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Teaching Tolerance initiative inspires students to write Donald Trump

Days before Donald Trump takes office as the 45th president of the United States, hundreds of students across America offered advice to the president-elect as part of an initiative by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project.

The #StudentsSpeak initiative, launched in November after the highly divisive presidential election, encouraged teachers to ask students in grades K-12 to submit their advice to the president-elect. Students responded with essays, letters, drawings and other art – and shared it all on social media. Teaching Tolerance mailed more than 1,000 submissions to the president-elect. They are expected to be delivered to Trump Tower in New York City this week.

“We wanted students to know that even though most of them were unable to vote in the presidential election, they can still make their voices heard,” said Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen Costello. “The #StudentsSpeak initiative offered a productive way for students to share their thoughts with the new president. It was also an opportunity for students to process their emotions after a contentious election that affected children as well as adults.”

Many students advised Trump to choose his words carefully before speaking. They also encouraged the president-elect to use the power of the presidency to better the country for everyone. A compilation of student submissions can be viewed on Facebook.

Here are a few examples of what the students had to say:

“The advice I would [give] to President-elect Trump: Think before you speak because you can really hurt people.”

“My advice would be to not have your actions only be based on how you live your life but how everyone else lives theirs. You have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You have to realize that every one of your actions can affect so many people’s lives in a major way.”

“My advice to [P]resident-elect Trump is to not hang with racists and not build a wall between America and Mexico.”

“Please make America a place where girls can walk around not afraid.”

“Use the power of your role in this nation to better it and to eliminate the sense of separation in the world. To create a country where we can really say we are free. After all, your slogan is to make America great again. And I believe many people would love to see that happen.”

The election also inspired three winners of the 2016 Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching to write a letter to the president-elect. The teachers called on Trump to “be a president for all Americans.”

“Our students represent the great breadth of diversity in this nation, and each student should feel valued, welcomed and loved,” they wrote. “Comments and actions that undermine our commitment to equity and inclusion are and always will be swiftly condemned and reversed. We hope our classrooms can serve as models for our nation at large. We hope that you, too, will set an example for the people of our nation.”

The educators also encouraged Trump and his administration to engage educators in a productive dialogue about how the nation can move forward and support all children. A video of the teachers reading the letter aloud can be viewed here.

In late November, Teaching Tolerance reported that 90 percent of educators who responded to its online survey about the impact of the presidential election on schools said that their school’s climate has been negatively affected by it. Eighty percent described heightened anxiety and concern among minority students worried about the impact of the election on their families.

The report, After Election Day, The Trump Effect, also found an increase in the use of slurs and derogatory language, along with disturbing incidents involving swastikas, Nazi salutes and Confederate flags. More than 2,500 teachers said they knew of fights, threats, assaults and other incidents that could be traced directly to election rhetoric.