Scenes of uncertainty: Beaverton area students walk out, come together, reflect after election
Across the Beaverton School District, students from marginalized groups reacted viscerally to Donald Trump's recent presidential victory. They were afraid for themselves and for their families. They were afraid they'd face more harassment than ever.
Fear. Anguish. Uncertainty.
Across the Beaverton School District, students from marginalized groups reacted viscerally to Donald Trump's recent presidential victory.
They were afraid for themselves and for their families. They were afraid they'd face more harassment than ever.
According to some reports, their fears were not entirely unfounded. Across the nation, schools reported an increase in bullying and harassment after the election.
The Southern Poverty Law Center collected over 400 reports of post-election harassment and intimidation. Over a fifth of those incidents occurred in K-12 schools and overwhelmingly targeted minorities. The most commonly reported incidents were anti-immigrant, anti-black, anti-LGBT and anti-Muslim.
Students from at least four schools Beaverton High School, Westview High School, Arts & Communication Magnet Academy and the International School of Beaverton staged walkouts on Monday.
At some schools, extra counseling support was provided for students dealing with overwhelming fear for themselves and their families.
A number of teachers reassured their students that their schools are safe communities. Some helped students understand the results and their implications, providing context on the balance of power and the different between campaign rhetoric and policy.
Many local students raised the voices over the week, sharing what they're experiencing and how they hope to move forward.
Student activists refuse to be silenced
Beaverton High School junior Ruth Ataliah Teston doesn't always feel like she's heard.
"Everyone looks at people our age and thinks we have no idea what's going on, when actually we're more aware than what people give us credit for," said Teston, a member of the school's Multicultural Student Union. "People try to silence us about things that affect our future."
On Monday, she helped lead around 75 students in a walkout that began at 10 a.m., making rounds through school hallways and around the campus perimeter before fizzling out when the lunch bell rang.
Students chanted phrases such as "Silence is violence," hoping to get their voices heard even though most of them weren't old enough to vote.
After the walkout, students said, Beaverton Principal Anne Erwin made an announcement over the intercom, reminding students who were protesting to do so respectfully and without disrupting learning for others; some students who did not participate in the walkout said they could hear loud chanting in the hallways during their classes.
It wasn't the first demonstration at BHS this year. In May, Beaverton students staged another walkout to protest the actions of a student at Forest Grove High School who put up a sign reading Build a Wall.
"For me, I feel like it affects us, because at the end of the day, we all deserve equality and rights," said senior Demareae Luster.
Sharing testimony to heal
Aloha High School sophomore Aisha Osman sat in her dimly lit living room, reading a handwritten entry from her journal.
"As a young Muslim American, I've been called unimaginable things. As a young Muslim American, I was told to go back to where I came from, though I was born here in the United States," she read from a speech she was set to deliver at a young speaker's group.
Earlier this year, Osman traveled to Washington, D.C., where she was invited to speak at the White House after writing a letter to President Barack Obama about being bullied for her race and religion.
Osman's parents immigrated to the United States from Somalia before she was born. As a Muslim-American who wears the hijab, a religious headscarf, she's faced harassment from peers and strangers alike.
After speaking at the White House, she felt a sense of catharsis, a sense things might change for her. But she isn't so sure anymore.
The day after the election, she got off a bus with her aunt, who also wears a hijab, when someone drove by and yelled an epithet at them.
Later that day, she learned that her 12-year-old sister, who lives in Des Moines, Iowa, was called a terrorist by classmates at school.
"I feel like now, people feel they can say anything they want," said Osman.
She carries forth with strength, hoping to become a human rights activist in the mold of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammed Ali or Mahatma Gandhi.
"I'm going to speak out," said Osman, looking up with defiance from her notebook.
Fighting for love
On Monday afternoon, Grace Hardyn joined well over 100 classmates at the Arts & Communication Magnet Academy who walked out to voice their opposition to President-elect Trump.
The prospect that a Trump-appointed Supreme Court that might reverse a national right to same-sex marriage keeps her up at night.
"I'm lesbian. Him becoming president, we might not be able to marry who we love," said Hardyn. "It scares the crap out of us, and it's not fair that we as teens need to live in fear."
Student protesters made several laps around campus, chanting "Donald Trump, go away, racist, sexist, anti-gay," and "Not my president."
Before students began walking out, ACMA principal Michael Johnson reminded students that they needed to stay on campus. Many were middle schoolers at the 6-12 arts school.
When Johnson heard that students were organizing a peaceful protest, he and other members of the administration decided that students wishing to express their political views should be allowed to do so, under staff supervision.
"Our number one concern is for the safety of our students ... As long as they don't disturb others' learning, it's their right to peacefully demonstrate, and we wanted to allow them to exercise that right," said Johnson.
A dream, yet again, deferred
"I came to this country because of picture books of little kids throwing Frisbees," junior Sam Karlin told fellow students attending a Black Student Union meeting at Westview High School. "Seeing the kids in the picture books, it gave me hope. Kids playing ... That's what America's about.
"People come here for a better life. That's why I came here," said Karlin.
Karlin was born in Haiti and is a survivor of the 2010 earthquake that devastated his birth country. He was adopted and moved to the United States in 2011.
During the meeting on Monday, Karlin and other students wondered how long their American Dream might be deferred.
"When I get here, it's not what I expected," said Karlin, full of defeat. "The 'American Dream,' there isn't one."
Club president Miryana Chirimwami, a junior, led fellow students through a Socratic seminar-format meeting, allowing open-ended questions to guide the discussion. Students discussed race, political identity and alienation.
"I know this dude who helps migrants come to America, basically, and after the election, he posted a bunch of text messages from the people he was helping, and it's just them saying like, they was just frightened for their lives," said Karlin. "They came all this way just to get bullied out."
Schools supporting students
"Stay in Mexico."
With a tremble in his voice, Westview senior Hector Miranda recounted the words hurled at him in recent weeks.
He's still reliving the emotions he felt on Nov. 9.
"I was heartbroken. Now I wake up every morning and I feel something in my heart, and it hurts," said Miranda. "That day, I had a mental breakdown. I had to go to a counselor."
He wasn't alone, said Westview counselor Jen Bailey.
"The day after the results, I would say every counselor had students in their office all day long," said Bailey. "We really did, as a team, have to problem-solve and figure out, how are we going to respond."
In response to what students were experiencing, the school set up a safe room for students who needed a place to escape during the day. It was unprecedented following an election; safe rooms are generally used to deal with grief and loss, such as when someone at a school passes away.
Miranda hopes he can help effect change on a small scale.
"We should volunteer and get more involved in local government, so we can build up the America that we want," he said.