Pollock is the author of several books on race talk in schools, including the forthcoming “Schooltalk: Rethinking What We Say About — and To — Students Every Day.” An anthropologist and design researcher, she is professor of education studies and director of the Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE) at UCSD. As director of the center, Pollock works with colleagues to network the university’s people, resources and opportunities to the diverse K-12 educators, students and families of the San Diego region, with the particular goal of supporting low-income, underrepresented students toward college and rewarding careers.
By Mica Pollock
Since the presidential election on Nov. 8, we’ve seen a wave of hate speech, harassment, bullying and violent incidents hit K-12 and college campuses nationwide. One informal collection of nationwide social media posts quickly amassed more than 500 incident reports, with harassment targeted at Latinos, immigrants, blacks, Muslims, Jews, gays and girls. The Southern Poverty Law Center formally catalogued over 700 post-election incidents by Nov. 16, with 40 percent of the incidents on K-12 or higher education campuses, and an updated report catalogues almost 900. Thousands more examples have poured in from teachers on a new survey by Teaching Tolerance, a project of the law center. Many teachers are saying they’ve never had to handle this many hate and harassment incidents in their schools.
These incidents include “n-word” graffiti and talk of lynchings; swastikas scrawled alongside “I love Trump” and “Heil Trump;” chants of “bye bye Latinos,” “build the wall,” and “white power;” shouts to “go home” to Africa, Asia and Mexico. Girls have been grabbed or verbally harassed. A black female college student in Texas was pushed off a sidewalk by someone saying, “No n—s allowed on the sidewalk.”
One scrawl of Trump’s name on a campus floor said “now free speech is everywhere.” But to many listeners, what Trump has done is legitimize hate speech and harassment. And now it’s burning through our schools.
Many students are consumed by anxiety and fear — and some schools are offering resources to help them. Still, one Iowa politician is floating a bill to charge state campuses retroactively for any time spent on “crybaby” counseling after the election. And instead of actively denouncing the hate his campaign unleashed, critics note, the president-elect has largely ignored it.
This all leaves educators on the front lines of responding to hate in post-election America. Even if we don’t want that extra responsibility, it’s educators’ turn to lead.
Step one is to firmly denounce each incident of hate and intimidation on campuses. As, educators, we can’t let hate speech run wild. While freedom of speech laws crucially protect students’ right to speak opinions in schools, our civil rights laws also require educators to protect students from harassment and intimidation when in schools.
And the real question is social and moral rather than just legal. It’s about preventing students from denigrating groups of people and from engaging in verbally and physically violent confrontation. Educators need to restate publicly that harassment and intimidation have no place in our schools — and that on our campuses, we will respect and value others so all can learn.
Educators — K-12 and higher education — will remain at the vanguard of working against hate and gluing together the nation in the months and years to come. We help raise the next generation in environments more diverse in race, income, national origin and political perspective than any single family can offer. We have colleagues and students with differing perspectives on diversity and inequality whom we must talk with daily to do our work.
Step two is the educators’ longer-haul effort for America: to reclaim the heart of an educator’s work and engage the facts. Trump’s talk was often about dividing and devaluing people, and he has often disregarded actual facts. But educators need to trade in facts and solid data.
Educators get up every day with an essential goal: doing the necessary work of pursuing opportunity for every young person. To win hearts and partners for that work in a divided nation, we need to lead a charge for accurate information about our country and its people. To counter stereotypes and misinformation, educators need to facilitate learning — about historical realities, about who has how much wealth today, about where people really live and in what conditions, about which jobs pay how much and who has them, about who immigrated here and why, and about the opportunities folks actually get or don’t get in the United States.
We need to question old myths that still have us valuing some “types of people” over others and old habits of scapegoating some for complex social problems. We also need to learn more together about other people’s real lives, struggles, hard work, contributions and hopes.
To do our work well — no matter what subject we teach — we have to learn about the diverse young people and families we serve, and engage multiple perspectives while pursuing the facts with students. We need to know, share and discuss accurate information about complex social issues and get to know other Americans as full human beings, including across political divides.
That brings us to step three: Educators need to protect the right to learn. We protect the right to learn each time we refuse hate and harassment on our campuses. And if it becomes necessary in the years to come, educators will need to protect students’ right (and our own ability) to inquire into solid facts, complicated social issues and real lives when in schools.
Educators have three challenges in the era of Trump: to immediately denounce the hate and intimidation, to steadfastly engage the facts, and to insistently protect the right to learn. As professionals, we first need to immediately hold the line against every instance of hate, intimidation and violence affecting our students. The long haul of learning facts about social issues and real lives will happen every day. Above all, our work will require protecting our ability to engage the facts — while challenging hate speech and misinformation.
This places a particular burden on educators, to be sure. But what choice do we have but to engage? And who better than us to facilitate dialogue and learning?
We can and must support each other in this work. As a big team of educators, we’re better equipped for the job than anybody.