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How the 'Trump Effect' Is Making School Hell for Minority Students

Since Trump won on Wednesday, white students in schools across the nation have spewed hate at people of color, the LGBTQ community, and immigrants.
Image by VICE Staff

On Wednesday, after Donald Trump won the election, a group of white high schoolers in York, Pennsylvania, celebrated the Republican's victory by marching through the halls of their school chanting "white power" while brandishing a Trump campaign sign. One hispanic student even claims that her fellow minority classmates were spit on as the hate procession passed again during lunchtime.

This wasn't the first time we've seen racially-driven bullying in schools related to the 2016 election. It's been an ongoing trend, and one that shows no signs of abating in the days following the election.


During the second presidential debate, in October, Hillary Clinton addressed the rising tensions in American schools. "Children listen to what is being said," she said as she stood next to a grimacing Trump. "And there's a lot of fear. Bullying is up. A lot of people are feeling uneasy." She called this phenomenon the "Trump effect," and the term has stuck thanks to the link between the increasing anxiety and harassment among minority children and the president-elect's campaign rhetoric, which was filled with hate—from his calls to ban all Muslim immigration to his generalization that all Mexican immigrants are rapists.

Back in April, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights, investigated the "Trump effect." After surveying 2,000 K-12 teachers, they found that since the beginning of the campaign, more than half of them noticed "an increase in uncivil political discourse" at their schools. Two-thirds of the teachers also said that some of their kids—mostly minorities and immigrants—expressed concern about what might happen to them if Trump became president.

"[Our] study was published during the primary season, but what we heard once school resumed in August and September was that almost everything we had reported on basically continued and got worse," said Maureen Costello, the director of the SPLC's Teaching Tolerance project. "The concern and anxieties of immigrant and Muslim students and the bad behavior and the bullying [was extremely widespread]."


I've even seen the Trump effect in my own life. On Tuesday, as the election results started rolling in, my 14-year-old brother told me that other kids at his high school "kept telling me I am going to get deported if Trump wins." My brother is not even an immigrant—but he is mixed race, making him a target for ignorance. Now I worry what else he may have to endure.

"A black girl was spat on because she had the audacity to argue about Black Lives Matter. An international student was told, 'Take your ass back home, chink.' A gay student was told, 'You better turn straight if you want to survive in America.'"
—Maureen Costello

Now that Trump has officially won the White House, the question looming is whether the "Trump effect" on young people will get worse. The "white power" salute incident in York is just one of the many horror stories coming out of schools that have been circulating since Trump was elected.

"After Tuesday, it was a whole different ballgame. What we are hearing from teachers is that everything we reported is at an extreme," said Costello, who has been receiving a stream of emails since Wednesday from concerned parents and teachers all across the nation recounting some of the things kids are going through.

"A black girl was spat on because she had the the audacity to argue about Black Lives Matter. An international student was told, 'Take your ass back home, chink.' A gay student was told, 'You better turn straight if you want to survive in America.' A Latino student was told, 'Get ready to build that wall motherfucker.' An Asian student overheard a group of white students say, 'Trump's acceptance speech was pussy to moderate, I hope he isn't going soft.' And another gay student was followed by white girls as they chanted, 'Trump, Trump, Trump.'"


This week, I corresponded with a high school senior from Queens over email who was harassed on Wednesday morning, as Trump's win was just starting to sink in. "I was on the bus and a group of girls from another school got on," she wrote to me. "They looked around and then looked at me and said, 'Aren't you supposed to be sitting in the back of the bus? Like, Trump is President.' I never thought something like that would happen to me. I was very shaken up by it." (The girl asked to remain anonymous for fear of being targeted for more bullying.)

Social media has been filled with similar accounts. Activist journalist Shaun King has been posting numerous stories to his Twitter and Facebook pages. In a high school in central Florida, a bathroom wall was reportedly scrawled with graffiti reading, "Y'all black people better start picking your slave numbers. KKK 4 Life. Go Trump." In Royal Oak, Michigan, a group of white middle school students chanted "build the wall" in their middle school cafeteria. Other stories recount classmates yelling Nazi-like slogans and writing "whites only" and "fuck niggers" on doors.

"In these cases, it is not that these things didn't happen before," said Sheri Bauman, a professor at the University of Arizona who studies bullying. "They are just accelerating. They are becoming more cruel, but they feel as though they have license to do it in a way that maybe before they felt they needed to be a little more secretive."


Trump's election has ensured that he will serve for at least four years, but his campaign and subsequent presidency could cause irreparable damage to the kids who are targets of this bullying.

"We know this bullying doesn't just affect them in the short term, in many cases we see poor psychological adjustment, depression, and anxiety into adulthood," said Bauman. "Bystanders also hear it. Not all marginalized groups are visible. Take someone who might be LGBT, imagine what it is like [to hear this stuff] even if you're not the target. You can develop internalized oppression. And if everyone around you believes you are worthless or expendable or a rapist or a threat, you might begin to believe it."

Costello believes things will likely get worse before they get better. "We are going to see more of this," she told me. "A lot of negative things have been said and children are impressionable. I think you are going to see an increase in prejudice and an increase in it being expressed and it's going to take a while to fix."

In light of this wave of hateful behavior among students, some schools are making efforts to punish their students and condemn their actions. Rightfully, the kids in York who chanted "white power" were suspended. But Bauman feels any anti-bullying initiatives in schools will be easily undermined, considering the biggest bully of them all is leading our nation.

"I think it is going to be a real challenge," said Bauman. "I am worried about those kids."

Follow Erica Euse on Twitter.

An earlier version of this article identified the York, Pennsylvania students as middle schoolers. Actually, they are in high school. Also, the main illustration/image of this article has been updated.