In the days since the election, schools across the country have reported an extraordinary spike in acts of intimidation and violence toward students, often explicitly citing Donald Trump’s name. The question people in this country should be asking — regardless of how they voted on Nov. 8 — is whether the President-Elect will make a real call for decency and tolerance.
In his first interview after the election, on 60 Minutes, Trump faced a question from Leslie Stahl about the wave of harassment. He called on the perpetrators to stop – but dismissed the issue as “a very small amount” of such violence — perhaps “one or two” incidents.
Other sources sadly show something very different. The Southern Poverty Law Center alone has received more than 430 reports of such incidents, inside and outside of schools, a wave comparable only to the attacks on Muslims after 9/11. The education blog the74million.org that asked readers to send reports of violence in schools tied to the election has been “inundated” with more than 375 reports. And the numbers continue to grow.
These are not trifling incidents. A few examples of what’s been reported:
- In York, Pennsylvania, a crisis team was dispatched to a high school after a student holding a Trump sign was filmed chanting “White Power!” and multiple students reported being the victims of threats and racial epithets in the wake of the election.
- In Ladue, Missouri, African American high school students were told to move to the back of the bus by two white students chanting “Trump, Trump, Trump.” Two days later, a black student at the same school was burned by a fellow student with a hot glue gun.
- In the Twin Cities, a high school bathroom was vandalized with the phrase “Trump train” and messages including “All you N***** go back to Africa.” Students said they were terrified, and no longer felt comfortable at the school.
- In Georgia, a Muslim high school teacher received a letter saying her “head scarf isn’t allowed anymore” and encouraged her to hang herself by her hijab. She bemoaned that “children feel safe making comments that are racist or sexist because of [Trump].”
- In Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a superintendent was forced to send a letter to parents stating that post-election harassment would not be tolerated after a handful of separate incidents including a Latina girl who was told to go back to Mexico, graffiti of swastikas, derogatory graffiti about LGBT people alongside the words “I love Trump,” and threats like, “If Trump wins, watch out!”
The impact of these acts is clear. Threats and intimidation mean that children focus on fear rather than learning, or stay away from school entirely. Such acts tell children – because of their race, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation – that they are not part of our country, and are not safe in our schools. They represent an intentional attack on what this country stands for, and for everything we try to teach our children.
What is encouraging is that people throughout this country are raising their voice to say that America is better than this. A petition my organization posted calling on the President-Elect to denounce the intimidation has gained thousands of signatures each day since it went live – more than 15,000 people have signed at this writing.
The president sets a moral tone for our country – and children notice. There is an important opportunity for Donald Trump to make clear that violence and bullying will not be accepted in his presidency.
This is not a partisan issue. We believe that as the next president of the United States, as someone who has promised to be a president for all Americans, it is Mr. Trump’s responsibility to use his extraordinary command of communication tools to clearly and passionately denounce violence and to call for tolerance. He must make clear that those who bully young people do not act in his name.
We hope that Americans, no matter what their political leanings, no matter how they voted, will join in a call to keep our children safe in school, to tell all of America’s children that they have a right to an education in an atmosphere of safety and acceptance, that they belong. Indeed, whether as parents or as President, we have no more important responsibility.
Update: In the time since this piece was filed on Monday, the SPLC has now received 700 reports while the74million.com has received 500, and more than 30,000 people have signed our petition.
Jonah Edelman is founder and CEO of Stand for Children, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for quality education in 11 states.