Over the past week, the most uplifting words I’ve heard came from a classmate of mine: She said she has never felt more terrified of the future, and, simultaneously, she has never felt more immediately aware of her responsibility to help and to look out for other people, particularly people who are targeted by xenophobia, white supremacy and all that Donald Trump embodies.

Trump is the living, breathing manifestation of white supremacy. And he has just been given the keys to the most powerful position in the world. White supremacists, of course, have always been here, and the consequences of their ideologies have been made manifestly visible. We as a nation have barely been able to suppress the fact that we largely operate in a way that normalizes white supremacy (think of the habitual way in which we as a culture respond to murders of young Black men by police — outrage, “this cannot happen,” move on to the next story, repeat). But Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, served as a coming-out party for white supremacy. No need to suppress it anymore. It is the definition of mainstream America.

For the most part, I have been really pleased with the outpouring of love from our University of Michigan community. People are talking about fundamentally changing their lives in response to this election — myself included. I am not going abroad next semester because I need to stay here and help. And I am not alone.

But I have also felt shocked at the silence in some of my classes. Interestingly enough, this silence pervades classes taught by white men and with students who are almost all white. In these classes, there is no mention of what is happening, of the hate crimes on our campus and in our nation. No mention of the fact that millions of people today fear for their lives. One professor ended a class of mine early, but stayed in the classroom, saying he feared for his life if he were to go outside.

And this ability to be silent demonstrates white privilege in practice. We can only be silent because none of these policies directly target our lives. We do not have to address Trump, we do not have to adjust our syllabi. Why would we? Instead, we will talk about it once, for 30 minutes, and move on. Relatively speaking, this is the same way in which we (speaking specifically to white people) digest the murders of young Black men by police.  

And so the response might be: But if it doesn’t affect you, why would the professor have to talk about it?

Because the professor’s job is to help educate us, the students, on the most pressing, urgent questions of our day. And these are not questions about the ways in which some dead white poet uses metaphor when talking about blackbirds or forests or snowy evenings. Instead, let’s talk about white privilege. Let’s talk about the fact that none of us apparently feel compelled to speak about what is happening in this country. Why is that? Since the election, I have had classes that could have taken place in any time throughout history at this university. This is unacceptable.

We need to be engaging with the questions of our time. We need to be reading and considering voices that grappled with these similar questions. Because, of course, these questions have always been relevant — white supremacy has always reigned in this country. So people have been responding to it every day, forever.

But times have fundamentally changed. We are now dealing with a man, our president, who has 20 sexual assault allegations against him and who openly mocked a disabled reporter. We are dealing with a chief strategist who once told his wife that he didn’t want to send his kids to a certain school because he didn’t want his kids to be learning with Jews. This is our world.

Teachers, administrators: It is your job to prepare us for this world, to demand that we engage with what is going on. If this means having conversations with which you are uncomfortable, that is a good thing because that discomfort means, most likely, that you need this conversation just as we do. So why don’t we, students and teachers, if only for a moment, operate on some sort of a level playing field, in which we are all learning from one another about these icky terrifying issues?

Do not fear this sort of collaborative learning. Just as my peer told me last week, now, more than ever, we need to rely upon one another, to look out for one another, to help one another learn and be safe and continue to grow despite this monumental force of division that has been rewarded with the highest office in the world. Silence, on the other hand, favors this force. It is what it wants. Do not obey. Do not give in. Fight. Collaboratively disrupt.

Isaiah Zeavin-Moss can be reached at izeavinm@umich.edu.

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