By Cheryl Burleigh, EdD
Since the election, open acts of hatred; racism, sexism, hate speech, and defiance have been seen throughout the US, including on high school and university campuses. The Southern Poverty Law Center has catalogued over 1000 incidents of hateful acts including harassment or intimidation towards immigrant and minority religious groups in the month since Trump’s election (Eltagouri, 2017).
The current president has done extensive damage and undone the tireless work of educators, outreach programs, and organizations during a relentless barrage of hate speech, unfounded attacks, and Twitter rants displaying no moral compass. This behavior has not been curtailed and only seems to be getting worse.
How can our young adults rise above what their President demonstrates as “acceptable” social conduct?
In the case of Woodside High School, the day after the on-campus incident the school’s administrators addressed the concerns and mounting tension. Students led a massive sit-in, which the school’s administration supported as long as the protest and discussions remained peaceful. Students, teachers, and administrators held an outdoor microphone discussion, allowing individuals to express feelings and reactions to the events of the elections “as well as [to] those of racism and sexism” (Giarrusso & McGee, 2016, para. 12). The discussions proved to be emotional for numerous students on campus, with many students leaving at the end of the event. The principal of Woodside High School, Diane Burbank, reaffirmed the school’s position of inclusion and support for all members of the school community (Giarrusso & McGee). The event, while it eased tensions, is just the start.
Schools must react positively amid the pain and the festering of open emotional wounds. A call for action is needed where open, honest dialog occurs daily on how to address issues of hate speech, bullying, sexism, racism, and other acts of violation against those who do not fall into the majority category. Constructive and affirmative activism is needed to move collectively forward and promote a time of healing.
Where do we begin? Students need to believe schools are safe havens, free from the whirlwind of uncensored and hurtful comments flying through the ether via the mass media, internet, and social media. As education leaders, we need to listen to students. Seek out students who choose to get involved and comfort those who want to talk in private, yet do not know where to turn. Schools need a quiet place for students to go and decompress, support groups of students, counselors to discuss concerns, mentors or coaches who are available to listen, or a club or school activity that provides students with a sense of community and belonging.
Plato stated that the price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men. Therefore, we must combat apathy through positive activism cultivated in schools.
If a school currently has a leadership class or program, students within that class should spearhead a “daily acts of kindness” campaign and other programs that may unify the student body and school community. If a leadership class does not exist, the school staff and administrators should seek students to form a coalition to mentor and empower students. A trusted staff member should approach students who are not normally active in the school community and encourage them to become active in the school via a peer support system, thus exploring the hidden talents of these students.
Each student is a valuable resource, a potential agent of positive change. All that is needed is for someone to stop, take notice, encourage, support, and embrace that person for who they are and the contributions they can make to the school, community, and, ultimately, to one another.
We need to rise above. Now is the time to advocate for students to act as the true role models for our country, to lead by example of what is acceptable behavior, and become activists of kindness.
Burke, D. (2017, February 27). More bomb threats target Jewish community. Trump finally responds. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/16/living/jcc-bomb-threats-anti-semitism/
White supremacist posters put up on campus of Indiana University. (2017, February 14). Retrieved from https://www.jbhe.com/2017/02/white-supremacist-posters-put-up-on-campus-of-indiana-university/
Eltagouri, M. (2017, February 26). Hate crime rising, report activists at Illinois attorney general’s summit. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-madigan-immigration-hate-crimes-summit-20170223-story.html
Giarrusso, H., & McGee, M. (2016, November 11). Female student attacked at Woodside High School over racist comment, protests ensue. Retrieved from http://www.machronicle.com/female-student-attacked-at-woodside-high-school-over-racist-comment-protests-ensue/
Todd, C. (2017, January 1). Meet the Press [Television Broadcast]. Washington, D. C., NBC. Retrieved from http://www.nbc.com/meet-the-press/video/meet-the-press-jan-1-2017/3443664.
Reilly, K. (2016, November 13). Racist incidents are up since Donald Trump’s election. These are just a few of them. Retrieved from http://time.com/4569129/racist-anti-semitic-incidents-donald-trump/
Cheryl Burleigh is a research fellow, associate faculty, and faculty supervisor for the University of Phoenix. Dr. Burleigh is an advocate for educational change and awareness, empowering educators and administrators to support positive transformation within school systems. Her academic research interests include ethical decision making, education law, empowering females students in STEM, school leadership, education equity, and LGBTQ issues. Dr. Burleigh has been a presenter of science education curriculum and practices and educational leadership for school programs and administrators, state teacher associations, national and international conferences, and on behalf of NASA. She has won numerous grants and awards for curriculum and leadership development. Dr. Burleigh recently completed a series of observational studies of international education practices of underprivileged students. Please address all comments and questions to Cheryl Burleigh, EdD at firstname.lastname@example.org