Traumatized and Indignant, College Students React to a Trump Presidency

November 09, 2016

Julia Schmalz for The Chronicle
Students at Trinity Washington U. on Wednesday reacted to Donald J. Trump's election as president of the United States.

As the election results rolled in Tuesday night, Rosie Nelson, a third-year doctoral student at Stanford University, was at a seminar for Leland Scholars, a program to transition freshman students into college life. Many of the students who opt into the program, she said, are low-income or minority students; many are first-generation Americans.

By the second hour of the seminar, she said, everyone had become engrossed in the election, some monitoring The New York Times’s live results. When the needle on the site’s meter indicated a 70-percent chance of victory for Donald J. Trump, she said, the mood in the room shifted to disbelief. By 7:25 p.m., Pacific time, it became clear to many of the students that Mr. Trump was going to win.

The mood was tense; some students called their families, worried for their safety. Others stayed with one another, Ms. Nelson said, to make sure their peers were OK. “That in a lot of ways will probably be my biggest memory of election night,” she said in an interview. “Students coming together to support and love each other.”

These complex emotions were manifesting themselves on the campus, more broadly. Before 9 p.m., Ms. Nelson received an email inviting her to a “F*CK DONALD TRUMP” rally at 10 p.m. on the campus’s White Memorial Plaza. Throughout the night, at least seven more emails rolled in from various campus groups, offering safe spaces, spots to pray, heal, talk, or decompress. Ms. Nelson said she also saw Facebook posts espousing “how important it is to love each other.” Other social-media users posted the phone number for a suicide-prevention hotline.

“The vibe that I’ve been feeling is that there is a lot of anger, frustration, and feeling like as students we weren’t heard,” she said, particularly for students from marginalized communities. “There’s also a recognition that the best thing we can do for each other right now is to come together and show resilience.”

Hours after Mr. Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States, and the following morning, students and university staff members were still processing the results and long-term implications. For many the shocking outcome represents an affront to identity: Mr. Trump has discussed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country, called immigrants criminals, and bragged about groping women.

Students, some feeling traumatized and others indignant, have mobilized in protest at campuses across the country. In response, universities are making counseling resources available and carving out spaces for dialogue as students are finding solidarity through demonstrations.

Protests and Campus Response

Protests over the election result have erupted at campuses far and wide: the University of Connecticut, Mount Holyoke College, and the University of Pittsburgh, to name a few.

Regan Buchanan, a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and co-president of the Campus Y, a social-justice group, organized a walkout for Wednesday afternoon. The gathering was intended to provide a space for students to talk or vent, especially for those who feel that their identities and safety are in jeopardy.

“I don’t know if there will ever be a way to heal from this, but this is the first step,” she said in an interview. “We are never going to accept it.”

On the other side of the country, students at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of California at Los Angeles marched in the streets shortly after news of Mr. Trump’s election victory became official, chanting, “not my president.”

Cynthia Barrales, a freshman at UCLA, was angry about the result. “It feels like we’re cheated somehow,” she told the Daily Bruin. “He’s a horrible person that doesn’t deserve this title.”

About 2,000 students showed up for a march through the campus and the surrounding neighborhood of Westwood, according to the Los Angeles Times. Students at other universities in Southern California held similar demonstrations, though not as large.

At Berkeley, protesters burned Trump dolls, and a student was hit by a car when about 200 people marched in the streets, The Daily Californian reported. Oakland police officers in riot gear attempted to contain the protest early Wednesday morning and finally ordered the students to clear the streets. Students have planned another protest for Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, students at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor gathered for a vigil early Wednesday morning and chalked “You belong here” and “Coexist” on the sidewalk. Another vigil has been planned for Wednesday night.

Mark S. Schlissel, Michigan’s president, shared campus resources in an email to students, and wrote that the university community should embrace their “responsibility … to remain committed to education, discovery, and intellectual honesty – and to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Colleges are playing a supporting role while also publicizing counseling services.

About a month ago, Virginia Commonwealth University’s Office of Multicultural Student Affairs began planning to offer its center as a safe space for students in the wake of the election results, said Yolanda Avent, director of the office. As the results came in last night, the office began receiving emails. By 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, students had begun trickling in. The center’s doors are normally open to students seeking respite, but the center is offering structured programs this week specifically geared toward the outcome of the election.

The programming began at noon. By 1 p.m., 70 students, faculty, staff, and community members were there, Ms. Avent said, and it was at capacity. “We probably are going to have to get more spaces,” she said. The place is noisy, she said, but some people have carved out pockets to talk, reflect, or give long hugs.

“The one consistent thing that I see is hugs,” she said.