“We must teach each child the values of empathy and communication that are at the core of the kindness, mindfulness, integrity, and leadership, which can only be taught by example.”
Those words were spoken by First Lady Melania Trump two months ago at the United Nations. Does she know who her husband is?
In Virginia and across the country, educators have been reporting a disturbing rise in hate-filled bullying among students of all ages, from the youngest in grade-school to college students. While bullying has a long history in American classrooms, the current surge stands out both for the similarity of its targets—Muslim students, immigrants and children of immigrants, children of color, girls, Jews—and the language used against them. And educators have a shared theory as to the cause: Donald Trump and the degraded discourse of our society.
The evidence is abundant. Indeed, the Southern Poverty Law Center has concluded the “Trump effect” is helping to create “an alarming level of fear and anxiety” in children and “inflaming racial and ethnic tensions” in America’s classrooms.
According to the Virginia Department of Education, there were 2,694 incidents of bullying during the 2015-2016 school year. Bullying certainly isn’t isolated to the commonwealth. This past June, BuzzFeed reported that it confirmed 54 cases across 26 states, including a number of incidents in which students were harassed with references to Trump’s proposed border wall.
In one incident reported by BuzzFeed, a third grader chased a Latina student around the classroom yelling “build the wall!” In another, an eighth grader said to a black classmate: “Now that Trump won, you’re going to have to go back to Africa, where you belong.” The Commonwealth has taken some action recently, passing legislation this summer. HB 1709 was introduced by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax). It requires school principals to notify the parent of any student involved in an alleged incident of bullying of the status of any investigation within five school days of the allegation. Still, much more work needs to be done.
“Bullying is only getting worse and it’s driving young children to suicide,” says Miranda Bash, a QMHP A-C (qualified mental health professional) in Richmond. Parents don’t always know everything about their children. I say that from experience.”
Many families across the Commonwealth can relate. One Richmond family, originally from Mexico, have reported that their son has been taunted frequently at school. Being called a “churro,” getting threatened with “the wall;” this is the environment children are forced to deal with now.
All too often, these children suffer in silence. One local songwriter, Tyler Layne, is trying to change that.
“In high school, I went through a lot of bullying,” Layne told me in our interview. “Being bullied in school and online, put a lot of pressure on me,” Tyler kept everything he was dealing with inside, knowing things could get worse, “I just didn’t want to talk about it.”
Things did indeed get worse, with Layne dealing with worsening depression, “I just didn’t value my life.” By junior year of high school, Layne “didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.” Fast forward two years, and Layne began work on his latest single, “Breathe.”
“The song is me reflecting on that time in my life,” he said. Layne told me that by sharing his story, he can hopefully make people more comfortable sharing theirs. In fact, “Breathe” is Layne’s first time sharing his story, “even to my parents.” With this song, the songwriter wants people to know “it’s okay to not be okay.” To stress that point, Layne teamed up with the “Buddy Project,” a movement that aims to prevent suicide and self-harm by pairing people as buddies and raising awareness for mental health. Tyler started a chapter of the project at VCU. Together, they’re aiming to decrease the suicide rate by 20 percent by 2025.
Unfortunately, Trump is still president, with impressionable children everywhere seeing everything he does. First Lady Melania Trump, speaking at the U.N. this September, said, “By our own example, we must teach children to be good stewards of the world they will inherit.” As she should know, that lesson starts at home.
Top photo credit: Huffington Post