Special Guest Post by Ginelle Wolfe ’16
I knew work would be tough the day after the election because I work with kids at an elementary school. Each teacher I talked to said they were not going to discuss the election, as the assumption is that most students would not even understand what happened. While I understand that approach, my situation is a little bit different. I teach English Language Development classes, so the majority of my students are not from the United States and none of their first languages are English; thus, their understanding of this election was the same as the average West Los Angeles Upper-Middle class student. I know teachers aren’t supposed to “talk politics” with their students, but I was willing to get in trouble for this one. Opening up a dialogue was not just a good option; it felt necessary to me. After our course, I felt confident that I could lead effective discussions.
The kindergarteners and first graders did not discuss the election, and the second graders mentioned it but didn’t seem to be bothered. The 3rd-5th graders were a completely different story. With the exception of one student who was happy about the election results, the kids were distraught. I decided to have each person go around and say one word about how they are feeling. (We did this on our first day of our Research Methods course and it stuck with me! – I could express my feelings and understand that my peers felt the same way without being put on the spot to talk at length). The students went around one by one… “Frustrated”… “Angry”…”Upset”… the last student said “Scared, and can I say why?” I nodded and continued, “I’m scared because I know Trump hates me and my family because were not from this country. We’re from Turkey and he hates Turkish people”. I wanted to break down and cry in that moment, but I remembered our class discussions about White fragility. I needed to be there for the students and continue the conversation: This was about them, NOT me.
Other students joined in the discussion and I and assured them that I love and respect each one of them and everyone who Trump has said terrible things about. I showed my binder (which is covered in flags of different countries) to the students and told them to point to their flag because each one matters to me. After seeing their excitement from finding their countries on my binder, I asked each one to draw their flag on a piece of paper. As I saw smiles start to emerge on their faces, I promised them that I would fight for them and their rights, and that I would always be here if any of them wanted to talk more about their feelings, as they were all important. Some students thanked me, and some just leaned over on me or hugged me. I learned from the Contemporary Racism class that I had to meet people in a conversation where they were (this especially helped when having discussions with children- I didn’t want to say too much so I let them do most of the talking), let them feel their voices being heard, and assured them that their feelings are valid, especially because people often do not take children’s feelings seriously.
While I am still in shock by the results, today’s experience assured me that I could still make change, even if it is small. I must use the privilege I have to keep fighting, I am feeling so motivated, now more than ever, to pursue a career in which I can continue to fight for human rights.