Government

On Election Night, Colleges Watch as a Glass Ceiling Stays Put

November 09, 2016

Kelvin Ma for The Chronicle
For fans of Hillary Clinton at a Wellesley College watch party, optimism faded as the night wore on.
They arrived at the field house full of optimism — hundreds of Wellesley students, alumni, and faculty members, ready to celebrate the election of one of their own as the first female president of the United States. They wore stickers that read “Nasty Wellesley Woman” and “Making the Impossible Possible,” a reference to the commencement speech that Hillary Clinton delivered there as a senior, in 1969.

“This is going to be the most fun this campus has seen in 100 years,” predicted a giddy 1998 graduate on the bus to the election-night watch party.

For women of Mrs. Clinton’s generation, her election as president would have represented a final shattering of the glass ceiling that had confronted many of them. For students and more recent graduates, it would have been an affirmation that a woman can indeed become president of the United States.

It didn’t turn out that way. After hours of nail-biting uncertainty, the Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, claimed the victory. The night ended not in triumph for Mrs. Clinton’s supporters at her alma mater, but in disappointment, shock, and a few tears.

“I thought we were going to celebrate tonight,” said Lizzie Dastin, a 2005 graduate. “I wasn’t expecting to have to commiserate.”

The evening had started out hopefully enough. Students and alumni spanning generations milled about the college’s field house, snapping selfies with a cardboard cutout of Mrs. Clinton and generally ignoring a Trump cutout with a smug mien. They munched on cupcakes decorated with sugar fashioned into shards of glass, and wielded hammers that read, “Wellesley Women, shattering glass ceilings.” Reporters cornered two women who graduated with Mrs. Clinton in 1969, grilling them for details on the candidate, and on what has changed for women since they were students.

“We graduated two years before Title IX,” said Martha Stearns, admiring the lavish sports facility where the event was taking place. “Back then, it wasn’t considered ladylike to compete.”

“My grandmother told me, Don’t let the boys know you’re smart,” said Lindsay Miller, another 1969 graduate.

Tu Pham, a first-year student who said she’d experienced discrimination as a female leader in high school, said Mrs. Clinton was the reason she had chosen Wellesley. “I thought there would be a lot of women leaders who could support me,” she said.

Upstairs, professors gave lectures on the significance of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and what seemed like her likely presidency. Irene Mata, an associate professor of women’s and gender studies, said Mrs. Clinton, like Barack Obama, would give children a new image of what a president can look like. “As jaded and disillusioned as we become, there’s something powerful about imagining the next generation growing up with a female president,” she said after her lecture.

And in a speech from the floor of the field house, Wellesley’s president, Paula A. Johnson, summed up the mood: “Tonight is your night, it’s Wellesley’s night, it’s a night for women everywhere.”

But as the night wore on, hope turned to discouragement. “I’m very nervous right now,” said Zubyn D’Costa, a first-year student, as the screen at the front of the room showed Mr. Trump with 139 electoral votes to Mrs. Clinton’s 104. “I’m counting on California.”

Emma Magee, a sophomore, said that if the election didn’t go Mrs. Clinton’s way, she would flee the country — temporarily. “My Plan B is to study abroad next semester,” she said. “If things go south, I’m leaving.”

By the time Madeleine Albright, a Wellesley graduate who became the first female secretary of state, appeared over Skype, she was offering words of encouragement to an increasingly demoralized crowd. “It’s going to take a while, but I think we’ll pull it off,” she told the crowd. “We all know nothing comes easy for women.”

A little later, a faculty member took the podium for the “7th-inning stretch,” leading the crowd in a chant — 1-9-6-9 Wellesley! — and invoking the Chicago Cubs’ stirring World Series comeback just days earlier. “Hillary is a Cubs fan, I am a Cubs fan,” the professor said. “Anything is possible. The Cubs did it, and Hillary is going to do it.”

As the night wore on, and students and alumni sat on the field-house floor, glued to the results on their phones, it became clear that Ms. Clinton would not do it.

Kelvin Ma for The Chronicle
On Tuesday evening, before the election had shifted in Donald Trump's favor, Wellesley College alumnae cheered early ballot results for Hillary Clinton, Class of 1969.
By midnight the cupcakes had been cleared away, and a much thinner crowd of students, faculty, and alumni stood and sat in small clusters, some embracing one another. “I’m scared for the country, I’m scared for our reputation, and I’m scared for people who are barely getting by,” said Rita Freed, a member of the Class of 1974.

Erin Martin, director of West Coast advancement for Wellesley and the mother of a first-year student, struggled to put her feelings into words. “I have a really hard time looking at all that red and feeling that it represents anything other than hate,” she said. “It’s hard to see all the young women so devastated.”

At 1:30 a.m., President Johnson appeared onscreen again. This time her message was one of consolation.

“We started this night as a community bursting with optimism and pride, celebrating women, celebrating Wellesley, and what we believed would be our first female president,” she said. “This election may not turn out the way we hoped, but whatever the result, we stand for justice, we stand for equity, and we stand for a path forward for every single person.”

“We must be part of the momentum that will take us forward,” she said.

And with that, the lights were turned on, and the party was over. -K.F.

College Republicans Are Torn by Trump

Washington

Early in the evening, the atmosphere at Georgetown University’s student center was vibrant and carnivalesque. At a watch party hosted jointly by the College Republicans and the College Democrats, students watched the election results on CNN, ate free pizza, and placed red and blue stickers on a blown-up United States map, indicating where they had voted and whom they supported. Attendees who wanted a break from the fanfare strolled to the adjoining room to play patriotic-themed cornhole, solve puzzles, and fill in coloring books.

The vast majority of the enthusiasm ran toward Mrs. Clinton. Tucked into a corner of the room, many of the College Republicans in attendance squeezed around a single table.

Following the path of quite a few other College Republicans chapters, the Georgetown group had decided to neither endorse nor denounce Mr. Trump. “I know a lot of people struggled with who they were going to vote for,” said Megan Pohl, who leads the organization.

There were Trump supporters in the group, though not many, said Peter Hamilton, a freshman. He’s one of them. “I don’t think he’s going to be able to build a wall,” Mr. Hamilton said, referring to Mr. Trump’s promise to put up a barrier on the Mexican border. “He’s not going to be able to ban all Muslims from the United States.” What he could do, Mr. Hamilton said, was one of the students’ top priorities: appoint conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Just after 8:30 p.m., Mr. Hamilton was feeling more confident about the outcome than he had expected. “I had a feeling that he wasn’t going to do so well,” he said. “So this is a pleasant surprise.”

Other College Republicans, like Samantha Granville, weren’t feeling so pleased. Ms. Granville, vice chair of the group, was supporting Mrs. Clinton. “I’m not doing it with 100-percent enthusiasm by any means,” she said. “It’s just a combination of Donald Trump’s lack of policy knowledge and sexist, racist, homophobic remarks.” As a fiscal conservative who supports gay marriage, she worried that the Republican Party is distancing itself from her core values.

Ms. Pohl voted for Republicans further down the ballot but decided on a write-in vote for president. “You want to believe in party unity and everything,” she said, “but I don’t know if this is the platform for it.”

Even early in the evening, Ms. Pohl looked weary. “If you are the chapter chair for this cycle,” she said in a vote of sympathy for other College Republicans leaders, “God bless you.”

The College Republicans who gathered for a watch party some two miles away, on the seventh floor of George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, were more animated. About 100 students wearing cocktail attire — some adding one of Mr. Trump’s trademark “Make America Great Again” hats — mingled and watched a Fox News stream projected on a wall. A cutout of Ronald Reagan greeted attendees at the door.

The College Republicans here seemed more anxious about the U.S. Senate than about the presidency. Just after 10 p.m., Sen. Richard Burr’s victory over Deborah Ross, his Democratic challenger in North Carolina, prompted the biggest cheer of the evening.

Like Georgetown’s College Republicans, George Washington’s chapter chose not to take a position on Mr. Trump. That didn’t deter Trump-supporting students like Tom Crean, a freshman who drew attention this week when he appeared on a CNN report about first-time voters. “He really has connected with the working class in America,” Mr. Crean said.

But Jake Barnette, executive director of George Washington’s College Republicans, wasn’t bullish about Mr. Trump. On his ballot he wrote in the name of Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the speaker of the House. “My first presidential election felt like it was a waste,” he said, though he looks forward to helping the party chart a less-divisive path forward. -S.B.

Professors’ Party Turns Funereal

Takoma Park, Md.

Marilee Lindemann had planned to toast the first female president. Instead, she let her two dogs join the guests, hoping they would lift the mood.

Mady and Max, 4-year-old wire fox terriers, helped relax some of the nervous attendees, who were waiting on some good news from the MSNBC anchors. But the reprieve was brief.

Ms. Lindemann, an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland at College Park, and Martha Nell Smith, a professor of English there, have hosted an election-night watch party for friends and colleagues since 1992. Tuesday’s gathering in their Takoma Park home drew more people than other recent elections did.

The professors are fierce supporters of Mrs. Clinton. The mantel below the television was filled with buttons and bumper stickers supporting the Democratic candidate, along with two dolls of Mrs. Clinton.

During the Democratic primary, Ms. Lindemann co-founded a secret Facebook group — “Bitches for Hillary” — that now has more than 5,000 members. She said she had long identified with Mrs. Clinton, despite her career arc in a very different field.

Initial victories for Mrs. Clinton prompted cheers from the group, especially when MSNBC announced that Maryland had gone blue. “Fear the turtle,” a few people shouted, a reference to the University of Maryland’s mascot and rallying cry.

But nerves were frayed, and everyone in the group dealt with them differently. Some congregated around the wine, some stayed glued to the television, and others talked about anything but the returns.

Around 8:30 p.m., Ms. Smith, who had been giving little pep talks to the group during the night, was comfortable with the state of the election. That changed as numerous states expected to fall into the Clinton column remained too close to call.

As Mr. Trump picked up more states, Ms. Lindemann turned to the group. “I think we need to prepare ourselves,” she said.

Earlier in the day, Ms. Smith had led her class on American poetry through a discussion of two pillars of national literature — Walt Whitman’s “Election Day, November 1884” and Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” Most of the students joined in what turned out to be a wide-ranging conversation about voting, history, and the election. For Ms. Smith, the class was cathartic.

“It was the most profound day of teaching I’ve had,” she said.

Neither woman was prepared for a loss in the presidential election, however. Now, Ms. Lindemann said, “I don’t know what to think.” -K.K.

Kelly Field is a senior reporter covering federal higher-education policy. Contact her at kelly.field@chronicle.com. Or follow her on Twitter @kfieldCHE.

Sarah Brown writes about a range of higher-education topics, including sexual assault, race on campus, and Greek life. Follow her on Twitter @Brown_e_Points, or email her at sarah.brown@chronicle.com.

Katherine Knott is a reporting intern. Email her at katherine.knott@chronicle.com.