Over this last week, there has been an increase in bullying and harassment, including within our education system. Instead of having the ability to focus on learning, students are now being threatened and going to school scared.
Even in the high school I graduated from, there have been several reports of instances of racial slurs and attacks. And this is coming from a very diverse school with only about a third of the population being white. This makes me so sad to think that this is happening – not just in far off places – but in my own hometown.
One of the major fears since Trump won the election is the belief by many that his voters looked past his comments regarding women, Latinos, the Muslim community, and other minorities. Whether or not you think he will follow through with his outlandish campaign rhetoric when he actually gets into office, that is a different story. The problem is this has created an open space where people feel comfortable sharing these extreme views. Seeing these types of messages all across the media for so long has almost numbed us to the hateful implications of what they could mean for our society.
“What do you value?”
I wrote this on the whiteboard near the end of a graded debate in my honors chemistry class. The discussion was over the investment of space exploration. Half of the students were for it and the other half were not. When we started the discussion, students mentioned the surface issues such as economies, technological advancements, and curiosity to explore. However, it took a turn after a student mentioned the safety of the people that were exploring space. It got a little more heated. I sat there patiently until I heard my first personal attack: “You guys clearly don’t understand how little we are investing!”
At that point, the debate was personal. What was interesting was how divided the classroom had become in such a short period of time. Students that were friends before the debate were pissed at each other.
After a brief moment of ‘Oh shit, what do I do?’, I gave students a five minutes break as I wrote on the board. When they started trickling back into the classroom, they noticed what was on the board.
“What do you value?”
When everyone was back into the room, we made a list on the front board. Students mentioned many things I value and other things I do not value. The final part of the exercise was to go through the list, one-by-one, and see what you personally valued the most. I rose my hand with the following:
- Friends and family
- Acceptance of all people
Only some of the students raised their hand for those same values as I did. Many students mentioned their religion, their education, or pride of their cultural heritage. Finally, after students completed the task, they self-reflected. We went back to discussing our values. Many students did not realize the diverse values in the classroom. But after that lesson, students were brought closer to their classmates.
This was back in September.
Fast-forward to the election. I checked CNN and the headline was: President Trump.
How could America have elected somebody that made such racist, homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic, and even xenophobic comments? Every value I have been teaching was just thrown of the window. “Be an asshole; become our president.”
My personal values were attacked.
And it hurt.
The only reason I made it to school that day was to help those students that felt similar to me. There was no other reason.
School that day did not feel right. Teachers and students were both discouraged, while some students were walking with a pep in their step. For half of the school, they were mourning a death in the family, and the other half had just learned they won a million dollars.
The best way to describe it was fucked up.
The morning after Trump became our future president, students were taking a test. Before the test, I told them, “No matter what, I will be here to teach you and keep you safe and continue to be involved in politics.” I did not know what else to say from that. I felt so discouraged, yet could not communicate that to my students.
My students were also a mixed bag of emotions, many of them uncertain how to approach the situation. Some of my students were embarrassed that their parents voted for Trump or felt they were unfairly labeled a “racist” or “homophobe” for having very valid reasons for siding with him. At the same time, students that sided with Clinton generalized that all Trumps supporters were inconsiderate to minority populations. All of my students felt this: their values were being stepped on and they felt hurt from it. What message could I send to help students move on, despite their diverse differences in opinion?
I slogged through the rest of the day telling them my message that felt like it rang hollow.
Now, I know the message I want to give.
Speak to your fellow Americans. If they voted for Hillary, learn why they did. If they voted for Trump, understand their reasoning. Be empathetic to others and care about them. Be an advocate for your own values while at the same time listen to other people and their values. To move forward, we need to be able to listen and understand that our values are what make us. It is how we identify with ourselves. It is why I was so hurt when Trump got elected, because I feel that, based on what he has said, he will not help minorities and their needs. Does he have the empathy to help all people in this country and not just the white, Christian population? We will find out. But for now, I will continue to be an advocate against people who are racist, homophobic, transphobic, and misogynistic.
To do this I need to be empathetic and will continue to ask the this question:
“What do you value?”
Now is the time to come together to promote inclusion and tolerance instead of division and hate. When speaking with someone with a different set of beliefs, use the opportunity for a productive conversation. Learn their perspective; understand where they are coming from.
Don’t be afraid to ask, “What do you value?”