SEATTLE – A Seattle high schooler recently penned an editorial for The Seattle Times about the political bias at the wildly liberal Roosevelt High School, and the lessons she learned about tolerance from a Trump supporter.
Olivia Capestany, a senior at Roosevelt, explained the devastation she and her classmates experienced following Donald Trump’s historic election win over Hillary Clinton in last year’s election, and how a visit from a 22-year-old former student and Trump supporter changed her perspective on political discourse.
The day after Clinton’s embarrassing defeat, “students showed up to school in black clothing, saying they were mourning the loss of intelligence in this country,” Capestany wrote.
“Some were in tears, hugging and holding each other in the hallways. My school had a total of three walkouts with a large portion of the school participating, myself included.
“So when our journalism teacher invited Forest Machala – a 22-year-old Trump supporter and former Roosevelt student – to visit our class, we were surprised, to say the least.”
Journalism teacher Christine Roux said she invited Machala because “I thought it would be a good opportunity for (students) to talk … with someone who honestly and openly walked into Roosevelt with a red hat on.”
Capestany wrote “it’s rare to see anyone who is openly Republican at Roosevelt High School in Northeast Seattle,” so “when a man wearing a Make America Great Again hat walked into our journalism class, we all thought it was a joke.”
They soon learned otherwise.
Roux allowed students who were too emotionally fragile to listen to Machala to leave, and about half of the class opted out. Capestany decided to stay.
“I was devastated from the election because I supported Clinton, and I wasn’t sure if I could handle talking with a Trump supporter,” she wrote. “But my curiosity outweighed my fears and I decided to stay – until I heard Machala say that his faith in Trump didn’t falter after the release of the Access Hollywood tape, which shows Trump making misogynist comments about women.
“I was so upset, I had to run out of the room to calm myself down,” Capestany wrote.
She soon came to her senses.
“After a few minutes of deep breaths, I realized that he felt as strongly about his beliefs as I do about mine and I should respect him,” Capestany wrote, adding that her Cuban American family felt strongly about free speech, a privilege that’s not afforded Cuba.
“I returned and continued to participate in the conversation,” she wrote.
Amazingly, Capestany survived the ordeal, and it even opened her eyes to a serious problem at her school.
“I never realized how little political diversity there was in my school, and it opened my eyes to the fact that there were probably other students who, like Machala, were loyal to Trump but too afraid to speak up,” Capestany wrote.
“In the months that followed, I started to notice a one-sidedness in class discussions and my peers using the word Republican as an insult. I think behavior is harmful. As teenagers, out political opinions are constantly changing. Every high school should foster a safe environment for student to learn and grow politically. And that should start on the most fundamental level – with encouraging respectful conversations.”
The conversation with Machala, however, did not impact her liberal classmates the same way.
“At Roosevelt, tensions between Republicans and Democrats reached a boiling point. Friendships were broken and all fifty of the posters advertising the school’s Republican club were ripped down. Many Republicans at Roosevelt ended up feeling even more isolated and afraid to speak out,” she wrote.
Junior Maddy Hoffman, who spoke to the student newspaper about why she supported Trump, was ridiculed, with students shouting “Make America Great Again” and “Build a wall” at her in the hallways, treatment she told Capestany felt “like harassment.”
The leaders of the school’s Republican Club were also assaulted and belittled by their classmates.
Some teachers even joined in.
“Some teachers weren’t helping matters,” Capestany wrote. “Six students told me that their teachers belittled Trump supporters and handed out fliers for the walkout after the election.”
But Hoffman and some of the schools other conservative students have managed to change the dynamic. Hoffman launched the Debate Society to foster new perspectives and promote political tolerance.
The Political Discussion Club and Republican Club held an open debate with similar goals in mind.
“Both leaders say the discussion went well and there are more planned in the future,” Capestany concluded. “Going into my senior year, I hope to encourage respectful and robust debates in my classes and maybe participate in several of the new clubs.
“Although the clubs are just starting to change the climate at Roosevelt,” she wrote, “these students may have found a solution – simply listening to each other.”