New Utrecht High School Students Fear Increase In Racism, Sexism Following Trump Election

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Jonathan, Veton, and Ksenia a block from their high school. Photo by Hannah Frishberg

Jonathan, Veton, and Ksenia a block from their high school. Photo by Hannah Frishberg

Despite Bensonhurst’s proud conservative values and largely Republican constituency — the area voted more Republican than anywhere else in New York City hold Staten Island — Bensonhurst’s New Utrecht High School was bleak yesterday morning, with teachers and students openly breaking down.

“In our English class it felt like we were coping with a death. It was that type of mood,” Veton Vucetaj, a senior at the school who grew up on the Boro Park-Sunset Park border, said.

Yet, in Veton’s economics class, there’s a hand drawn poster celebrating Trump’s candidacy with an illustration of an eagle perched atop a brick wall, evidence of a divide in politics within the school, as well as the neighborhood.

“It feels surreal,” Veton noted.

How Brooklyn voted, and how the district New Utrecht is located in voted, according to an election map created by DNAinfo

How Brooklyn voted, and how the district New Utrecht is located in voted, according to an election map created by DNAinfo

“One of our teachers said there’s no feeling of checks and balances,” added Jonathan (Jon) Davydov, a Boro Park resident, also a school senior, “I was just depressed the whole day. A lot of people feel like it’s a joke.”

According to the two, Trump supporters at New Utrecht have been a present and vocal minority since the beginning of his campaign last year. Some students even expressed their support by going as Trump for Halloween.

Still, though, the pockets of Trump support are far denser in Dyker Heights than New Utrecht’s corner of Bensonhurst.

“We have a large, diverse population at Utrecht,” Jon said proudly — but not everyone shares his pride.

According to the students, a lot of their Asian classmates face significant racism and bullying from some of their white peers, a mentality they feel is not specific to their school.

“Dyker Heights is very prominent with that mentality,” Veton said with a shake of his head, adding, “I go there sometimes and hang out, and the neighbors have this idea that the Chinese people are invading their neighborhood.”

The New Utrecht High School sports field and a mural. Photo by Hannah Frishberg

The New Utrecht High School sports field and a mural. Photo by Hannah Frishberg

It is in response to this already present racism especially, the students feel, that Trump’s election is so scary. “It’s scary that he might stand for that [racism]and his views are going to be even more polarizing,” New Utrecht senior Ksenia Novikova of Gravesend added.

“People see Trump as a bigot, and now that he’s won on a campaign of bigotry, people think it’s normal,” Jon noted.

All three students are 17 years old and were thus unable to vote in the election, but even if they were able to vote, they say they feel the system is such that their voices wouldn’t have mattered. Indeed, their family members, some of whom voted for Trump, don’t feel like their votes counted, despite their candidate being elected. Yet the legal right to cast their say would still be nice.

“This affects us so much,” said Ksenia, “Some say we’re too young to understand, but we’ve been keeping up with the election more than many adults. We should get the opportunity to participate in the process.”

The area surrounding New Utrecht High School was bleak the day following the election. Photo by Hannah Frishberg

The area surrounding New Utrecht High School was bleak the day following the election. Photo by Hannah Frishberg

Aspiring politicians, the three of them will not let their spirits be broken by what they and many of their fellow students feel is a turn for the worse in American government.

“Right now it’s difficult to unite,” Ksenia said, “but it’s something we have to do. It’s important for us to come together no matter what party we are.”

Despite the gloomy weather and overall despondency, most people appeared to be continuing their daily routines. Photo by Hannah Frishberg

Despite the gloomy weather and overall despondency, most people appeared to be continuing their daily routines. Photo by Hannah Frishberg

“He’s our president now,” Veton added, “maybe we should try and give him a chance.”

While the students have little ability to change the results of the election, they are focused on becoming more politically involved.

“There’s not really a lot of political activism these days, especially from liberals,” Jon said, “We’re trying to reverse that in our generation and get higher turnout, higher activism. Local elections are important too, but no one really pays attention to that.”

The quiet, residential area showed little upset. All the politics remain beneath the surface in these parts. Photo by Hannah Frishberg

The quiet, residential area showed little upset. All the politics remain beneath the surface in these parts. Photo by Hannah Frishberg

“Most people don’t even know who their senators are,” Ksenia added, “Change starts from the bottom up, especially with youth. In our school, there’s this attitude that I can’t vote, I can’t do anything.”

“We talked about it in almost every class, except math class,” Jon said. The reaction from students was mixed: in some classes, people shrugged off the presidential election with feelings that four years is a short time. Overall, however, people were pretty negative, and neither Jon, Veton, nor Ksenia feel all the attention being given to politics at the moment will actually serve to get people more involved.

“I think it’s a pseudo politicization,” said Veton, “people know it through popular culture but aren’t getting involved in it. They don’t go in depth about what Trump said, they just support it or are against it.”

Jon went further, saying the election has had a “less politicizing effect,” and that he feels “deflated”.

In an effort to change this, the three have formed a group, Young Organizers United to Help — Y.O.U.T.H. They have allies in larger city organizations like Democracy Matters, Citizen Action of New York, and New York Common Cause, all of which will be joining them for a November 12th demonstration in Columbus Circle from 2 to 4 p.m. in protest of the Citizens United decision of 2010, according to a press release the high school seniors wrote up for the event.

Even in terms of their own group, they’ve faced frustrating bureaucratic red tape which has prevented them from expanding to a chapter within their own school. Still, though, they remain motivated.

As we walked back to the school, one student recognized Veton and started cheering, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” but Veton only laughed. “He’s just joking,” he said and walked into the building.

Update: The photo of the three students in the back of a local bodega has been removed at the bodega owner’s request out of concern for being involved with politics at this time.

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About Author

Hannah Frishberg is a 4th generation Brooklynite and editor of the Bensonhurst Bean. You can reach her at editor@bensonhurstbean.com, via Twitter @BensonhurstBean or via the Bensonhurst Bean's Facebook.

  • Dovid Rosenbaum

    You should have asked some conservative students what they thought. This is shoddy, one-sided editorial masquerading as journalism. Now that you mention these teachers, I’ll be making a complaint about teachers trying to brainwash the students

    • Sean F

      What’s wrong with teachers discussing a Presidential election with students? We teach these kids about our country’s system of government from an early age. High schoolers can certainly handle a discussion of the effects of any election (if they can’t, our education system is in worse shape than I thought). When the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches are all controlled by one party, the system of checks and balances on which our nation was founded is clearly no longer effective (for the duration of this administration). The only aspect of this election that might be positive is that there is an element of the traditional Republican viewpoint that is at work in the Senate and House which may help temper some of President Trump’s more radical plans (if he pursues them at all – few politicians actually act on their campaign promises).

      • Drew B

        I agree with you that there should be nothing wrong with teachers discussing politics with their students, however, the teachers should never reveal their personal preference. Just like religion, politics, and income, this is something you don’t ‘discuss at the dinner table.’

        I must disagree with you, however, that the system of checks and balances is no longer effective. It is clearly effective, and the fact that the people voted for the representative the way that they did, shows that the people truly have a hand in our government’s decision making. It is the right of the people to vote, and if a political party wins in a landslide, it’s the decision of the people, not just one person’s opinion.

        • Sean F

          I can’t agree about not teachers not revealing personal preferences. It’s almost certain to come out – very few human beings have the capacity to discuss important topics like national politics without their tendencies coming forward. How do you explain things like checks and balances, or the different powers of the branches of government, if you are not using examples, which will almost always be expressed with some degree of pro or con? Having taught copyright law during the midst of the music industry’s anti-piracy lawsuit spree, I found it very difficult to balance my personal views on creator control vs. fair use from my students (college students, though, not high school).

          Well, actually, note that Hillary won the popular vote, and Trump the Electoral. So, really the people wanted Hillary in the WH, and the Republicans in control of Congress. We had that balance for 8 years, except we had obstructionist Republicans simply failing to govern, rather than working with the opposition, as they are are sworn to do.

          “I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the
          Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and
          domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I
          take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose
          of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of
          the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

          Note: it says “faithfully discharge the duties”, which means to discuss legislation in open sessions, revise and comment on it, and then vote. It does not mean “shut down any and all discussion of any concepts with which I do not agree”. Our Congress hasn’t been loyal to the Constitution in many years.

    • Drew B

      From my personal experience growing up in Bensonhurst, a good 95% of my peers did not know all of the facts that the politicans stand for, let alone many of their names – and I’ve been surrounded by some of the best public, as well as private, education that the state has to offer. This makes it easy for that one overly outspoken liberal/conservative teacher to gaslight these young children’s brains with the wrong “facts.” I’m afraid a lot of the kids get the wrong idea and many take these as their own in the long run.

      Personal preference in politics should not be disclosed by a teacher in my honest opinion, it creates too much conflict of interest in the classrooms and to be perfectly honest, a lot of these kids lack the spine to have an education conversation/debate using 100% facts. There’s been plenty of times that I’ve had disproven my teachers, and it always seemed to have created a personal rift in my education process because many teachers can’t accept the fact that they are not always right.

      • Sean F

        The problem lies with “facts”. During the campaign, Republicans noted that “Obama never raised the GDP more than 3% in any quarter”, which was a fact. Bush only raised it by 3% in two quarters of his 8 years in office, also a fact, but on the face of it, it looks impressive because Obama didn’t hit that percentage at all. Overall, Bush raised the GDP 1.8% total, and Obama 1.78% total (these are facts, taken from the same survey report by a non-partisan government agency).

        If you do the math, Obama’s 1.78% is actually a greater dollar figure than Bush’s 1.8% (for example, if I give you a dollar, and you earn 1.8% interest on it (or 18 cents), you pass along to me $1.18. I take that $1.18, and on it I earn 1.78% interest (or 21 cents), I pass along to the next guy $1.39. Therefore my earnings/growth was better than yours). Multiple this by trillions of dollars, and Obama’s GDP growth far outstrips Bush’s.

        Facts. The problem is not in having facts. It’s in how people interpret them, or choose to attack the source of the opposition’s facts.

        To put some reality on those numbers, we need to be pretty comfortable that no US President will ever hit 3% GDP growth again because the dollar figures are astronomically high now. Since Eisenhower, the top five GDP earners were 4 Democrats and Ronald Reagan. The bottom 6 were 5 Republicans and Obama.

  • Emerald5Forever

    I already had a feeling that Bensonhurst is more conservative than other parts of Brooklyn, but damn, it actually “voted more Republican than anywhere else in New York City hold Staten Island”?

    I feel for these kids, and they have reason to be scared if what they say about their fellow classmates’ having racist sentiments is true…which they likely do, unfortunately. I will even go so far as to say the latter probably learn this from parents or family members who are the same ones making bigoted statements on this website. Heck, no surprise if these kids post such things themselves.

    I hope that everyone will at least try to be more decent to each other; even if the color or race of a non-white person bothers certain people that much, please just stick to adage: “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.”

    • Emerald5Forever

      Honestly, this southern part of Brooklyn does not even feel like New York City sometimes…people choose racism over multiculturalism.

    • Sean F

      Mr. Trump has long depicted himself as a master dealmaker. I hope he
      brings those skills to the fore, and demonstrates for America and the
      world that much can be accomplished with discussion, negotiation and
      compromise. He has a unique opportunity to exercise those aspects of the
      Trump brand with his opponents on both sides of the aisle. If he’s as
      effective at bridge-building as his resume would imply, there is hope to
      be found in the election results.

      • Emerald5Forever

        Even so, as a minority I cannot help but be concerned about racial backlash from certain people who might feel suddenly empowered by Trump’s victory…this neighborhood’s hate for non-whites is already apparent and thinly-veiled; can you imagine what emboldened bigots might do or say?

        • Sean F

          I can imagine it, Emerald5Forever, and it pains me. But, please know that there are good folks of the white persuasion here who will have your back.

          I’m a white, straight, Christian, adult male, and I now feel like a minority in this country. (Please note that I am not trying to put myself in the same category as ethnic or religious minorities. I’m in a political minority, or at least, my fellow wsCams that failed to stand up for the rest of the people by not getting out the vote.)

        • It totally fucking sucks :’-(

          An “empowered” lady yelled “FUCKING CHINESE” at my parent today.

          Now I feel suddenly infuriated at Clinton’s loss.

        • Dorothy Berman

          I am white and Jewish and can never be a bigot.

          • Emerald5Forever

            Hi, Dorothy, I was not calling out all white people in Bensonhurst by my comment, as I know there are good and reasonable people here. However, as you and I are aware after reading BensonhurstBean.com comments, there are quite a few bad apples that give Bensonhurst a bad reputation of being home to bigots these days. I am expressing concern that Trump’s victory will make them even more hateful toward nonwhites, and give them an even more difficult time.

            I have noticed your comments defending minorities and am appreciative. Thanks for not conforming to the racist norm as well as standing against xenophobia.

  • Ksenia Novikova

    If anyone is interested in the Campaign Finance Reform protest, it will be at Merchants Gate 59th St-Columbus Circle this Saturday at 2 pm!!! https://www.facebook.com/events/209074769513001/

  • bklynlady

    Seriously?? Any person I know who came from, or whose parents came from any former Soviet bloc country or China and grew up under Communism absolutely hate Obama and Hillary. They lived under the type of society the Democrats want to create and “saw the movie the first time around” and laugh at Americans who strive to embrace socialist principles. Why didn’t the author interview Asian students if that is who will be discriminated against? BTW, the real discrimination of Asian students is when they are denied admission to schools because affirmative action and slots have to be given to less-qualified students! This article doesn’t ring true, or perhaps the students are encouraged to think this way due to the influence of their disgruntled teachers!

    • Sean F

      Interesting. Why would people who left a Communist nation want to live under the sort of totalitarian leader that Trump portrayed himself as during the campaign? (Personally, I’m hoping the smart businessman will show himself from under the hatred, and he’ll remember “the art of the deal” requires working with the opposition for the benefit of all).

      Sadly, what most people don’t realize is that the only reason socialism doesn’t work is because it has always been corrupted by wealthy interests who don’t want the poor to have advantages. Socialism as a concept didn’t start with Marx. It started as far back as a man named Jesus of Nazarath, who told us all to give away what we have to help those who have less; to feed to hungry; clothe the naked; comfort the poor; heal the sick, etc. If allowed to work, it benefits everyone, but too many people are too selfish to share in that manner.

      • bklynlady

        Socialism doesn’t work because people want the freedom to be compensated for their hard work, to uplift themselves from one economic strata to another, and to excel in their chosen field. Socialism doesn’t allow for any of this. We have to have something in order to give it away. If nobody has anything, there can be no charity. Every great institution in this country, from universities, hospitals, scientific research institutes, museums, concert halls, etc. are all supported by charity given by the so called “wealthy interests.” None of this would survive if it depended on money from the government. And who wants them involved anyway? So they can decide what we can see, what we can read, where we can go? There is a good reason why there has never been a successful socialist country. In theory it sounds good, but it goes against the grain of human individuality and nature.

        • Sean F

          Actually, no. Human beings are, by nature, gregarious, social and cooperative. We are only selfish by choice.

          True socialism doesn’t require that nobody has anything. It requires that those with more than enough share with those with less than enough. The top 20 billionaires in the world control $828 Billion dollars. Even if each of them kept *only* a Billion each, that’s a huge source of help to the poor to help feed them, clothe them, and cover their health costs. People who are not cold, hungry or ill are better consumers and better workers. It benefits everyone. And that’s just 20 people doing the right thing (I note that Bill Gates has my respect because he does plan to give his all away). Think about what we could achieve if we overcame personal selfishness.

          Socialism hasn’t worked because too many people are selfish and power hungry. Overcome that disgraceful aspect of humanity, and socialism would work amazingly well. If it wouldn’t, Christ wouldn’t have told us it was our goal for the future.

    • Some guy

      First they were brainwashed by Communists, now they are brainwashed by Republicans.

  • Jessica Pinto

    Am I the only one who noticed that the first sentence doesn’t make sense? Despite that they’re republican, they voted republican? Come on, people! And a couple weeks ago y’all posted a picture of L&B pizza with an article about a man jumping over the Verrazano bridge! Seriously you guys need to A) proofread, B) fact check, and C) double check what the hell you’re saying before you say it lol who are you even

    • Emerald5Forever

      The first sentence is correct. The dashes represent break in thought to elaborate on the idea that Bensonhurst votes Republican.

      I do agree that some of these articles have room for improvement in accordance to your three points though, lol. 🙂

  • Valeria Sowell

    I think we all need to take a lesson from the three unhappy students who took their frustration and anger to another level. They did something about how they felt. I applaud them on creating an organization and then partnering with other organizations that will support them in making change on a local level. I don’t know why people are so angry about the presidential results. What did you say or do to make where you live and work a better place? When was the last time you attended a community meeting? When was the last time you wrote a letter or made a phone call to your local officials? Then finally, Why did we wait to get serious about issues like immigration, housing, jobs, education, war etc., right before the election? Let US stop pointing fingers. Change starts in seed form at home and until this happens unfavorable results will be dealt. Let’s never forget and keep the momentum so that the next four years we will see change; that of course unless you want to see a New World Order. NO MORE EXCUSES about i have to work. What will you say when you have no job? Your Social Security and Pension is on the line as you sleep. Putting it mildly,(let’s get off our butts). You can be and do whatever you need to be and do if enough pressure is put on you. Sending all Love—

  • sshhhh

    In regards to Veton’s comment regarding neighbors who feel the Chinese are taking over Dyker Heights- it’s true in a broader sense. Many of the establishments that have closed down are eventually bought by the Chinese and converted into either a restaurant, shipping business, learning center, etc…some of these original establishments were owned by the initial inhabitors of the area..Russian Orthodox Jews, Italians…proof of this is along Fort Hamilton Parkway from the N train going up. I’m not complaining, it’s just something I’ve observed.

    We gotta stop branding things as racist, when simple observations about the movement and behavior of particular Races is noted.

    • well

      To these people: “if you can’t stand the heat, get the f*** out of the kitchen”. If you got no money to move — well, it sucks to be you!

    • lavendula

      [removed]

    • BachelorsButtons

      You write, “Some of these original establishments were owned by the
      initial inhabitors [sic] of the area..Russian Orthodox Jews,
      Italians…”

      Here’s where a history lesson is in order. Russian Orthodox Jews and Italians were NOT the “initial” inhabitants of the areas of which you speak; rather, they are just the current dominant groups.

      In fact, in the case of Dyker Heights, Italian Americans
      who are now the dominant folks in the area did not live in the
      neighborhood as developed in late 1890s by Walter L. Johnson. In fact, Johnson successfully removed the very small Italian immigrant community along 62nd street that was truck farming and raising goats. He didn’t want any “objectionable” features, as he put it in the Brooklyn Eagle at the time. It was only after massive immigration from the 1900-1920 period, subway lines taking people out from tenements in the city, etc. that Italian immigrants and their offspring eventually came to take over the whole area from the real white people who once lived here.

      So, yes, you can make a simple observation, which is well taken and as plain as saying the sky is blue. But, a little historic context helps to
      understand that there’s really nothing new happening under that blue
      sky… it’s all happened before… just different groups.

      • Sean F

        Let’s not forget that there were a large number of entirely non-white, non-European people who lived here before any other ethnicities.

  • Lynn K.

    I disagree with the statement about Bensonhurst voting Republican. The red area in the map is largely not Bensonhurst. It is Gravesend, Brighton & Manhattan Beach, Midwood, Borough Park, Howard Beach and parts of Dyker Height. Basically, these are Jewish and Italian strongholds, which does correlate with the national statistics of white voters going for Trump by the majority.

  • JS

    I’m kind of disappointed the math teacher didn’t bring the election into class. It would have been a great opportunity to demonstrate real world math!

    Teachers can bring elections into the classroom without making it about their personal opinions. It’s challenging for certain, but it is possible. What is the Electoral College? Who set it up and why? Do you think this is a good idea or not? Reading editorials and discussing the mechanics of how to make a persuasive argument. You don’t have to agree with the content of the editorial, but does it succeed as a piece of writing? What could this writer have done to make the piece even more successful? Even as some commenters have been discussing below, what exactly is Socialism? What is Capitalism? Communism? How do they differ? Interviewing older people in the community who grew up in the Soviet Union or its satellites, China, Italy, etc. So many opportunities to demonstrate how learning matters and is applicable, not just some abstract thing in a textbook or a worksheet.

    While I disagree with Dovid about both the intentions of the teachers and the writer, I do think it would have been a good idea to interview some conservative students.

  • FormerAsianStudent

    Has the gym teach who calls Chinese students “orientals” been FIRED yet?

  • Cannabus Jeff

    Give the backward Republicans a science book & watch them have a nervous breakdown, maybe it’s their 19th.ha, ha, ha, baa, baa, baa.

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