Among the many immediate repercussions of Donald Trump's horrific election as the 45th president of the United States was the fact that the children of his supporters, likely raised in atmospheres of ignorance at best and vile hatred at worst, came to school the next day emboldened. "Please know that, sadly, we have experienced acts of vandalism and harassment at Council Rock North in the aftermath of Tuesday's presidential election," began a letter from the superintendent of the Council Rock school district in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which was being passed around on social media yesterday. The letter, sent to parents, went on to list a string of increasingly disturbing incidents that had taken place at school: In a girls' restroom, someone had posted a piece of paper that read, "I Love Trump," along with a "derogatory comment" about gay people and three swastikas. In another girls' restroom, someone had written, "If Trump wins, watch out!" A Latina student found a note in her backpack that told her to go back to Mexico.
Elsewhere were reports of hate speech, harassment, and outright violence committed against minorities and LGBTQ students on high school and college campuses, and online. On Facebook, a teacher in another school district posted that one of her 10-year-old students had to be picked up early because a boy had "grabbed [the student's] vagina." To be a teacher at this moment seems both vitally important and virtually impossible. In the hours after Trump won, concern for "What Do We Tell the Children?" spread, and educators in particular wondered how they should handle divided classrooms—and students they may vehemently disagree with—the next day. "We tell them to act a certain way—to be kind, treat each other fairly. That all people are equal, that bullies don't win," Melissa*, a fourth grade teacher in Charleston, West Virginia, told me. "And then Trump won."
Reactions of students and teachers across the country are, of course, extremely varied. One small-town teacher I contacted for this article said she could not comment because, although she felt her story needed to be heard, she did not feel safe coming to work, much less speaking to a journalist about what is happening there. Another teacher works at an elementary school in Texas where nearly 100 percent of the students are of Mexican descent and some even commute across the border every day; she said she was surprised that her fourth graders were not as gung-ho about Clinton as she had expected—though they are still very nervous about what Trump's win will mean for them and their families.
Melissa's 26-person classroom in West Virginia is made up of mostly white students in the middle or lower-middle class, though she noted she has about six or seven students of color, and that there is a Syrian refugee in the other fourth grade class at her school. In the weeks leading up to the election, she was surprised to overhear many students voicing their dislike of Trump.
"The kids talked about the election for several weeks during class, in their spare time—mainly curious about who each other's parents were voting for," she said. "The majority of the kids didn't like Trump. Most of them didn't like Hillary, either, but they liked her more than Trump." Before the election, even the vocal pro-Trump students were respectful, she says. "One pretty outspoken girl talked about how her whole family was voting for Trump and how she liked him. She wasn't rude about it—just stating facts."
I didn't know if I could lecture for an hour without crying.
The morning after the election, Melissa says, her pro-Trump student "was very excited and happy. She had a newfound confidence in liking him." But many other students were dismissive of classmates who said they liked Trump. In the cafeteria at breakfast that morning, Melissa said, "Another girl came up to me crying. She was telling people she was happy Trump won, and they were telling her that she was a bad person." Then, on her way to class, she saw "a group of about five black kids" walking with a white girl. "The white girl said, 'I'm happy Trump won.' One of the black kids said, 'That's because you're white,' and the other kids agreed."
Evan*, a high school senior in a different county in West Virginia, said that, at his school, the tense atmosphere has created a "dog-pile mentality." "People would walk through the halls yelling, 'Trump!'" he said. "It's a lot of people parroting rumors and baseless speculations. A lot of 'I hope Trump throws that Hillary bitch in prison.' Multiple people asked if Obama was going to declare martial law. Most people side with Trump because of the Hillary emails. Some of the more liberal teachers are scared. They have gay friends, and some are gay themselves."
None of Evan's teachers addressed the election in class, except his civics teacher, who showed them Trump's victory speech. "He talked about how Trump had a few good ideas and Hillary had good ideas. He said neither was his first-choice candidate, but they were to be respected. He did a good job at answering questions people had."
Another girl came up to me crying. She was telling people she was happy Trump won, and they were telling her that she was a bad person.
Once her class started, Melissa, sensing anxiety, had her fourth graders "write down what their votes for president would be if they could vote and write one thing they'd like to tell me if they could—to write about how they were feeling about the election."
If her fourth-grade class were running things, Hillary Clinton would be our new president-elect. "About four of the kids 'voted' for Trump, the rest for Hillary," Melissa said. "One of the boys said they voted for Trump because 'he's a boy'; a girl wrote she [voted for Trump] because Hillary was going to take away guns and supported abortion. Another kid said Trump because of religion. The other kids who 'voted' Hillary wrote that they were scared and mad. One girl said she was afraid Trump was going to send her 'back to Africa.' The rest of the kids basically said they hated him because he's mean.
"They were all really upset," she added. "Some deep friendships broke because of it, and others were formed."
Austin*, who teaches remedial English at a state university in Ohio, was not looking forward to showing up to teach on Wednesday. "The depression was palpable as soon as I walked onto campus, and that didn't change in the classroom," he said. Interacting with his students—who are politically mixed and who have always been "polite" during political discussions—was somewhat heartening. No one argued. He said one student brought a Trump yard sign to class—but "not to hold up or anything—he was just carrying it from elsewhere." A couple of his black students emailed to say they weren't coming in—"they said it was to do stuff for other classes"—and attendance as a whole was "a little sparse." He ended class half an hour early. "I didn't know if I could lecture for an hour without crying."
Mike Burr, a high school chemistry and physics teacher in Tucker, Georgia, also said he was "queasy" about going to work on November 9. His students are mostly African American, and since he teaches science, he said, "there is not an opening" to talk about politics in his classes. "I know that I have students whose families supported both candidates, and others that are immigrants or have family that are. I called a strict ban on any political talk leading up to the election. Seemed like a meaningless fight."
After Trump won, he reiterated that ban, but first lectured his classes on the importance of treating each other fairly and graciously. "I told each class that no matter the outcome of the election, some people are going to be happy and others would be upset, and that we should be gracious in victory and stoic in defeat. I had one student express surprise that more people at school were not upset—though everyone was in a funk. There was not very much talking in the halls."
I asked Burr how he thought his students would have reacted if Hillary had won instead.
"I am not sure," he told me. "They shrugged their shoulders about Trump, but I know some of the girls would have been very proud of Hillary. That is the probably the most disappointing thing."
*Names have been changed.