This article was posted to the Thinking in Community blog in November 2016
2016 Electoral Vote Results
On November 8, I stopped finding the jokes funny; the tone on campus became solemn and tense. The previous months had been filled with scandal and viral internet jokes about the election. After the laughs and entertaining television, by the end of the night the next President of the United States would be declared. I wasn’t shocked by how close the race was at the start. Everyone hoped their candidate would be the champion. I didn’t feel the shock until the final votes came in and Trump was announced the winner.
Texas is a conservative state, and the University of Texas sits in a blue blip surrounded by a sea of red. When Trump won the election, I felt, as a student, both the positive and negative shock from my campus and my community. And everyone had something to say.
In my American Studies class the next day, I could tell that everyone was particularly antsy, and so could my Professor. He walked up to the front of the room when it was time for class to begin and asked us “So, do we want to learn about the ‘80’s, or do we want to talk about . . . our feelings?” I heard a giggle from some of the class, but the general consensus was that we all needed a safe space to talk about the election. We agreed on one rule; we had to be respectful of each other. What the Professor had intended to be a short 10-15-minute conversation turned into a discussion that lasted the entire one hour of class time, but no one seemed to mind.
The discussion began with various people expressing their disappointment and utter shock at the results, and I noticed that most of the people in the class were liberal. Some of them believed they had voted for the lesser of two evils, rather than for a candidate they wholeheartedly supported. When a student spoke, others listened attentively, and waited for the speaker to finish before adding on to the discussion with their own thoughts. One student, the only vehement Trump supporter who spoke up, took his time describing his hope for the future. The entire class listened intensely to him, and those who didn’t share his views tried their best to understand the other side by asking the student questions about his views.
The crescendo of the conversation came when an undocumented student came forward. She spoke animatedly about her fears of being deported, of how hard she worked to get accepted into the university, and of how proud her family back home was of her. After speaking for a couple of minutes, she began to cry, but still managed to describe what her future under President Trump might look like. The student’s words struck a chord with each of us, and we applauded the student for her bravery for sharing her fears with a room full of people.
The conversation ended with the Professor saying “It won’t be as bad as you think it’s going to be, and it won’t be as good as he promises either.” I felt like there wasn’t a better way to describe what the Trump presidency might look like. Class was dismissed and I could feel the tension abate a little; all it took was being able to share our opinions. Although the discussion by no means remedied any of the animosity present after the election, I believe that this sort of dialogue can help people reconnect and make progress towards understanding each other after a divisive campaign.
Since then, I have seen multiple opportunities around campus for students to freely speak their minds about the election. Modeled after a New York City subway wall, there’s a wall in the Student Activity Center where everyone is encouraged to write their feelings on a sticky note and stick their notes to the wall with the others. A lot of the notes advocate just being kind to each other, and the number of notes grows by the minute because the wall offers a safe space for people to be heard.
The ability to talk about what troubles us with those who feel the same way, and with those from whom we can learn, helped turn this panicked blue blip into a heard population. The University and the Humanities Institute are continuing to help organize ways for students to speak out safely. Sticky notes are only the beginning.