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Post-election sentiments drive political rift between students
December 12, 2016
Whether it takes on the form of sly, side comments made in class or a Donald Trump impression over morning announcements, one statement is undeniable: post-election political tension is very much present in school. Since the morning of November 9, reactions to the election results have been clearly expressed through political attire. In doing so, students are exercising their First Amendment right of freedom of expression. However, in a school setting, this right has its limitations.
On the morning after the Presidential Election, senior Tyler Blight made a Trump impersonation to start off the day’s morning announcements- which upset many students.
“I just did an impression of him,” Blight said. “I was trying to make light of the situation and I think the administration and the school overreacted.”
However, Blight later agreed to apologize for – as he put it – “mocking” Trump over announcements.
Due to the visibly-upset reactions of many students, junior Taylor Murphy believed Blight’s Trump impression added on to the post-election tension present throughout the school.
“The day after that Tuesday when we came to school, there was a heaviness in the air and when the announcements came on with the Trump impression, there was a physical reaction and people were really upset and angry,” Murphy said.
As a disruptive expression of political sentiments, the administration deemed this interjection to be inappropriate and made an announcement apologizing to the students who may have been offended. According to principal Tom Mead, the administration must enact such limitations on the right of freedom of expression to uphold the school’s purpose of being a safe learning environment and to ensure that classrooms are not taken off task by such interruptions.
“I have to protect the learning environment from distractions and disruptions,” Mead said. “It might be something as mundane as asking that no announcements be made over the loud speaker during class time.”
Mead acknowledged the tension the school community may have been experiencing after the election. To specifically “address the tumult of the election results,” Mead sent out an email to parents on November 16 to express his hopes for moving forward.
“The few days after the election, there was a great deal of emotion in the building as a result of the culmination of a very difficult presidential campaign,” Mead said. “As I expressed in the call, it was my hope and my belief that we would get past that and that we would regain our bearing as a place of teaching and learning.”
Freedom of expression
The 2016 presidential election journey provoked a wide range of attire, from hats to safety pins. Students used their attire to express their reactions to the election results. Senior Stephen Dahlstrom, a supporter of president-elect Trump, noticed that more Trump supporters emerged after the election night, accessorized with political attire.
“Before the election, it was almost impossible to tell who was a Trump supporter,” Dahlstrom said. “They were hiding in the shadows, the silent majority. Then after the election I saw a lot of people come out of their shells with Trump shirts and hats.”
To show his support for Trump, sophomore Carter Rawstron wears a “Make America Great Again” hat to school, which is not well-received by some of his classmates. After the election, this political aggression heightened, where students were yelling at Rawstron to “burn the hat.” But this hostility and pressure fails to faze him from expressing what he believes in.
“Living in Massachusetts, a pretty liberal state, there’s going to be a lot of people telling me not to wear it, people hitting my hat off, but it doesn’t discourage me,” Rawstron said. “They can say that they don’t like it, and that’s their right, their freedom of expression, too.”
Rawstron firmly believes in his constitutional right to express his opinions through his attire.
“It’s my constitutional right, freedom of expression,” Rawstron said. “I support him so I should be able to wear and spread Trump’s message throughout the school.”
But similar to the assertion of political sentiments on morning announcements, freedom of expression also has some “specificity” in schools. The administration has to be sensitive to clothing that “distracts, disrupts, bothers, or interferes” with learning.
“It all has to do with the effect and perception of those that view it or who are in the presence of such attire,” Mead said. “The effect that would be triggered for actions to be taken would be if it causes a disruption or distraction to the learning environment.”
While expressing liberal views, junior Sofie Hopkins, along with Murphy, believes that students like Rawstron are justified in wearing Trump attire to school.
“I believe in wearing whatever you want because this is America, but they should be sensitive to other people’s views,” Hopkins said.
“Whoever they supported, they’re allowed to support them,” Murphy said. “This is America. That’s kind of the point: you have the right to follow what you please and that shouldn’t stop when you come to school.”
Some students are expressing political messages by attaching safety pins to their clothing. Along with activists across the country, they intend to show their solidarity with minority groups (which includes immigrants, women, and members of the L.G.B.T. community) who have been affected by Trump’s rhetoric throughout the campaign and now feel threatened by his election.
Sophomore Nicole Clark sports a safety pin to show her care and willingness to help those who feel vulnerable after Trump’s election.
“As a citizen, I feel like it is my job to help people who are struggling and to open people’s minds about it,” Clark said. “[Wearing safety pins] is an effective way to support the people directly through a symbol of hope. So for me, it’s just about being an ally and showing the world that I’m not going to let hate win.”
Improving the conversation
School is intended to be a place where all opinions are heard. Ideally, the school community should strive to be a welcoming body that allows for discussion and readily accepts the expression of thoughts, while, at the same time, being mindful and considerate of others’ opinions. Mead believes that this goal requires a collective effort.
“It’s not something that is directed by anybody, but it is a collective effort where students and teachers and staff are courteous and civil with each other,” Mead said. “So I think it’s incumbent upon everybody that comes here to this school to take some responsibility for their conduct, their actions, their attire so that we really have this organization-wide atmosphere and environment where nobody is discriminated against and nobody is made to feel uncomfortable.”
With this goal in mind, Mead hopes that the school comes together, voices their opinions, and has discussion, but that they do so in a courteous and civil way.