Election aftermath: A struggle with fears, freedom of speech

November 2016 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, Community, People, School

By Kristine Thomas

What started as an idea by several students to have a pro-Trump rally at Silverton High School, escalated into something they didn’t expect or intend.

On Election Day, Nov. 8, Cole, a senior who asked his last name not be used, was one of the organizers for a pro-Trump rally were about 16 students parked their trucks in the front row of the high school parking lot with large flags supporting Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, drawing a crowd of about 35 students. They were visited by school administrators, Cole said. 

“We had a lot of people driving by smiling, waving and giving us thumbs up, even bus drivers,” Cole said. “There were a few people that were not impressed and obviously didn’t support our political views.”

What he intended to be a peaceful rally showing support for Trump and to demonstrate freedom of speech, spun into harsh words being said on both sides, feelings hurt, three students receiving in-school suspension and questions being raised about why this was happening.

Keegan, another student asking his last name withheld, shared there was a student waving a Confederate flag and the high school principal immediately talked to the student and took it away.

Both Cole and Keegan said their goal was to remain positive and respectful, and anytime they heard someone in the group say something disrespectful, they were asked to leave.

“If we ever came up with an idea that was controversial again, I would expect the people to act how they did yesterday, respect others, respect opinions and respect themselves,” Cole said.

The teen said he was aware of the people who said racial slurs to some students and hurt some feelings.

“But we had no involvement with these people and we should not be blamed or judged,” Cole said. “We never meant any racism. We started the rally very respectfully to show our political support. That’s all this was.”

On Facebook, there are posts about what happened at the high school along with other incidents. It was reported that Hispanic students were called names and told to “pack their bags” and leave the country. Several parents on social media shared their worries about their children’s safety and concerns about how things have changed.

Samantha Tennyson kept her 12-year-old daughter home from Silverton Middle School on the day following the election.

“She was met with a lot of hate talk from peers yesterday,” Tennyson said. “They talked about how the wall was going to be built and that Mexicans would have to leave. They told her how her rights as a girl would be taken away. She was so scared today that she broke down in tears. She is afraid that now it will be OK for guys to grab her and do what they want. She is afraid that the 19th amendment will be revoked and she will never get the opportunity to vote.”

Although Tennyson tried to reassure her daughter, the fear remains.

On Nov. 9, the music from a girl’s car could be heard a few rows away. Blasting from the radio, the lyrics expressed anger and frustration about Trump’s policies, that include building a wall between the United States and Mexico and banning Muslim immigration into the country. Asking that her name not be used for fear of retaliation, the girl said to describe her as Hispanic and a senior.

As the election results were announced Nov. 8, she watched her father, 52, and her mother, 48, cry.

“They were crying because Trump won. They are residents of the U.S. but they are afraid. I am terrified,” she said.

Explaining how her family left Mexico to escape the drug cartels and to come to America to better themselves, she said it’s scary walking in the hallways knowing some people hate her only for her country of origin.

“I have been called a dirty Mexican. My 6-year-old niece has been harassed,” she said, fighting back the tears. “This election has changed how I feel about coming to school. I don’t feel safe now.”

SHS senior Karla Rodriguez is confused about what qualifies as Freedom of Speech. When she saw the students with the Trump flags and a Confederate flag, she was upset and asked teachers if they were going to “shut it down.”

She was told “no”because they had freedom of speech.

“But when I told them I was going to go out and say something, they told me I would get suspended, expelled or even get taken out from walking at graduation,” she said. “I immediately thought to myself ‘Am I really going to get in trouble for voicing my opinion?’”

Not willing to let the incident “slide,” she talked to friends and shared concerns on social media. She talked to Hispanic students who said they were harassed and were targets of racists comments. She has received backlash for speaking out.

“I told a teacher yesterday that if they didn’t want to hear my voice at school, I will get my voice out to the public and show that this isn’t right,” Rodriguez said.

Cole shared the verbal insults went both ways. “Some called us names, cursed at us or called us slurs such as hillbillies, hicks or rednecks,” Cole said. “However, we stayed very positive and proud.”

On Nov. 9, some parents met with Silverton Principal Justin Lieuallen, including April Newton.

Newton shared she felt the meeting with the principal went well, “he was very respectful and we had a good discussion. He was open and honest about what took place, he was open to suggestions and feedback on what could be done going forward.”

Lieuallen and the Silverton High  administration team held meetings with each grade on Nov. 10.

“We told the students that even though it was a crazy time across our nation, that our focus is a commitment to unity and respect at our school,” Lieuallen said.

The goal of the meeting was to teach students skills on how to respectfully communicate and interact with one another, regardless of ideas or opinions.

Lieuallen also said they discussed what it means to have freedom of speech and when it crosses the line.

He said as long as students were respectful, they could have Trump or Clinton flags at the high school.

“The line of freedom of speech is crossed when it infringes on the rights of others,” he said.

What is happening in Silverton is not any worse or any different than what is happening in places across the U.S., Lieuallen said.

“What’s different, I think, is people don’t believe it can happen here.”

As the principal, Lieuallen said it’s his responsibility every student feels safe and welcome. While he and the staff are taking steps to address issues, they can’t be every where. He encourages students to monitor one another and to encourage positive behavior. And to report when they see something that isn’t right, perhaps to a teacher they trust.

He wants to assure students, parents and the community that while he can’t control what’s happening in the world, he can control what’s happening at SHS.

“I want people to be assured we are going to deal with issues that come up here,” he said. “What is happening is not something new. It’s a problem that needs to be addressed.”

Two elementary principals and a teacher shared the talk about the election has had an impact on elementary students.

Mark Twain Elementary teacher Tina Haqq-Howell posted on Facebook that Nov. 9 was a rough day. She shared how the most important job she does each day is listen to her students.

“I had to choose my words carefully to reassure them that our nation and our democracy will be OK,” she said.

She encouraged her students to make their own mark on America by learning, trying hard in school, showing kindness and love to all people, and making a positive contribution to this country.

“I know they are watching and listening to what the adults are doing and saying in their presence,” Haqq-Howell said. “Let’s be careful with our words and mindful of our actions.”

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