More than 100 students, faculty members and Ann Arbor residents discussed tensions in the campus climate at the University of Michigan and elsewhere in the country following President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial victory at an LSA event Monday evening.
Since the election last Tuesday, students have held a number of protests and vigils on the University of Michigan’s campus to address fear and feelings of isolation from Trump’s rhetoric, which protestors have characterized as racially divisive and discriminatory. In the last three days, two hate crimes have occurred on campus according to crime alerts sent by the University of Michigan Division of Public Safety.
The event was hosted and moderated by LSA Dean Andrew Martin and several other LSA faculty members. Martin, who noted that the discussion was organized a month ago, said he believes much of the recent outrages can be attributed the surprise at Trump’s victory.
“At the time, nearly everyone thought Secretary Clinton would win the election,” he said during the discussion. “Just about every political pundit on the left and right agreed. Many members of our community had a difficult time getting back to the classroom and back to work after the loss. Many members of our community continue to feel unsafe on our own campus.”
Martin also emphasized that the dialogue was designed to welcome all people who have expressed feelings of marginalization in recent days, not just those who supported Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
On Monday, a petition started by LSA sophomore Amanda Delekta circulated and garnered over 300 signatures. The petition condemned the administration and students’ responses to President-elect Donald Trump’s election.
“A lot of you as Trump supporters feel that you have been ignored at best, or swarmed at worst,” Martin said. “Some of you have been verbally assaulted or attacked, and I know that some of you feel the institution has not lived up to the ideals of open debate, and felt that you do not have a home on this campus either.”
After Martin’s remarks, members of Counseling and Psychological Services highlighted their office’s increased accessibility in response to the contentious election results.
Speaking to the crowd, CAPS Director Todd Sevig promoted a variety of approaches to achieving calm and comfort. In the leadup to the election season, CAPS organized an exhibit reminding students to care for themselves amid the stress of classes and the election.
“It’s important to note that the election has taken a toll psychologically,” Sevig said. “We are not here to say that if you are feeling strong emotions, then you need therapy. We are here to say that things that could be therapeutic and healing is important. There is no one way of coping or making sense of this is going to work for all of us.”
Following the remarks by Martin and CAPS personnel, the room was divided into smaller groups for discussion. At each table, an LSA faculty member moderated the discourse, asking questions and maintaining a calm tone. Participants were reminded to criticize ideas, not people.
After nearly 10 minutes of discussion, the large room reconvened to shared publicly what had been discussed in smaller groups. A microphone was passed around the room for the next hour, during which personal reactions and general commentary were shared in response to the election results last week.
At one point, several LSA professors said they felt confused about how to respond to the election results the following morning, and some said they didn’t address the event at all.
“I’m on the side that didn’t say anything last Wednesday,” Associate Chemistry Prof. Bart Bartlett said. “I didn’t know exactly how to related the election to concepts of thermodynamics — and that’s not an excuse, but just coming from how I open a dialogue, where students don’t know each other, I didn’t know where to begin.”
American Culture Prof. Amy Stillman said professors’ action or inaction the day following the election reflected their own mixed emotions, explaining the difficulty educators could have had in dealing emotionally charged events.
“Wednesday was a really difficult day to drag ourselves out of bed, much less the classroom,” Stillman said. “One of the reasons of why I was hesitant to bring up the election results in one class is that I didn’t really know how my students were or how they felt. I felt uncomfortable representing the voice of calamity when some people in the class might have been happy about. We are trying to process this ourselves too.”
Stillman and other professors said they had faith in the University’s ability to recover from recent instances of discrimination. She said thoughtful liberals and conservatives on campus have the power to redirect the hateful tone of conversations following the election.
During the event, student on both sides of the political spectrum voiced concern about the implications of election results and hateful rhetoric during the campaign season.
LSA junior Elyakeem Avraham said he was worried for the minorities directly affected by the results, acknowledging that students like himself are not able to fully grasp what a Trump administration could mean for others.
“I more just come to these talks to listen to get an idea of what other people on campus are feeling and how they are being developed,” Avraham said. “Everybody need to recognize that we must come from a place of education and empathy, which is what everyone who is trying to have these conversations seems to lack.”
Business junior Lauren Ward criticized the way the discussion was carried out, saying she had expected the event to be a place that would allow students to vent their emotions without guidance from LSA faculty. However, she said she thought administrators had preemptively began to discuss ways to repair issues in the campus climate instead of discussing what may have caused them.
“I don’t think the facilitator was trying to steer the discussion away from what’s wrong at the core, and I think we need to understand what’s wrong at the core so we can decide how to move forward,” Ward said. “It was a lot of stepping around each other’s feeling, and making sure that everyone one was feeling OK, and no one was feeling attacked.”