Student-life staffers attend post-election dialogue to discuss next steps

Thursday, November 10, 2016 - 3:44pm

Many staffers from the Ginsberg Center, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and the Office of Student Life joined graduate students to discuss responses to the presidential election results Thursday afternoon.

The discussion, labeled the “Post-Election Dialogue: Impact, Perspective-taking and Moving Forward,” took place at the Michigan League ballroom as part of the 10th annual Professional Development Conference.

Though the general conference — an in-house professional development opportunity for Student Life staff — required a fee and registration in advance, the election response portion, facilitated by the Ginsberg Center and Counseling and Psychological Services, was free and open to all students, faculty and staff.

Allie Harte, organizational development and talent management specialist at Student Life Human Resources, said the election dialogue portion was added to the event prior to Election Day, but received more attention following an email from President Mark Schlissel on Thursday regarding election response opportunities.

Harte also noted conversations and sentiments surrounding the election results fit well in conjunction with this year’s conference theme of identity, wellness and work.

“The outcome of our election has a lot of impact for people across many identities,” she said. “We know that there are people who are happy about the election and people who are not happy about the election. Identity is a part of that. We want to be able to address that, how people are feeling, how they are processing, give space for that and to be in community with each other.”

Erin Byrnes, lead of Democratic Engagement and Community-Based Work-Study at the Ginsberg Center, led the dialogue. In her opening remarks, Byrnes said she wanted to create a space for people to start a conversation in a supportive environment.

“No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, even if you don’t really see yourself as a political person, these are some challenging times, again, regardless of your identity and how you see yourself,” she said. “I think there is much to be discussed right now, there are a lot of feelings and a lot of thoughts that we’re holding.”

Attendees broke into seven groups of about seven people each to discuss prompts that were placed on the tables.

Questions included: “Are there identities you hold that have been impacted this election cycle?” and “What are some productive strategies (approaches, phrases, questions) that can be used in challenging conversations?”

Groups discussed and wrote down their opinions on the potential impact of President-elect Donald Trump, as well as concerns and ideas that can be implemented moving forward.

Staff members from one group emphasized community engagement in their notes, writing, “(We) need to talk together and understand although we cannot all get what we want, we can try to accommodate.”

Members of this same group, who requested to remain anoymous, said they felt it was necessary to normalize supportive places, as well as find ways to stay physically safe and secure.

Neeraja Aravamudan, the assistant director for engaged learning at the Ginsberg Center, said it is important for people to have a voice and feel comfortable expressing opinions especially with people in their lives who have different beliefs.

“Personally, I see a lot of people struggling with a lot of emotion, struggling with how to talk to folks who differ so much from them in terms of what they believe and how to reach those who we might — whether it’s family or friends we might care about — feel we’re fundamentally different from, either in values or in ideology or actions, and how to continue to have a relationship while challenging someone.”

She added she felt the election exposed many underlying nationwide issues.

“I don’t think people feel comfortable returning to normal, how to move forward, how to figure out the strategies that allow us to feel like we have agency to change the future and to have an impact and to continue to process the emotion in order to move toward action,” she said. “I think that’s the big piece.”