Election Spurs Safe Spaces

By Brooke Schultz
News Editor
In Daly 107, students, faculty, and staff members assembled into a circle, each taking turns introducing themselves, and stating why they were there.
The same few words kept being repeated: fear, sadness, anxiety, and President-elect Donald Trump.

This was the inaugural meeting of Citizens Against Trump, a group quickly assembled by senior Ian Briggs and sophomores Ben Weinstein and Madi Shenk.img_2877
“The three of us were in class together with Professor Kevin Brien, who was here [at the assembly] today, and we were just talking in class for probably the first half hour, just really kind of stunned about what happened. We felt very hopeless, but also we just wanted to do something,” Weinstein said.
After their class on Thursday, Shenk, Briggs, and Weinstein made a poster and flyers which they distributed around campus. They reserved a classroom and encouraged people to come.
“Today, I decided this group wouldn’t really be political. It would be a safe space at this College and a community that is specifically against hate speech, so people can support each other,” said Weinstein.
“I feel like what we’ve seen, especially on social media, people can be pretty hateful and others can lose their voice pretty easily. A major thing that has come out of this election is a lot of divisive language and a lot of splitting up of the population and I feel like this is just really important to counteract that and bring people together instead,” said Shenk. “We can’t change the way that the government ultimately works, we can’t change the election, but we can do something by reaching out and being kind to one another.”
Over 50 people came to the meeting, impressing the organizers. Weinstein said that he felt he talked to about a hundred people and he was surprised more than half of those showed up.
Since last Tuesday night, students, faculty, and staff have all been feeling the effects of a long election season. In response, numerous emails have been sent out from different areas on campus, including a message from President Sheila Bair.
“Emotions ran high and the campaign rhetoric was often hurtful and at times, seemingly targeted against voter segments among each candidate’s constituencies,” President Bair wrote. “In the coming weeks and months, I urge all members of our campus community to have faith in the democratic process and to continue to do their civic duty: To engage in civil, thoughtful dialogue as we grapple with the complex issues facing our nation.  And most of all, to treat each other with respect, compassion, and dignity.”
Chair of Diversity Dr. James Hall and Assistant Dean and Director of Intercultural Affairs Jeane-Pierre Laurenceau-Medina sent out an email about bias. “Our community standards highlight civil and respectful discourse, curiosity and integrity, ethical sensitivity and civic responsibility, and tolerance and inclusivity.  We share these values in an effort to lift each other up, to listen and learn from each other, and to include all points of view.” The email included a list of places where students or faculty could report instances of bias. The list can be found on page 10.
Miranda Altman, director of counseling services, sent out tips for managing election stress such as sticking to your routine, taking care of yourself, engaging in pleasurable and meaningful activities, and spending time with supportive friends and family. She recommended limiting time on social media, substance use, or political debate in the form of arguments.
News of the election trickles down into the classroom, and strategies for how to continue with instruction have varied from professor to professor.
Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Jennie Carr decided to discuss the election outcome with her classes because she believes collegiality and respect are key to productive conversation. “This is true every day, not just in light of recent events. My students have heard this message from me before, so recent events have been an excellent opportunity to reinforce this message of inclusion and open dialogue. I felt as though I could not ignore the election regardless of the outcome,” she said. “The extent of major scientific advancements and environmental regulations are largely dictated by the government.  As a scientist, it’s important to remain informed with every election cycle since these changes have a major impact on the tone and progress of research in the field.”
In her classes, Associate Professor of English and American Studies Dr. Alisha Knight took a poll of her students at the beginning of class to see what their reactions to the election were.
“In my experience, students avoid discussing politics or expressing any strong opinions in class because they don’t want to say something ‘wrong’ or be judged by anyone,” she said. “They think it’s safer to keep their opinions to themselves or to ‘agree to disagree.’  But this doesn’t teach them how to compromise and work with others in spite of their differences.  Since my classes explore how notions of ‘others’ and ‘difference’ are depicted in literature, I thought we would be missing an opportunity to connect our course to ‘the real world’ if we didn’t attempt to have a conversation about the election in class.”
She started her class by reminding her students of other uncomfortable conversations they had had about race, noting “that the class had survived.” She said, “I also invited comments from all students, and especially those who supported Donald Trump, reminding them that if we are serious about respecting difference, then we have to make room in our class for different perspectives. This is often difficult, and I can’t claim that the conversations were easy, but they were all worthwhile.”
Dr. Robert Lynch, professor of economics, also decided to discuss the outcome of the election in his class.
While talking about the election was not unusual for his class, as they usually deal with government programs and have spent the semester comparing the Clinton and Trump economic policy proposals.
“This election was different from any other presidential election I can remember for at least two reasons. One is that less time was spent discussing substantive issues and much more time was spent discussing scandals and insults,” he said. “Second, the level of vitriol was very high. In past elections, it was common to hear candidates question their opponents qualifications, ideas, policy proposals, past records of accomplishment, and, at least to some extent, character and temperament. But I cannot remember candidates promising to prosecute and incarcerate their opponents.”
Dr. Jennifer Benson, associate professor of philosophy, organized a gathering on Monday, Nov. 14 of professors and faculty members who wanted to reach out to WC students with a message of inclusion and acceptance.
She said, “One of the things that we have started to hear from our students in the last few days has been their different kinds of alarm and concern over the national events that are happening following from the election. We don’t want students’ educational goals to be disrupted, and we want to hear what concerns they’re having so we can begin to address those. In the classroom context, some students have relayed their concerns to us about family members, like if they will be deported, or if they’re safe to wear their headscarves in certain areas. We’re trying to think about inclusion; what are all these ways in which people are potentially at risk or marginalized, and try to hear that so we can begin to address it.”
Dr. Katherine Maynard, associate professor of French, also spoke about some concerns her students have come to her with. She said, “I think Mrs. [Kay] King, who is in charge of the Global Education Office, has talked a lot about her concerns that many international students are afraid to leave the country for break. They’re afraid that they’re going to have trouble coming back into the country. Immigrant students are afraid that their parents might get deported,    [and] they might lose their scholarships. I think a lot of female students are worried about the reduction in women’s rights and the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade.”
Other professors like Dr. Rydel, Dr. Carr, Dr. Hall, and Dr. Elizabeth O’Connor, assistant professor of English, stood outside of Hodson Hall from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. holding signs of encouragement and positivity that read “Flock Together” and “Hate is Not a Campus Value.” Students also had the opportunity to write what they wished to see on campus on Post-It notes, which were put on display outside of Hodson.
At a certain point in the Citizens Against Trump meeting in Daly 107 on Nov. 11, there was a change in mood.
“I think the meeting started off very hopeless,” said Weinstein. “There were tears. People were very distraught and didn’t know what to do. By the end, everyone was smiling, we were laughing a lot, and I think we felt pretty excited about what’s to come.”
In the two-hour meeting, they elected officials, organized 15 students to go to D.C. for a protest the following evening, and agreed to change the name of the organization to something more inclusive.
Sophomore Amanda Tran said, “As long as there’s hate in the world, you can light anyone’s fire. You will always find people who are ready to fight for the rights of others, and I don’t think that’s going away any time soon. This doesn’t stop with inauguration; this doesn’t stop at the end of his presidency. As long as there is hate in the world, there’s always going to be people who are ready to come up in arms and support each other.”

Additional reporting by Molly Igoe, news editor.

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