Bullies Have a New Intimidation Tactic on Campus: The Name ‘Trump’

Teachers are grappling with the weaponization of the man about to become the leader of the free world.
(Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images)
Nov 21, 2016· 3 MIN READ
A veteran journalist and former White House correspondent for Politico, Joseph Williams is a freelance writer, blogger, and essayist in Washington, D.C.

White students have chanted it at basketball games to unnerve or menace their Latino opponents. Black or LGBT students have been horrified to find it scrawled on their lockers or spray-painted on a bathroom door. Across the country, educators and students are reporting that some white students are using the name of the next president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, to menace, threaten, or bully other kids in schools and on college campuses.

The number of hostile acts directed toward minority students has exploded in the two weeks since the former reality show star won the presidency, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that tracks hate groups in the U.S.

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“We have collected over 500 [incidents] so far, and half of them are taking place in K–12 schools and college campuses,” Maureen Costello, director of the center’s Teaching Tolerance program, said late last week. She said her program has sent out surveys to educators nationwide “asking them to tell us about the impact of the election on America’s schools, America’s students, and on teachers themselves.”

Within days, “we’ve gotten over 8,000 responses. We have over 16,000 stories from these teachers,” Costello said. Though the survey is still incomplete, “we will have all the data that says this is real, this is happening.”

Trump’s election, a stunning political upset built on an anti-immigration platform, has been followed by a reported surge of hate-fueled incidents targeting minorities. Between Nov. 9 and Nov. 14, civil rights groups have collected scores of “hateful intimidation and harassment” aimed at black Americans, members of the LGBT community, immigrants, and others.

In Minnesota, pro-Trump racist graffiti was discovered in a school, and a Muslim student at San Jose State University in California told police a man choked her by pulling her hijab. At sporting events in Texas, Indiana, and elsewhere, white students have chanted, “Build a wall!” at teams with Hispanic players. According to The Michigan Daily, messages reading “#stop Islam” and “Trump 2016” were found on the University of Michigan campus last week.

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At a press conference last week, Costello, along with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers union, called on Trump to denounce the violence committed by his young supporters. A coalition of civil rights groups sent a letter to the incoming administration asking Trump to condemn the harassment and urge his reporters to show tolerance; both Weingarten and Costello signed the letter.

“You have said you will be president for all Americans, Mr. Trump,” according to the letter. “We ask that you keep your promise by loudly, forcefully, unequivocally and consistently denouncing these acts and the ideology that drives them.”

At the press conference, Costello said the responses to the SPLC survey so far have been highly disturbing.

“Already, 90 percent of the teachers who have returned the survey—people who are identifying themselves; this is not anonymous—they have told us that the election has had a negative impact on their school climate,” Costello said. “Two-thirds are worried that it will continue to have a negative effect for at least the remainder of the school year, if not much longer.”

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The presidential campaign and Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric triggered high anxiety among Latino and Muslim students, and the general election pushed those anxieties even higher, Costello said. Educators and schools are struggling with how to deal with the issue, and unless Trump acts, the turbulence at schools will be “exacerbated.”

At the same time, “the very word ‘Trump’ has been weaponized into a weapon for bullies,” Costello told TakePart. “All you have to do is scrawl Trump on a locker or shout it out or chant it to express hostility.”

Meanwhile, the harassment ignores that the majority of public school students are minorities, and many of them live at or close to the poverty level, she said.

“These are the kids we don’t traditionally serve very well,” Costello said. “But these are also the students that, in a generation—in 2040 or 2041 or 2042—will be the representatives of this new majority we have, what I often call a plural majority.”

Because of that, “we cannot afford to have that entire generation traumatized. We can’t afford to have that entire generation believe that they don’t have access to power and that their voice will not be heard,” she said. “When something like this affects students in school and we inflict trauma on them nationally, we are inflicting a wound on ourselves that we will continue to feel for a generation.”

Given that, “now is the time for educators or anyone else who cares about children and about our future as a nation to double down on efforts that all children—each and every one—feels safe and welcomed at school” and able to get a quality education, Costello said.

“We need to be in this together,” she said. “We need to fight for our future.”