The SPLC counted hundreds of racially charged incidents after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, too. It’s hard to say how the numbers compare: The organization didn’t collect that data comprehensively, said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the SPLC, “because [such a response] was quite unexpected,” and 2008 was the first time that he had noted a spike in reported attacks after an election. Still, reports of bias attacks lessened in the third week after the 2008 election, and the SPLC is already noticing a similar downward trend this year. FBI data also shows that schools have become safer for all groups and that hate crimes overall have declined in the past decade.
What’s noteworthy this year, however, is that the hate crimes and bias attacks are being conducted in the name of a president-elect—not against one. The SPLC’s data tracker even has a new category for vandalism or intimidation that is done in explicit support of Trump. “The majority of what we are seeing is people saying it is in his name,” said Nathaniel Manning, the COO of Ushahidi, which makes nonpartisan election-monitoring software that recently added a post-election reporting function to track and vet reports of violence, harassment, and protest. The Anti-Defamation League has also been watching a post-election trend in anti-Semitic and racist graffiti and speech and reports similar findings, with Oren Segal, who directs the Center on Extremism at the ADL, echoing Manning’s observations.
Students who are Muslim or immigrants are particularly anxious, expressing to school counselors and teachers fears of being harassed. Students in some schools stayed home, while others came to school to hear classmates say, “you can’t come to school anymore; we are going to build a wall,” said Kathy Cowan of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). LGBT youth have also expressed heightened fears. Hotlines for gay and transgender youth saw a spike in calls on Wednesday: The number of calls to Trans Lifeline, for example, tripled, with many callers explicitly citing the election, according to Greta Martela, the transgender hotline’s executive director.
Last Wednesday, NASP sent a letter to all its members—school counselors and mental-health staff, as well as district leaders—giving advice for how to maintain “safe, supportive, and positive school environments” by telling children that they will be okay. The association had never before issued such a letter after an election; Cowan says that it was a response to members’ requests and would have been issued based on the volume of requests—even if the outcome of the election had gone the other way.
School-based mental-health professionals, according to Cowan, were “reporting two things: kids coming to them in heightened states of distress and kids being harassed. We were not responding to the outcome of the election but to the heightened emotional state of the country.” Indeed, according to principals and superintendents, there was no need to send a letter post-election in previous election years because they didn’t see the same concerns back then.