The 'Trump Effect' in Schools: How Trump's Hate Speech Is Traumatizing America's Children
“My students are terrified of Donald Trump,” reports a teacher from a middle school with a large African-American Muslim population. “They think that if he’s elected, all black people will get sent back to Africa.”
Another educator from a Tennessee school says a Latino kindergartener was told by his peers that he will be deported and barricaded behind a wall. “Is the wall here yet?” he asks daily.
One teacher reports that a fifth-grader told a Muslim student “he was supporting Donald Trump because he was going to kill all of the Muslims if he became president.”
These are the nightmare scenarios of kids, as outlined in a new Southern Poverty Law Center report on the “Trump effect” in U.S. schools, as described by 2,000 K-12 teachers across the country.
It is no surprise that some young people are feeling the impact of an election cycle marred by racist incitement, as Trump vows to ban non-American Muslims, kill the family members of ISIL, “force” Mexico to build a wall and deport millions of immigrants. He has called Mexicans rapists and repeatedly incited violence against protesters at his rallies.
Teachers report that the harmful impact on young people is overwhelming, with more than two-thirds saying that students—particularly those who are Muslim, children of immigrants or immigrants themselves—express “concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.”
More than one-third of teachers said they have noticed a significant increase in “anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment.” This is no small matter given that, as the report notes, nearly a third of young people in U.S. schools have parents who were born in other countries.
The campaign is “producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom,” warns report author Maureen Costello. “Many students worry about being deported. Other students have been emboldened by the divisive, often juvenile rhetoric in the campaign. Teachers have noted an increase in bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail.”
SPLC notes that its survey is not “scientific,” as those who visit its website are not a random sample of teachers nationally. Still, the hate group monitoring organization says the survey provides a wealth of information "about the effect of the presidential campaign on education in our country.”
Of the 5,000 total comments submitted by teachers, over 1,000 referenced Trump, with under 200 mentioning Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. Trump is not the only candidate who has ratcheted up racist rhetoric, with Cruz saying he would “carpet-bomb” densely populated cities in the Middle East and welcome Christian Syrian refugees while turning Muslims away.
What is clear, however, is that the escalated incitement is having a real impact on kids. Younger students are particularly vulnerable, the report notes, with some even fearing the country could reinstate slavery or send them to camps. But older students are also bearing the brunt, with one North Carolina teacher reporting Latino high school students are bringing their “birth certificates and Social Security cards to school because they are afraid they will be deported.” A Washington teacher says a Muslim teenager expressed suicidal thoughts after repeatedly enduring slurs from her peers.
“Overall, these vulnerable students are disillusioned and depressed at the hatred they’re hearing from candidates, in the news, from classmates and even, sometimes, from trusted adults,” the report states. “They’re discouraged to find out what people really think. Teachers struggle to help them feel safe.”
The climate of fear is fueled by the fact that some students “seem emboldened to make bigoted and inflammatory statements about minorities, immigrants, the poor, etc.,” according to a Michigan high school teacher.
Teachers report an increase in open expressions of racism, including use of the n-word.
“A lot of students think we should kill any and all people we do not agree with,” a Westmoreland high school teacher said. “They also think that all Muslims are the same and are a threat to our country and way of life. They believe all Muslims want to kill us.”
Meanwhile, educators say they struggle to determine the best way to support their students, with many facing pressure from administrators to steer clear of directly addressing the political climate.
One teacher from a high-poverty district in Virginia where two-thirds of students are Latino said, “My second-graders are scared. They’re scared of being sent back to their home countries. They’re scared of losing their education. As their teacher, I hug them each day to let them know they are safe and they are loved.”