NPR recently reported that after the November election, the Southern Poverty Law Center released survey data highlighting the negative impact election results have had on schools and students. Of the 10,000 K-12 educators surveyed, ninety percent of them reported that their school environment had been affected as a direct result of the presidential election; all were profoundly negative. Unfortunately, our students are vulnerable to the political climate in which we live in. When we put the last couple of months into perspective, our students have never before been exposed to the kind of national turmoil and bullying that has occurred. The majority of students were born and raised through the Obama administration, an administration that inspired many to have “hope” for a better America and inspired minorities to feel empowered as one of our own had reached the position of Commander in Chief. In just a few months, the climate has changed drastically, causing students and families to feel more disempowered and hopeless than ever before.
My own brother, a current high school junior, was only ten when Barack Obama was first elected. When asked about the difference between then and the Post-Obama era, he was quick to share how “different” the environment felt. For him, as a Latino hoping to one day succeed as an engineer in a field that lacks representation of Latinos, living under an administration that prioritized campaigns like “Better Make Room” and provided Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to those who qualified, meant that his American Dream was attainable. As my brother stated himself, “anything was possible.” Now, he shares his disappointment with how much bullying has increased at his school and how frustrating it is to see many of his own classmates live in fear of deportation. I have also witnessed his own motivation suffer as he deals with the negativity in the media and in his own community.
When a young man who tries to stay as far away from politics as possible, can clearly distinguish the difference our most recent election made on his school, his peers and his own dreams and aspirations, you know that there is a problem.
With raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement happening across our communities, it is not surprising that our students are feeling uneasy. Instead of focusing on their schooling, they are concerned with their families’ safety as well as their own futures. A colleague of mine recently mentioned how the election has prompted her to provide a safe space for her students to voice their concerns and fears in her classroom. This stemmed from a discussion we had about not building bubbles around our students. While our students must feel safe in their classrooms and schools, we cannot neglect their emotions.
According to NPR’s report on the struggle to comfort students of color during potential raids, Dena Simmons, the director of education at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, emphasized the importance behind educators and caretakers to serve as facilitators of emotions. She said “when we [as adults] understand how we’re feeling and identify what we’re feeling, then we can effectively regulate emotions.”
An 11th grade, U.S. History teacher friend recently shared with me how proud he was of his students post-election. He said it felt like their activist spirits had been awakened as they sought opportunities to participate in marches. However, in more recent days, he has observed their energy slow down. Seeing them show signs of numbness was now the fire that lit his own activist spirit. Now more than ever, he wants his students to feel and not be afraid to share their emotions.
As fears of raids continue, it will be important for us all, as educators, caretakers and student champions to be even more intentional about providing our students of color the space to feel safe, to feel loved, to feel validated and to feel protected.
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