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The Trump effect: Hate speech rises in US schools

world Updated: Nov 13, 2016 01:31 IST
Yashwant Raj
hate crime

Demonstrators protesting in response to the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Friday.(Reuters)

While US president-elect Donald Trump may appear to have moved on from the election race, his campaign rhetoric — especially that involving trash-talking rivals, women and ethnic minorities — may have found a disturbing new home: schools across the country.

In the past few days, white students at a Wisconsin school formed a human wall to keep out Hispanic students, students in a Pennsylvania school chanted “Cotton picker, You’re a n*****” and “Heil Hitler”, and swastikas showed up in a Maryland school bathroom.

Accounts such as these, that have been reported from all across the country, according to posts on social media by parents, or friends of parents, teachers and anti-discrimination activists, could not be individually verified, but are causing concern.

“This election season has been particularly difficult,” Jack R Smith, superintendent of schools of Montgomery county in Maryland, wrote in a note to parents on Friday.

“It caused a great deal of emotion among many members of our community … Now that the election is over, it is our job to restate our core values as a school system — demonstrating that we respect and care for every person in our community. First and foremost, we must reassure our staff and students that our school buildings are safe places where we truly value and respect every single individual and do not tolerate bullying or hate speech.”

Similar notes have gone out to parents in other states as well. One from a county in Pennsylvania on Thursday acknowledged it had “experienced acts of vandalism and harassment at Council Rock North in the aftermath of Tuesday's presidential election”.

Read more | Reports of hate crimes, racist graffiti spike in US after Trump’s victory

Swastikas were found painted on the wall of a bathroom, with a warning, “if Trump wins, watch out”, and “Trump. F*** gays”. The note also mentioned “inappropriate comments” made to Latino students — one of them was told to go back to Mexico.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a body that monitors discrimination, warned of the “Trump Effect” on schools in April during the primary season, which, it said, posed a challenge “starkly different from any in recent memory”.

In a report titled, “The Trump Effect: The impact of the presidential election on our nation’s schools”, which was based on a survey of school teachers, the centre said it had found a disturbing “increase in uncivil political discourse”.

The report also found an “increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment” among students.

Though the survey did not pinpoint any one candidate, Trump was mentioned in more than 1,000 of the 5,000 comments collected. Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, in contrast, were mentioned in fewer than 200, all told.

Though too young to vote, the children knew what was happening. “Every student, from preschoolers up through high school, is aware of the tone, rhetoric and catchphrases of this particular campaign season,” the report noted.

The negativity is being reflected in hateful offensive graffiti, racist and ethnic slurs and abuse, sometimes physical, being reported in schools from all over the country.

Jas Russo, an African American mother posted on Facebook about her daughter’s experience at school just hours after Trump was declared elected: “Well … just called me in tears. She said today in the hallway, children were yelling out to HER and other non white kids ‘That they need to go back to Africa. Also since trump won people ‘like me’ won't be in this country anymore.”

During lunch at a Michigan middle school white students chanted, “Build the wall”, “Build the wall”, which was captured on video by a student.

Also read | Hate attacks sweep US after Trump elected