[Marxism] At Iowa High School, Election Results Kindle Tensions and Protests

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Nov 20 07:19:05 MST 2016


NY Times, Nov. 20 2016
At Iowa High School, Election Results Kindle Tensions and Protests
By JULIE BOSMANN

IOWA CITY — The air felt leaden in the hallways at West High School on 
the morning after Election Day. The usual clatter from the building’s 
2,000 students was muffled. At lunchtime, Lujayn Hamad was in the 
cafeteria when she said a boy she barely knew roughly bumped into her 
and swore at her.

“Go back home,” he told Ms. Hamad, who is 15, and an American citizen, 
and wears a hijab.

The comment, overheard by a friend at Ms. Hamad’s side — though denied 
by the male student — set off a turbulent week of tears, fury and 
demonstrations at West High, a large public school in this university 
town, which prides itself on its openness and progressivism. Minorities 
make up nearly 40 percent of the student body at West High, a far more 
diverse mix than the typical Iowan school.

In the hours and days after Ms. Hamad’s encounter in the cafeteria, 
similar incidents followed, students said. One girl said she was 
surrounded by heckling students and called a terrorist. Another said she 
saw people chanting “Trump” in the hallways when they passed black 
students. In one classroom, a student noted the absence of a Latino 
classmate and announced to the others, “I wonder if she got deported.”

Like many other schools around the country since the election, West High 
has become a microcosm of the United States itself, a place roiled by 
tension, divisions and mistrust. Students in many schools say supporters 
of Donald J. Trump have felt empowered to lash out at minorities, while 
outraged backers of Hillary Clinton have been spurred to organize and 
demonstrate. And teachers have been struggling to provide guidance even 
as they themselves are processing the election results.

In Ladue, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis, students walked out of a high 
school twice in a week to protest racist comments made at school after 
the election of Mr. Trump. Two students were disciplined for telling 
black students boarding a bus that they should sit in the back.

Swastikas were drawn in a boys’ bathroom at a middle school in Bethesda, 
Md., which has many Jewish students. Children all over the country, 
particularly Latinos and Muslims, have fearfully asked teachers and 
guidance counselors whether they and their families will be deported.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been tracking thousands of 
such episodes since the election, said the most commonly reported 
locations for harassment were K-12 schools.

“It’s impossible to wall schools off from the rest of society,” said 
Maureen Costello, the director of Teaching Tolerance, a program of the 
law center. “It’s just seeped into the culture. Kids are hearing it at 
home and they’re amplifying it.”

At West High, some teachers and parents have encouraged students to walk 
out of class to protest racism and sexism and to support a pluralistic 
society. Others were livid at the protests, saying the teenagers were 
overreacting. Some emailed administrators to ask why some students were 
allowed to skip class for protests during a crucial finals week.

A few teachers have responded by hugging crying students and reassuring 
them that they are loved. One assured an emotional student that 
orchestra class “is a safe space where we can all get together and make 
music,” the student said. But an English teacher announced, to the 
dismay of some teenagers in her class, that the election was over and 
“we’re not going to talk about it.”

Everybody seems to agree that the school is a changed place.

“It’s a different environment now,” said Jade Merriwether, 16. “I feel 
very upset and afraid for my friends. People are using the election as 
an excuse to discriminate against each other openly.”

Even Trump supporters say they feel under siege. Two girls walked into 
the principal’s office after the election and told him that as 
conservatives, they did not feel safe walking through the halls, were 
receiving dirty looks and felt they were not “on an equal basis” to 
other students, the principal, Gregg Shoultz, said.

Mason Hanson, 16, a member of the Young Republicans club, said he had 
publicly supported Mr. Trump during the campaign but was upset by the 
slurs directed at students in the aftermath.

Now other students are angrily blaming him for Mr. Trump’s victory; he 
no longer wears his “Hillary for Prison” T-shirt because he does not 
want to be lumped in with the people accused of making insulting 
comments to minorities.

“After hearing about that stuff, I was honestly surprised,” he said. “I 
hadn’t heard it before. Usually we’re all polite to each other.”

The trouble began at West High on Wednesday morning after Election Day, 
when teachers received an email from the principal warning them: Be 
objective about the election results and remind students of the school’s 
inclusiveness.

“Please be positive and strong and teach the heck out of our kids 
today,” Mr. Shoultz wrote in the email.

Mr. Trump’s victory “changed the earth that we stood on a little bit,” 
Mr. Shoultz said in an interview. “I had a pit in my stomach that day.”

Travis Henderson, a social studies teacher, arrived at school prepared 
to talk to his students about democracy and the importance of fidelity 
to its long and sometimes difficult process. “I knew it was going to be 
hard, I knew it was going to take a lot of me,” he said. “I expected 
tears, I expected fear and I expected confusion.”

In her second-period class, Carmen Gwenigale, a Spanish teacher, was 
faced with three students who were sobbing, distraught over the election 
results. She was sympathetic, but tried to stay focused on the mission 
of her class. “I told them, ‘Do it in Spanish, ’ ” she said.

After Ms. Hamad’s encounter in the lunchroom, the first teacher she 
approached was Ms. Gwenigale. “Lujayn came to my room, crying and 
sobbing, questioning if she should take off her hijab,” said Ms. 
Gwenigale, who encouraged her to tell the principal.

Ms. Hamad said she was not ready. “I was like, I just want to go home 
and talk about it,” she said. “Talk about it with my family and my God.”

After Ms. Hamad left her classroom, Ms. Gwenigale sought out Mr. Henderson.

“I ran straight to his room,” she said. They sat on the stairs in a 
hallway and spoke in hushed tones. “I said, ‘What are we going to do? 
How can we work through this?’”

The story spread around the school and reached school administrators, 
who questioned the male student. He denied saying anything derogatory. 
Mr. Shoultz, the principal, said video showed an encounter between the 
two students in the cafeteria, but did not pick up what was said.

By Thursday, he had made a schoolwide announcement, trying to calm 
tensions by telling students that discriminatory behavior would not be 
tolerated. A group of students decided to hold a rally the next day.

They marched out of school on Friday, holding signs that read “Love 
Trumps Hate,” “Say No to Deportation” and “No Hate in Our State.”

On Monday, some students gathered in the cafeteria, handing out safety 
pins to wear on shirts in a gesture of togetherness.

“It’s showing solidarity and unity,” said Wala Siddig, a junior. “It’s 
showing that we’re not going to tolerate all this bigotry that’s happening.”

On Tuesday, a few dozen students closed out the day with another 
protest. They walked out of their classes at 3:30 p.m. and gathered 
inside the school’s main entrance, where they sat cross-legged with duct 
tape over their mouths.

When the school day concluded at 4 p.m., the hallways filled with 
students who stopped short and stared, open-mouthed, at the group.

Mr. Henderson, the social studies teacher, stood on the sidelines and 
watched the reaction. The next day, Wednesday, marked one week and one 
day since the election. It was a scheduled day off, a quick breath 
between trimesters.

“It’s good timing,” he said. “I think they need it.”



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