After the results of the 2016 Presidential Election, I was beside myself with grief, unable to figure out how best to proceed.
Besides re-reading Leslie Knope’s open letter and watching reruns of Parks and Recreation while crying, I knew I had to come up with a plan of action to self-heal (self-care is ultra important right now) and process the election results.
As a gay man who struggled every day for the better part of 10+ years with depression due to feelings of immense inadequacy and fear, Trump being elected into office reminded me of how I felt before I came out: paralyzed.
As a teacher, I didn’t know what to say to my students; how could I possibly go on with business as usual? I always use current events in my classes to help teach my students how to write and communicate successfully (and to stay impartial as much as possible so that they can learn to think for themselves), so I realized that the only way I could move forward was to, in all of my classes this week, address the results of the election head on, and to start an open dialogue with my students about how we can work together to make each other feel safe.
Here’s how I began all of my courses this week:
“I want to speak with you all briefly about the results of the presidential election. Regardless of your political beliefs and ideologies, it’s important that now, more than ever, we come together. Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. It’s important to understand that, to some, this is a moment of happiness, but to others, this moment represents unmitigated fear.
This feeling is unprecedented. In the past, Republicans and Democrats alike have expressed frustration, sorrow, and anger when their respective candidates were not elected into office. This is different. Right now, all across the country, minorities, including people of color, Muslims, Mexicans (or anyone in the Latinx community), LGBTQ persons, immigrants, and many, many women are living in a state of fear over their futures and their basic rights as American citizens.
Listen to them.
At this point, it does not matter if you voted democrat or republican, if you identify as conservative or liberal: we are all humans first.
Listen to them.
There’s been a lot of “get over it,” “be an American,” “it is what it is” talk. That has to end. It is unequivocally American to express your fears, concerns, feelings in thoughtful, productive ways, and everybody has a right to feel whatever they want to feel right now.
Listen to them. Hear their concerns.
We are living in uncertainty; the country has not been this OPENLY and publicly divided since before the Civil Rights Movement. It is up to each and every one of us to make sure that your fellow Americans feels safe, secure, loved, and welcomed.
This is why you’re here, in this classroom: to learn. To learn from each other, to become change-makers for the future. Now, more than ever, it’s important to keep your eyes open to the hatred, and to stand up against it.
In this class right now, or in another one of your classes, you might be sitting next to a domestic abuse, sexual assault, or rape victim, and she/he might be feeling petrified to be governed by a man who has been accused of, and openly admitted to, sexually assaulting women. You might be sitting next to a Muslim student who has been battling oppression and discrimination for the last 15 years since 9/11, and they might think they will be deported, or registered internment camp-style, like Japanese Americans were during WWII. You might have an LGBTQ student or professor who is battling depression and feels unsafe because their basic human rights might be stripped away from them. You might be sitting next to a black student who has already been called a “nigger” in a post-Trump America.
Over the last 48 hours, hate crimes have broken out all across the country against people of color, Muslims, immigrants, and LGBTQ persons. There are reports of men ripping the hijabs off of Muslim women; Trump supporters are telling gay men to “go back in the closet, faggot”; Trump supporters are spray painting swastikas and “build the wall” on buildings; white school children chanting “build the wall” in the lunchroom in front of Mexican students; women and young girls are being sexually assaulted by people who think it’s normal to grab whatever body parts they want to because their President does so; POC and Asian Americans being told that their “time is up,” and to “go back home” because this is “Trump’s America.”
The veil has been lifted. For too long, our country has swept racism, homophobia, xenophobia, islamophobia under the rug. Now, we can no longer afford to ignore it.
It doesn’t matter who you voted for, not at this point. What matters is that we come together, and how we look out for each other.
If you see something, say something. Don’t walk away. Stand up to the hate. Speak out against it. Comfort those around you who might be affected. Listen to them. Value their feelings because this fear is real and it’s warranted. It remains to be seen what Trump will accomplish as a President, if he will make ‘good’ on his promises to strip rights away from women and LGBTQ persons, to deport Muslims and Mexicans, to further villainize POC, or if he will backpedal and play it safe. The fact is, we don’t know, we don’t have the answers to those questions. What we do see right now is that, because of Trump being elected, it’s now acceptable to openly hate anyone who doesn’t fit the straight white male mold.
Just look out for each other. Make each other feel loved and safe.
You are safe.
You are welcomed.
You are wanted.
You are loved.
This classroom and my office are safe spaces. If you need to talk to someone, stop by my office at any time.”
All of my classes had very productive discussions afterward, where we talked about privilege and shared our stories and even shed some tears. We discussed our options and duties as citizens, and how it’s our right to peaceful protest, and our responsibilities to look out for each other.
It was VERY healing.
It’s always hard to remain impartial as an educator, but it is incredibly important that I, along with other teachers, teach our students how to think for themselves, to not try to influence our students with bias. They need to understand that their voices do matter, especially in an election, and that the results do effect people, and therefore their votes DO have an impact, whether positive or negative. This is something they must learn for themselves, through listening to experiences and struggles and stories from minorities.
This is bottleline: We are #StrongerTogether.
THIS is how we proceed.
Thank you, Hillary Clinton, for everything.