School aims to come together following election
Wednesday, Nov. 9. A variety of reactions can be seen in the halls. Some students run through the halls decked in Trump merchandise — hats, shirts and signs. Some wave American flags. Students shout “Trump” as they enter the school. Students cry in the counselor’s office. Some students seem to be largely unaffected.
It is the day after the election of Donald Trump, who will be the nation’s 45th president.
Senior Broc Putnam said Trump’s win came as a shock to him.
“There was a lot of surprise because, as a Republican, I didn’t think he was going to win,” Putnam said. “538.com had him at like a 27 percent chance of winning. It had the Senate at a 15 percent chance of remaining Republican. Everyone was like, ‘That really just happened’… There was a lot of emotion; there was a lot of tension.”
Counselor Kristi Dixon said tensions and emotions were very high at school in the days following the election. She said nationwide strains were mirrored in the school.
“Just like in any situation we are kind of a little microcosm of the world at large,” Dixon said. “I think we were what the rest of the country was experiencing on a smaller scale.”
As of Nov.18, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks occurrences of hate crimes, had recorded 701 reported hate crimes since the election. These included anti-immigrant, black, Muslim, women and LGBT occurrences, swastika vandalism, as well as anti-Trump incidences. Senior Abby Fry said she tries to stay updated on such acts.
“I try to pay attention [to the news] and there have been schools in the United States where students have run through the hallways chanting the N-word and telling black students ‘it’s your turn to go pick cotton’ and ‘go back to Africa,’” Fry said.
In such an incidence, according to The Washington Post, a student on the University of Michigan campus was approached by a man with a lighter and was threatened to be set on fire if she did not remove her hijab. This event has been considered a hate crime and has been reported among other threats or harassments following the election. However, although many incidents were directly targeted at minorities, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, not all of the incidents reported directly correlated with the election and not all the occurrences could be verified.
“Violence has also gone the other way; there definitely were people who were Trump supporters who had physical altercations and got into a fight with somebody because of who they voted for in the campaign,” Fry said. “All of those things are unacceptable. I don’t care who you voted for; I don’t think you deserve to be hit or feel uncomfortable in your country.”
Southwest has not been immune to the post-election sentiment. The school’s reaction has largely mimicked that of the nation.
“I think the school has reacted pretty on par with the rest of America,” Fry said. “There have been a ton of inappropriate things that have happened at Southwest, but those mirror the exact same things that adults are [doing] outside of Southwest … People are setting a pretty terrible example.”
Junior Rachel Holzer said while political relations between candidate supporters had never been strong during this campaign, anti-sentiment grew especially after election day, causing a rift in the school.
“The school has always been divided because of the election, but it was even more so, especially because everyone thought Hillary was going to win,” Holzer said. “I know on Tuesday I felt very confident and I was not worried, but coming in on Wednesday was dreadful. About half the school was celebrating and running around the school with Trump flags and the other half of the school was sobbing.”
Putnam said political relations were not aided by some Trump supporters’ reactions to the election win. He noted the number of students post-election walking around school wearing American flags and Trump hats. He acknowledges wearing Trump products himself before election day, but said many people have gotten out of hand.
“When we had the election party [in class], I went all out because when else are you going to be able to do that?” Putnam said. “After the election happened, I put all of that stuff away. I’m not going to wear any of it to school; I’m not going to wear anything like that. Gloating is not a classy way to go about an election win. You win and then you move on.”
Putnam said he witnessed many students still sporting their Trump gear in the days following the election. Along with the Trump presence witnessed in the school in the days after the election, came reports of what some students have considered bullying or hate-speech. However, assistant principal Jason Peres said it’s hard to classify these actions from an administrative point of view.
“Normally what we classify as bullying is pervasive actions toward an individual to hurt that individual,” Peres said. “It’s hard for me to label it as bullying. I would say for some of the kids who came in who were a little emotional, they definitely felt harassed. When we talked through it and talked with all the parties I feel like most of it was solved. Now, I could be naive because I’m an adult here and kids watch what they say around adults, but I haven’t had reports of excessive bullying.”
Holzer said she personally experienced targeting in the days after the election. Shocked at the outcome of the election, she said her arrival to school Wednesday morning was met with scrutiny from her peers.
“I walked into the doors sobbing,” Holzer said. “I was very upset and there were people laughing at me. They were shouting ‘Trump’ and ‘butt-hurt feminist.’ That hurt a lot. I didn’t end up going to most of my classes that day. I ended up sitting in the counselor’s office for all of first hour just crying.”
Holzer was joined in the counselor’s office that day with multiple others who were upset at the outcome of the election and fearful about their futures. Dixon said on Nov. 9, there was a lot of activity in the counseling office, but it was an open space for all students.
“It was a busy day for the counseling office, which doesn’t upset us in the least because it’s our whole purpose,” Dixon said. “We have a specific mission and that is that all kids at Southwest know that we are a safe place. So, on that particular day, there were students who weren’t feeling especially safe. So, I’m glad that they realized that the counseling office was a place for them to be. It was a variety of different concerns, but I would say overall it was concerns about ‘what does this mean for the future?’ Not necessarily people who were just angry because their candidate didn’t win, it wasn’t that kind of thing. It was ‘this could quite possibly change my life in a negative way, and that’s scary.’”
In the weeks since the election, Holzer said she has been challenged to reintegrate with her peers because of these comments. She said she classifies her ethnicity as “Chicana or half-Mexican” and said she had overheard disparaging remarks about people of Mexican descent in the hallways.
“It has been very hard to reconcile with basically half of your peers because they say they do not value your life because of your ethnicity,” Holzer said.
Though Holzer said she is not satisfied with the administration’s handling of the situation, she recognizes the difficulty the school faces. She said the administration is charting new territory in this post-election stage and has the challenging task of balancing student freedom of speech and rhetoric which infringes upon the rights of others.
“In our position, we have to protect all kids and we have to protect the speech of all kids,” Peres said. “So for a kid to come in, they should have the right to promote their viewpoints and their opinions, but they can only do that at the point where it’s not harmful to someone else; that’s really our biggest issue as a school.”
Additionally, hostile speech can not be pinned exclusively on supporters of a single candidate, as supporters from both sides have reported being harassed.
“It has been predominantly one-sided, but I’d be lying if I said that it’s only one side,” Putnam said. “A friend of mine said the day after the election he was [come] up to by a freshman who asked if he supported Trump, and she called him a racist, bigoted a– for doing that.”
Peres said the administration has investigated all reports of hate speech in the school, but have not classified any as so, as none can be proven to be targeted at hurting a specific student. He said most of the language stemmed from excitement over a candidate.
Additionally, junior Will Beaman said he didn’t understand why repeating Donald Trump’s name would make someone upset.
“It was kind of weird because people were getting mad even when they were just saying Trump’s name,” Beaman said. “It’s just the name of the new president-elect, so I don’t really see why you would get worked up about that.”
In response to the strained tensions created by the election, a group of students organized a rally with a message of unity. Around 95 students made signs and stood in the courtyard the Friday after the election to remind the school community everyone was welcomed and supported. Fry was one of these participants. Her sign read ‘peace prospers.’
“It just seemed like the right thing to do, regardless of how some students feel about the outcome of the election,” Fry said. “Everyone deserves a safe academic space; a place where they don’t feel threatened while they learn. In the days after the election, that was not what Blue Valley Southwest was, and it seemed important to let students and staff members know that I and a bunch of other people were committed so that everyone felt safe at school.”
Fry said the rally was not meant to change people’s minds about politics, the election or their behavior. She instead said her reason for participating was to support those who may have felt harassed and to provide solace for all groups of people.
“I’m not naive enough to believe that a protest — for someone who is racist or sexist — is probably going to change their mind, but it is important to let people know who are dealing with the aftermath of the election that if they don’t feel safe walking to their car after school or walking down the hallway, that I would love to walk with them,” Fry said. “I believe they have a place at our school and a place in our country and are wanted and appreciated.”
Holzer said the rally also encouraged her personally by giving community support to something she had felt targeted by.
“I think the protest, while it did not solve all of these issues, helped to create a sense of solidarity among disproportionately impacted students,” Holzer said. “It helped remind me, personally, that there are still people who go to this school who still love and accept me, despite my ethnicity.”
Responses from the school community have been mixed. Fry said she overheard people talking about how impressed they were with the rally. Peres said he appreciated the message and the cooperation between staff and rally organizers.
“The people that organized it let us know what their vision was, and we support their vision,” Peres said. “Their vision was ‘let’s bring the school together.’ One thing we made sure with them was that their message was about unity. So, it’s hard to argue with that message.”
However, unfavorable opinions have been expressed along with the positive feedback.
“I definitely heard some negative remarks of ‘I don’t get why a bunch of white women are standing in the courtyard and saying these things,’” Fry said. “To those people: you’re right; it was a lot of white women. But that doesn’t mean when I see something absolutely unacceptable that I shouldn’t say something.”
Putnam observed the rally while walking into school. He said he did not have a strong opinion either way, but noticed other groups of students watching who did.
“[The rally] was just people expressing their first amendment rights and some people who took it the wrong way,” Putnam said. “But that’s their problem. Kind of like Colin Kaepernick not standing up for the flag. I don’t approve of him doing that, but he has every right to do it. They have every every right to go out and rally, everyone who did that, but people who thought it was offensive, that’s too bad for them … I thought it was a good message they were trying to spread and some people took it the wrong way.”
Some students voiced objections to the rally on the basis that it was on Veterans Day, disputing the rally should have instead been held in support of veterans. Beaman said the message of the rally was fine, but he thought it should be about the holiday instead.
“I was slightly confused as to why they were getting together for something other than Veterans Day,” Beaman said. “I thought if you were going to get together, it should have been about Veterans Day.”
Dixon said she thought it was a good day for the rally because it exercised a right that veterans fight for.
“I think there were some people that were concerned that that was an inappropriate way to acknowledge Veterans Day,” Dixon said. “I thought it was the exact right thing to do on Veterans Day because one of the things our veterans continue to fight and die for is our right: our rights to do things, our rights to free speech, our rights to have a free and appropriate education. That’s one of the things they fight for, they sacrifice for. I guess I don’t know if people would have seen it as unpatriotic, but I didn’t see that at all. My personal viewpoint is that it wasn’t about patriotism, or lack there of, it was about ‘Hey, this is our school and we’ve got to stick together and keep this our school.’”
Peres said he sees some good coming out of this election controversy, as it has made people pay attention to politics. However, he said both sides need to align with the message of the rally and compromise for the good of the nation.
“One positive thing about it is it has made our system of democracy at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts,” Peres said. “The negative thing about it is I do think people are carrying around some emotional baggage about this election because of the way the debate was handled [and] because of some of the messages the candidates have delivered. I think people on both sides are just feeling upset; they feel like there is conflict. But I think in the end, we need to just [remember the] rally message about unity and coming together. We are a democracy; everyone votes, everyone has an equal say. We have to put this back together and move forward.”