Virginia middle schools in areas that went for Trump in 2016 are reporting higher rates of bullying and teasing
If you’ve been feeling like the world is generally a “meaner” place since the 2016 election, your feeling is spot-on — research now shows that areas that voted for Donald Trump show higher rates of teasing and bullying in school. Which means it’s effecting not only us, but our children.
Educator and writer Jill Barshay explains what’s behind research done by Dewey Cornell, a national expert in school violence and bullying at the University of Virginia, and Francis Huang, an expert in quantitative research techniques at the University of Missouri. Their research focused on Virginia, a battleground state that went 49.8% for Hillary Clinton and 44.4% for Donald Trump.
The pair tracked rates of bullying in middle schools using surveys given to 150,000 seventh and eighth-grade students in Virginia before and after the election. They mapped those results to how the election turned out — and the results, while disturbing, are not entirely surprising.
In 2017, rates of bullying and teasing were “significantly higher” in school districts in areas that went for Donald Trump versus districts that voted for Hillary Clinton. Judging by similar surveys in 2013 and 2015 showing no difference in Republican and Democratic communities, the results are pretty telling.
As far as the ages where bullying was a bigger issue? It’s all about the middle schools. In GOP districts, bullying rates were 18 percent higher compared to districts that voted for Clinton. An average of 20 percent of middler schoolers in GOP areas reported being bullied while the average for Democratic districts was 17 percent.
Most disturbing of all? Teasing based on race or ethnicity was nine percent higher in GOP districts. And we don’t need to wonder too hard to figure out why that’s happening.
Jonathan Cohen, past president of the National School Climate Center and an adjunct professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, who read Cornell and Huang’s research (which is still in preliminary draft form) shared his comments at a forum on school bullying this past April. He had the following to say: “This study is confirming that Trump is actually having an effect on America’s children,” he says. “It’s not surprising. I’ve been hearing this in conversations I’ve been having with superintendents across America, an increase in students being mean and intentionally cruel, especially to immigrants.”
I know my own kids (and I live in a very blue county in a very blue state) have told me stories of some of their elementary-aged peers talking about “building the wall” and “keeping the bad people out.” It’s simply horrifying that this is now part of the national conversation — and that it’s effecting our kids.
Cohen also points out that it’s not just Trump himself that makes the areas that voted for him more likely to have kids that bully. He says, “It’s Trump in partnership with the local community. If we have a large segment of the parent community who are connected to racist, anti-immigrant sentiment, then Trump is giving permission to these people to give voice to that sentiment.”
The findings are in step with prior research done by the Southern Poverty Law Center, who have been surveying teachers and tracking hate incidents at schools all over the country. Back in 2016, they discovered through the teachers they communicated with that anti-immigrant sentiment was on the rise in schools.
“There is a boy from Mexico, who is a citizen, who is terrified that the country will deport him if Trump wins,” wrote one teacher. “He is also scared that kids and grown-ups can and will hurt him.” Maureen Costello, director of the Teaching Tolerance project of the Southern Poverty Law Center says, “Students would chant, ‘Build the wall,’ or ‘Trump, Trump, Trump,’ and aim those chants at Latinos.”
Costello also points out that this brand of bullying is pretty unique to Trump’s election. “People described it as testosterone-drenched emboldened bullying behavior. I cannot recall a time when political slogans were used in schools to harass or threaten other people.”
Barshay tells Scary Mommy that the researchers initially wanted her to wait on writing about their findings until the paper was finalized and published, but she felt the topic was too important to wait. She also expressed surprise that the results basically matched the stories we’ve all heard about bullying post-Trump. “As a journalist who covers research and data, I usually try to find analyses that challenge our conventional wisdom. Unfortunately, this is a case where the data confirms the anecdotal evidence,” she says.
The research for 2018 isn’t complete yet, but Costello says the anti-immigrant bullying is still happening — so we can guess what the depressing results will be.
This is America and America’s kids now. Are we great again yet?