As an educator who works with a diverse student body, I have the privilege of seeing cultural events from many different perspectives. I’m usually pretty good at anticipating their responses, but today completely shocked me.
I pride myself on having a collegial class. My students have more often than not seen their differences as an advantage. Up until Tuesday there was a unification between my students — they stood in solidarity against Trump and recognized that he was bad for everyone. Today, however, the solidarity had dissipated and an “us against them” mentality ha taken over.
One of my students said, not intentionally being menacing, “You know, you two are two of the good ones, when Trump sends all the Mexicans back to Mexico, we should see if you can stay,” to two girls, one of which isn’t even from Mexico (she’s from Venezuela). Even though the girl was trying to be nice, the power difference is clearly stated: Under Trump there are the empowered and the powerless. By saying “we should ask if you can stay” she’s pointing out that although the girls were equal in their right to be here yesterday, now some have more of a right than the others.
I have a male student who has been working on the way he speaks to female students. All year we’ve been telling him that it isn’t acceptable to speak down to women, to touch them without their consent, or to say inappropriately sexual things to them. He’s been making a lot of progress. Today he had completely regressed. He felt entitled to talk to women in whatever way he wanted. And honestly, why shouldn’t he? Half of the country just said they think the president should be someone who judges women by their appearances and will “grab a woman by the p***y”. How can we tell young men that they need to respect women when the person who is supposed to be the ultimate American role model does not?
The final, and most poignant “Trump effect” for me happened before our day even really began. Before first period started, a crowd started to gather in the hallway. As I peered over the heads and shoulders, I saw one of our Hispanic students on the floor, writhing and crying, “Trump’s been elected, I’m going to be sent back.”
How could half of our nation’s voters elect someone who brings a seventh grade boy to tears? How could we elect someone who makes us feel different levels of power and privilege based on our race? How could we elect someone who treats women like objects? For weeks, I’ve calmed my students by reminding them of the characteristics they believe Americans have — “Do you believe that Americans are generally racist and hateful?” “No.” “Then, he’s not going to be elected.” Today, my students told me that I had let them down. But really, we all have.