Throughout Donald Trump’s campaign, the presidential hopeful has painted undocumented immigrants as “thugs” and murderers, has suggested building a wall between the United States and Mexico, suggested imposing ideological tests for people hoping to enter the country, and proposed plans which would round up and deport millions of people.
This hateful rhetoric has begun seeping into America’s classrooms, where an increase in derogatory language has been reported in a number of K-12 classrooms. Many educators have remarked on the issue, observing that in many classrooms around the country, racial tensions have become inflamed and as a result, students of color have become more anxious and fearful than in years past.
The Southern Poverty Law Center recently surveyed 2000 of these K-12 teachers from across the country about racial and ethnic tensions, and what they found has been unheard of in election seasons past.
According to the survey results, at least two-thirds of teachers reported that their students–particularly those of Muslim descent or those born to immigrant families–suffer from a great deal of anxiety about what will happen to their families after this year’s election.
Additionally, more than half have seen a rise in uncivil political discourse amongst students, and one-third of teachers have noticed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment in their classrooms.
“My students are terrified of Donald Trump,” notes one teacher from a middle school with a large population of African-American Muslim students. “They think if he’s elected, all black people will get sent back to Africa.”
Another teacher from North Carolina noticed that her Latino high school students began carrying their birth certificates and Social Security cards to school because they were worried they might be deported.
Other students aren’t terrified at all, but instead use Trump’s name as a means of inciting fear and abuse to other students. One teacher reported that they witnessed a fifth-grader tell a Muslim student “that he was supporting Donald Trump because he was going to kill all of the Muslims if he became president.”
It’s clear that students have begun picking up the tone, rhetoric, and catchphrases incited by the Republican frontrunner in this campaign season. Whether or not these subjects are approached in the classroom, students hear conversations at home, through social media, and modeling that behavior at school.
For young students, as well as adults, this campaign in particular is highly emotional, and their support or opposition to candidates–especially to Trump–is often intense. But the effects students feel at school often depends on where the students stand on the social ladder. Students who have already been bullied and marginalized find themselves bearing the brunt of the abuse in these situations.
Teachers aren’t the only professionals that have noticed a change in stress and anxiety for students in this election.
Counselors have also taken note of the “Trump effect”. While helping students cope with bullies is a major function of the counselor’s day-to-day job many have noticed that they’re seeing more and more students coming in for methods of coping.
“As a counselor, I’ve had to intervene with Latino students and to give them a safe space to share how frustrated they feel that society thinks Latinos like them and their parents are criminals,” commented a counselor in the SPLC report. “Some students are crying in the classroom and having meltdowns at home. Some are expressing that there is no hope for their future because everyone [in America] thinks of Latinos as criminals. Parents have made appointments with me to ask for advice on how to talk to their kids about the election and how to help ease their fears.”
The same can be said for therapists and clinical social workers whose job is to help clients of any age handle pressures and difficulties of school. Earlier this year, 3000 mental health professionals from across the nation signed a manifesto declaring that Trump’s “proclivity for scapegoating, intolerance and blatant sexism a threat to the well-being of the people [they] care for.”
It’s clear that Donald Trump’s theatrics and threats have made an impact on students, parents, and professionals in a way that few politicians have in previous elections. Perhaps Secretary Clinton summarized it best when she said, “When kids are scared by political candidates and policy debates, it is a sign that something has gone badly wrong.”