A month following the election, students discuss political polarization on campus

Monday, December 12, 2016 - 3:44pm

As political organizations on campus grapple with the results of the 2016 election amid student protests, plans from across the spectrum to move forward vary. 

Earlier this year, Amanda Delekta, a member of the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Republicans and LSA sophomore, authored a #notmycampus petition, claiming Republican students weren't being respected on campus, garnering over 400 signitures but also significant backlash.

The petition came after multiple reports of hate crimes on campus directed towards women, including one student who was threatened to be set on fire if she did not remove her hijab. In contrast, conservative students argued they were targeted for their political opinions by being called names in class. Unlike the former incidents, none of the latter were publically reported as bias incidents or considered hate crimes by the University. 

University President Mark Schlissel asked her and other creators of the letter to let campus climate “cool down” in wake of the letter. However, she said she and other members of her organization plan to continue to foster dialogue on campus by hosting group discussions including diverse students and collaborating with a variety of student organizations.

“I want to get to the point where we can sit down and listen to one another and respect one another’s ideological standpoints,” she said.

The petition came amid various events, such as a recent walkout protest and candlelight vigil geared toward grappling with the results of the recent presidential election, Delekta said she was frustrated with a continuing divide between students affiliated with different political parties.

“I would say campus climate is very polarized, and there’s a feeling of ‘us versus them,’ ” Delekta said.

She added that this charged atmosphere and her perception of being excluded from conversation about the election was what prompted her to write and circulate the #notmycampus letter detailing her post-election experience.

“That was just frustrating to come up against time and time again: this one-sided conversation when there really are two sides and they’re both legitimate,” Delekta said.

However, LSA junior Collin Kelly, chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said he disagreed with how Delekta’s petition was presented on campus because it likened concerns about discrimination and hate speech to the possession of a different political opinion. Multiple hate crimes have been reported on campus since the election. 

“I think that invalidated a lot of the concerns, very real concerns that a lot of marginalized students, especially students of color on campus and women, are feeling,” Kelly said.

In addition, he said he thought this election was atypical, and many of the issues raised during this election extended beyond differences in political opinion.

“I didn’t feel it was fair to whittle it down to ideology because when students feel that strongly that they’ll go out and protest, it goes past that,” Kelly said. “It shows that their identity as a human being and their value as a human being that they feel is at stake, and that’s completely different than you having different views than what you assume the other faculty and students have.”

Kelly said, for this reason, debates surrounding political actions fell short of many of the issues students are concerned about in the coming years.

“We can have a fair and open debate about different political ideologies and what policies would work best for the future of the country, but these things transcend that,” Kelly said. “White nationalism isn’t a political ideology.”

LSA junior Grant Strobl, chairman of the Young Americans for Freedom, said he supported the rights of students to express their opinions on campus, but also felt the petition highlighted an issue with faculty members influencing class with their political affiliations.  

“Opinions that professors voice outside the classroom are OK; we all have our voice outside the classroom, and it’s good we’re all involved in political activities outside the classroom,” Strobl said. “But when it has a real impact on the inside of the classroom, that’s where you come into ethical issues, and that’s where professors should exercise a higher level of carefulness.”

He said some level of divide is normal on a college campus, but the actions of administrators on behalf of the University should not express a bias toward one perspective.

“Obviously students are going to disagree. We all have our personal opinions and that’s OK, but as an institution there are different standards,” he said.

He noted that YAF continues to promote its conservative views, citing when the organization hosted conservative writer David Horowitz to discuss what he described as liberal censorship and race politics among the political left.

“America is the only true multicultural society, and it’s a beautiful thing,” Strobl said. “And fostering disunity like a lot of movements are right now is moving us in the wrong direction.”

However, Kelly said for Democrats, despite political tension on campus, students have found many ways to come together both in protest and in solidarity.

“One of the few bright spots to come out of it is that a lot of progressive students are coming together and standing together as allies,” Kelly said. “Those protests show a lot of people coming together saying ‘this is how we feel and it’s not OK but we’re standing together.’ In spite of the hate a lot of people have been experiencing, there has been some glimmers of hope.”

Kelly added that as campus moves forward after the election, he and other members of College Democrats hope to continue to foster this sense of community.

“But providing a sense of community and a safe space for everyone that is feeling marginalized from the election or anxious about the future, that’s really the only way forward, talking and supporting one another,” he said.