During the 2016 presidential campaign, chants of “build that wall!” often echoed through rallies for Donald Trump, as his supporters cheered his proposal to construct a physical barrier on the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
Students at Royal Oak Middle School in Michigan started chanting “build the wall!” during a lunch period following Trump’s election. Shawn Lewis-Lakin, superintendent of Royal Oak Schools, confirmed the episode, saying in a statement that a “small group of students” briefly chanted the phrase Wednesday.
“Yesterday, November 9, 2016, there was an incident during one of the lunches at Royal Oak Middle School that was captured on video and posted to social media,” the statement read. “In the incident a small group of students engaged in a brief ‘build the wall’ chant. School personnel in the cafeteria responded when this occurred.”
A Facebook video that appears to show the incident had been viewed more than 2 million times by Thursday afternoon. (The superintendent’s statement does not directly link to the video on social media, but the caption of the Facebook post indicates that it was filmed Wednesday at Royal Oak Middle School.)
Thousands have shared the footage, which lasts about eight seconds. The chant can be heard in the short clip, but it isn’t clear in the video exactly how many students were involved, or how school employees immediately dealt with the disruption.
“We are committed to providing a safe, secure, and supportive learning environment for all students,” Lewis-Lakin said in the statement. “We addressed this incident when it occurred. We are addressing it today. We are working with our students to help them understand the impact of their words and actions on others in their school community.”
The superintendent noted that “because of the strong emotions and intensity of rhetoric that the posting of this incident to social media has elicited,” some families had expressed concern about student safety.
“Know that we work with our partners in law enforcement on responding to any and all threats that have been or will be made involving our students or schools,” Lewis-Lakin said in the statement.
Royal Oak Middle School is in Royal Oak, Mich., a suburb of Detroit. In 2010, Royal Oak had a population of about 57,200, according to U.S. Census data. The majority of its residents, about 51,900 people, were listed as white.
Trump’s proposal to construct a wall along the southern border between the United States and Mexico began as a policy position but evolved into something more. As The Washington Post’s Jenna Johnson wrote earlier this year, it “morphed into a cultural icon, rallying cry and, at times, punchline.”
Johnson described a rally in Tampa, at which an audience member shouted out “Build that wall!” and — from the microphone — Trump joined in the chant.
The crowd, thousands strong, soon chanted, too.
“The wall — the wall — everyone loves it, everyone,” Trump said. “I love the wall.”
The President-elect, who has described Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, has said he will force Mexico to pay for the wall.
At Royal Oak Middle School, Lewis-Lakin said in an email Thursday, a principal directly addressed the incident with all students, and the school “provided opportunities for dialogue.”
“Whenever one student’s words or actions cause another student pain or for another student to question his or her worth, it is an incident to which we must respond,” he wrote. “Students make mistakes. When they do, we work with them on restorative justice. We work with them to learn. And we continue every day to work proactively on creating a culture of respect, inclusion and tolerance.”
School officials also encouraged students to seek assistance if they ever feel unsafe or have concerns, he said in his email.
“In responding to this incident – indeed in responding to this election – we need to hear each other’s stories, not slogans, we need to work towards understanding, not scoring points, and we need to find a way to move forward that respects and values each and every member of our community,” he wrote. “We are working on this in school today. My ask is that our community work on this with us.”