My heart pounded in my chest as the electoral college number creeped toward Donald Trump’s column. It was 3 a.m., my cat curled against my side as I looked to Facebook for solace and CNN for information. When John Podesta told us to go to bed, I knew it was over. I trudged upstairs, hoping a miracle would happen overnight, like when you find $20 in your jeans pocket. I cried to my husband, my mind whirring about how I would talk about this with my high school students. How would I, as a white woman, explain how white America voted against them, my beautiful, intelligent, compassionate, students of color? The LGBTQ+ students I advise in our gay/straight alliance?
After asking for help on Facebook, I came to these conclusions:
- It was a day to listen. During the riots in Ferguson, when I felt just as helpless, a wise, African-American colleague told me to just listen. That advice has never failed me since.
- Art heals, so I’d give my high schoolers space to create.
- We would do a lesson in communication skills, practicing “I feel” statements.
I arranged my tables in a rectangle and covered the surfaces with long strips of butcher block paper. I put out markers and a talking piece for the circle we would have. It was a small, orange pumpkin. Orange, the color of the solar plexus chakra, of creativity. Seemed fitting.
I invited each student to sit where they were comfortable and to do their warm up in Google Classroom: How are you today? What’s on your mind? Answers ranged from tired, hungry, and fine, to expressions of sadness and fear over the election of Donald Trump as their president.
Then I talked to them about how their feelings are never, ever wrong, despite the messages they might get from other people. I told them about times people were successful in calling me a troublemaker when I was expressing concerns over a loved one and how I have learned to ignore that and speak my truth. Then I added how no matter how we feel, we have to do our best to treat people with respect.
I asked for a “tough” student volunteer. I was clear what I was going to say wasn’t true, but to go with it.
Me: I am going to say two sentences to you. What is the effect of each one? Jose, you are annoying. Jose, I feel that you are annoying.
Typical Student Answer: When you say I’m annoying, it makes it sound like the whole world thinks I’m annoying, that it’s true. But when you say you feel that I’m annoying, I know it’s your opinion only.
So we passed the orange pumpkin around the circle, each person having the opportunity to say what was on their minds using “I feel” statements. Some shared, some passed, all listened.
Is this a real pumpkin? (because ninth graders)
I feel angry.
I feel that it’s not right for the president to think it’s OK to touch women without their consent.
I think Trump might do good things, but I’m nervous because my brother is a Marine.
We have to come together.
I feel unsafe.
I feel unsafe. That was the word that, by 7th period, had me in tears.
We have an awesome responsibility to do our best to offer safety to each other. An ear to listen, open eyes, open hearts. We are responsible for standing up for each other, even when it makes someone else uncomfortable.
….it’s OK to tell people their vote makes you sad, makes you uncomfortable. That you feel disappointed. That they have to accept responsibility for their vote. That their vote for Trump was a vote for bigotry.
Just remember those “I feel” statements.
I’ll leave you with some of my students’ artwork. I hope I served them well today.
Onward in hope.