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Teaching Adolesence

Sanctioned Intolerance


By Riana Elyse Anderson



By Riana Elyse Anderson


​The presidential election of 2016 was an unprecedented battle between two unlikely contenders. In one corner, a political veteran​ who, like many other seasoned career politicians, had an assorted history with stances on major issues (e.g., criminal reform, etc.). In the other, a businessman who had influenced politics (e.g., the “birther movement”, etc.) but had never formally made his way into the ring. In the divisiveness that marked the election, rhetoric of yore was regurgitated as were new promises for the improvement of our nation.


In the weeks after the election, the process of “unifying” our nation was set to begin. The winner of the electoral college vote attempted to hush chants at rallies and pull back on the hyperbole of campaign promises to reduce the extremism launched on the election trail of the prior year.


However, data from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) painted a wildly different picture of what was actually happening in the everyday lives of youth in the days immediately following the election.


Of the 10,000 teachers, counselors, and administrators who responded to an online survey hosted* by the SPLC, over 2,500 cited specific incidents–including bullying, verbal taunting, and written messages–in the classroom or school environment related to the election (i.e., build the wall, deportation, etc.). As a former educator, it is challenging for me to think about what lesson 25% of students would get within a week – surely not my attempt at conveying what an apostrophe is used for, exponential equations, or the method by which two elements form a compound.


Yet, within a week of the election, youth around the country were conveying hatred towards each other that mapped onto the marginalized identities attacked during the campaign. Teachers indicated that this behavior was new and brazen. And why would it not be? If the behaviors were sanctioned by the soon-to-be top elected official in our country, why would youth not behave similarly? (Social Learning Theory, anyone? Break it down Meryl Streep.)


With the impending transition of the president-elect and his cabinet, we have to think about ways to encourage youth to fight against the intolerance bubbling up in our nation.


First, we have to listen to them. Some youth have taken a stance against the divisive bullying and are primed to be a force within their generation as they continue to develop.


Second, we have to make our research come alive. From a rich research and practice tradition developed in the 1960s, I am emerging as a third generation Black Psychology scholar who is dedicated to translating the foundational research from our predecessors. We know what discrimination and other forms of bullying can do to youth and, while conducting basic research on these topics is important, we cannot let our crucial findings remain within academic silos. If we are writing with individuals and communities in mind, we should use our findings to inform prevention programs, create easy to digest readings for families and schools, and supply fact-based policy briefs for lawmakers.


Finally, we have to make our voices as citizens heard. Regardless of who you voted for, the verbal and physical abuse of youth is intolerable. Our political activism is critical to overcoming a future of citizens pitted against one another and their international peers. Whether you march, write, call, teach, meditate, gather, or mentor, there are many ways to shape the way our society operates.


What may appear to be just a bit of post-election strife may grow to be a full-blown shift in our youth’s ideology.  As history has shown us, the first step in this shift is propaganda. Then the creation of division. Then widespread violence. And, while ​only wild speculation could ever​ imagine it to be the case in countless civil ​and international ​wars (e.g., Rwanda, Syria, Germany​ in WWII​, etc.), the final step is something much more gruesome than I hope to ever experience in the US. We are gatekeepers of knowledge on youth behavior and beliefs – now let’s do something about it.



*Non-representative sample comprised of educators subscribed to the Teaching Tolerance newsletter


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