This week on campus, students continued to react to both the presidential election results and the multiple hate crimes that have occured in Ann Arbor since, culminating Wednesday when nearly 1,000 students joined Rev. Jesse Jackson in a walkout protest against racism and violence. However, one reaction stood out because of its different focus. Earlier this week, students and others began circulating a #NotMyCampus petition condemning and commenting on both recent protests and a Nov. 9 vigil on the Diag in response to the election results. Appended to the petition were personal statements by community members expressing feelings of misrepresentation by the administration and exclusion from their community for their conservative viewpoints. While it’s vital that campus is a space where all feel comfortable engaging in thoughtful dialogue about their political leanings, we feel this petition misunderstands the fact that one cannot equate these feelings of exclusion to fearing for the safety of their life, a salient concern for students in light of recent incidents of violence on this campus.
We recognize that the roughly 10 percent of students who voted for President-elect Donald Trump feel excluded, and these feelings are legitimate. Research suggests that the kind of polarized rhetoric surrounding this election could have adverse effects on the social progress that occurs when we have conversations with those who hold different views than our own. It must be understood that many students who voted this way do not feel aligned with Trump’s offensive ideology and voted for him for other reasons. But we must also emphasize why the majority of our campus community is frustrated by the students who signed the #NotMyCampus petition. We fear the petition signers may not understand how those who are fearful for their physical safety see a vote for Trump as a vote for racism and other discriminatory ideas to reign in our world. It is impossible to divorce the idea of Trump from the offensive rhetoric and racist beliefs his campaign promoted, legitimized and normalized. It is concerning that the students who voted for Trump — regardless of whether they personally support such rhetoric — could put aside his alarmingly exclusionary and offensive claims and promises, seemingly not understanding how this kind of speech can harm our country and our campus.
The statement under most scrutiny by the petition is from a speech University President Mark Schlissel gave at the Nov. 9 vigil, in which he stated, “Ninety percent of you rejected the kind of hate and the fractiousness and the longing for some kind of idealized version of a non-existent yesterday that was expressed during the campaign.” With these remarks, Schlissel made two parallels: A vote for a candidate other than Trump is a vote against hate, and by extension, a vote for Trump is a vote for hate. Though somewhat indirect, this second parallel — along with administrators’ extensive outreach to students both over email and through presence at protests — understandably made many students who voted for Trump feel ostracized. We feel that Schlissel’s quote was not attempting to condemn students who voted for Trump, but rather prioritizing students who are grieving, suffering or fearing for their livelihood. But we also believe Schlissel should and could represent and support the 90 percent of students who voted against Trump without rejecting the 10 percent of students who did by affirming student safety and concerns without wading into ideology. It is vital that Schlissel understands this and urges our community to come together instead of deepening the divide.
We do want to acknowledge the proactive approach Schlissel and other administrators have taken. In the recent past, from the #BBUM movement to the protests against racist posters to the creation of this year’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan, administrators have been criticized by students for not engaging with students enough and not providing genuine support when students are both frustrated and hurting. This week, Schlissel and many administrators and staff have been present and supportive. In comparison to the University administration’s past responses to students’ concerns on campus, Schlissel and other administrators’ responses to hateful rhetoric should be commended.
Everyone in our University community must be careful not to denounce conservative or Republican ideology and increase the harmful polarization that has made Trump the president-elect. Though the 10 percent’s feelings of exclusion should be heard, these same students must, in turn, hear and understand why marginalized communities and their allies feel their votes supporting Trump are votes supporting racism. Only when both sides have listened and heard this can we begin to move forward toward a more productive, safe and united campus.