the festering of open emotional wounds. A call for action is needed where open, honest dialog occurs daily on how to address issues of hate speech, bullying, sexism, racism, and other acts of violation against those who do not fall into the majority category. Constructive and affirmative activism is needed to move collectively forward and promote a time of healing.
Where do we begin? Students need to believe schools are safe havens, free from the whirlwind of uncensored and hurtful comments flying through the ether via the mass media, internet, and social media. As education leaders, we need to listen to students. Seek out students who choose to get involved and comfort those who want to talk in private, yet do not know where to turn. Schools need a quiet place for students to go and decompress, support groups of students, counselors to discuss concerns, mentors or coaches who are available to listen, or a club or school activity that provides students with a sense of community and belonging.
Plato stated that the price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men. Therefore, we must combat apathy through positive activism cultivated in schools.
If a school currently has a leadership class or program, students within that class should spearhead a “daily acts of kindness” campaign and other programs that may unify the student body and school community. If a leadership class does not exist, the school staff and administrators should seek students to form a coalition to mentor and empower students. A trusted staff member should approach students who are not normally active in the school community and encourage them to become active in the school via a peer support system, thus exploring the hidden talents of these students.
Each student is a valuable resource, a potential agent of positive change. All that is needed is for someone to stop, take notice, encourage, support, and embrace that person for who they are and the contributions they can make to the school, community, and, ultimately, to one another.
We need to rise above. Now is the time to advocate for students to act as the true role models for our country, to lead by example of what is acceptable behavior, and become activists of kindness.
Burke, D. (2017, February 27). More bomb threats target Jewish community. Trump finally responds. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/16/living/jcc-bomb-threats-anti-semitism/
Eltagouri, M. (2017, February 26). Hate crime rising, report activists at Illinois attorney general’s summit. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-madigan-immigration...
Giarrusso, H., & McGee, M. (2016, November 11). Female student attacked at Woodside High School over racist comment, protests ensue. Retrieved from http://www.machronicle.com/female-student-attacked-at-woodside-high-scho...
Reilly, K. (2016, November 13). Racist incidents are up since Donald Trump’s election. These are just a few of them. Retrieved from http://time.com/4569129/racist-anti-semitic-incidents-donald-trump/.
White supremacist posters put up on campus of Indiana University. (2017, February 14). Retrieved from https://www.jbhe.com/2017/02/white-supremacist-posters-put-up-on-campus-...