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School Counselors Explain How They’re Dealing with ‘Frightening’ New Threats

Sarah Hagi

Photo by Jovo Jovanovic via Stocksy

Following Trump's victory in the US election, thousands of high school students have walked out of their classes in protest: Teenagers in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Boulder, Des Moines, and Seattle have all taken to the streets in the past week. While most high school students weren't able to vote, many are already grappling with the repercussions of a Trump presidency, from racist bathroom graffiti to students shouting racist and homophobic slurs. Faced with increased violence and unrest, many students and counselors are wondering how to deal with a newly amplified threat.

For many counselors, a Trump presidency poses a unique problem. Zahra*, a counselor at a New York City high school, tells Broadly the majority of students at her school were in fear after hearing the election results. "Being that 60 percent of our population is undocumented immigrants, they are extremely terrified of being deported," she says. In a recent 60 Minutes interview, Trump confirmed he plans to deport 2 to 3 million undocumented immigrants, though he did not reveal how or when—meaning counselors can only reassure children so much.

There's also the issue of increased bullying against the marginalized communities Trump targeted in his campaign. In a general sense, students who are the most susceptible to bullying are students of color and LGBTQ students. In a recent study, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) revealed, "LGBTQ students, gender nonconforming students, youth of color, and female students experienced higher rates of overall peer victimization." These students are likely to be targets of cyberbullying, threats of violence, and sexual harassment overall when compared to other students.

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Mariam*, a black high school student from Minnesota, tells Broadly that the political climate at her school makes her feel "like a target." Mariam also emphasizes that she's not alone in her fear: "I personally feel like every minority feels that way. It's really frightening."

Some counselors are proactively working to make sure that students of color and LGBTQ students know they have somewhere to turn in the coming months and years. The day after Trump was elected, Josh*, a high school counselor in San Francisco put up an LGBTQ Safe Space sign as well as a No Human Being is Illegal sign on their office door. "I have had students come to me about both of these topics in the past, but I wanted to be explicit," they explain.

Despite some schools' best efforts to encourage kids to report bullying, generally instances go unreported to school administrations. According to Seattle-based organization Committee for Children, most children who don't report bullying believe adults don't intervene. Zahra has been actively engaging students to feel secure coming forward before problems hit.

"We do group counseling," they explain. "We sit in a circle and discuss our thoughts and feelings on the specific topic." Last week, Zahra consciously brought up the election results. Students enjoy group settings, she explains, because they feel less alone in their struggles and "it allows for them to listen to each other's views." Josh also echoed the need for being proactive and speaking to the students most affected by Trump's rhetoric and proposed policies: "For me and my colleagues at my school, the last couple of days have had more to do with strategizing how we counsel certain portions of our population going forward."

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Mariam still believes there's only so much her school is willing to do, and she emphasizes that administrators need to change the curriculum to make minority students feel valued. "Also, they [the administration] have to hear us out without a white person giving their personal opinion on how we should act." So far, she adds, her school hasn't reached out to any minority students regarding the election results. "Trump promotes racism, sexism, xenophobia and other cowardly ideologies—why can't we touch base on that?" she wonders

Despite receiving no support from her school administration, Mariam plans on continuing to oppose the racist ideas Trump has promoted. "We can't give into the idea that we are not valued or that there is nothing to fight for," she affirms. "We have everything to fight for."

* Names have been changed.