Stronger as One: Post Election Commentary from Campus Activists

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Cover Design by Claire Abdo and Katie Spak

 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - 6:52pm

Editor’s Note: Following the inauguration of President Donald Trump on Jan. 21, editors of Michigan in Color — a section by and for people of color, dedicated to publishing inclusive and intersectional content about race — interviewed and reflected on the commentary of eight student social justice leaders in the article below.

The 2016 presidential election has dominated this past year’s news cycle. This year, we said farewell to the first Black president of the United States and inaugurated a man who has reflected the cultural divides of a nation roiled by social and economic transformation. He narrowly flipped states that Obama had won twice while articulating support for a ban on Muslim immigration and hinting at a discriminatory Muslim identification registry. He wants to build a wall separating the United States from Mexico, and he ignorantly  painted all Black communities as crime-ridden, uneducated and unemployed. The division has not been without reaction — the day following Trump’s inauguration, millions in cities across the country participated in the Women’s March for civil rights.

Many of us who identify as people of color have experienced an attack on our racial identities over these past few months. As a voice for students of color on campus, we the editors of Michigan in Color set out to discover how marginalized students are feeling about the state of our campus and country in the opening days of Trump’s presidency. Instead of asking for their political views or opinions on specific policies, we aimed to focus on how they plan to turn their feelings into action.

In the face of heightened racial anxieties, we found that students of color on our campus share both concern and a desire to impact change following the election of President Donald Trump. Though students from across the University of Michigan bring diverse perspectives to our campus, one thing is clear: We are stronger as one and, as one, we must take action.

Now more than ever we cannot let the political climate fill us with hate or divide us further. The saying “love trumps hate” is more than a political slogan — it is a fact. Love connects where hate divides. By giving a voice to student leaders of color, we aim to rally the student body in celebration of our differences. We also want to shed light on the highly personal nature of protest — the ways one person expresses their right to assembly is not the way another activist fighting for the same cause does. Through these leaders’ voices, we hope to reveal the work that has been done and the work that’s still left to do to address inequality on campus and beyond. Most importantly, however, we aim to reveal some of the people behind it.

Michael Heyward

LSA Sophomore

Involvement: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Student Advisory Board

Before the election, I was extremely confident in (Hillary Clinton). Not only because of her amazing aptitude — I genuinely believe that she was the most qualified candidate to run for any office — but also because I figured my fellow countrymen and women would reject the hate spewed by Donald Trump. As we all know, I was wrong. On November 8th, Americans voted to “take back their country” — a move I presume was racially motivated. After eight years of a Black president, Americans rejected this progress by electing a racist chauvinist.

Looking back, I regret not doing more to stop Trump’s ascension to the Oval Office. If more people knew about the damaging effects that Trump’s policies would wreak on everyday Americans, instead of the "alternative facts" spewed from his campaign, maybe people would have thought twice before casting their vote. For progress to be made in the future, it’s essential for Democrats to not alienate working-class people. Instead, a message should be crafted that focuses on uniting all people — including people of color and other marginalized backgrounds — under the promise of a better, more equitable future.

Additionally, I am incredibly wary about Trump’s cabinet picks. His choice for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is a known racist. I do not believe he’ll represent my interests as an African American, and I certainly don’t feel that he will fight to protect the tens of millions of Americans of marginalized identities. Likewise, I fear for female Americans who now live under a commander in chief who’s openly admitted to sexually assaulting women.

For now, I protest because I have to. But I personally don’t think that unprivileged people should be on the frontlines begging to be treated equally. In an ideal world, people with privilege would speak up for those without, using their power for good. As it stands now, that isn’t the case. I’m forced to fight to be recognized as an equal human being, and I will continue fighting for my rights and the rights of others until it’s no longer necessary.

Kayla Hatcher

LSA Sophomore

Involvement: Black Undergraduate Medical Association

Recently, this white boy just came real close to me and got in my face about my Black Lives Matter shirt. I get weird looks every time I wear that shirt. Either people will give me dirty looks or just not talk to me.

I still wear my Black Lives Matter shirt and have my sticker on my laptop. The looks I recieve when I do are a result of the media portraying the movement so poorly. Supporters are ignorantly looked at as people who hate other races, but I want people to understand that I am a person — I will be your friend. And I think that today’s climate with the Women’s March has been amazing and needed. I don’t think it was too late, but I definitely feel these things should happen sooner and more often. I’m very worried about undoing so quickly what we have worked so hard to do. I want people, no matter what color, to not be selfish.

I go to marches when I can. If something is happening, I’ll go support.

People need to vote. The presidential election is not the only election that exists. There are hundreds of other people in the House and Senate who also have a say. It’s scary that this orange, racist man is the new president.

Zainab Bhindarwala

LSA Sophomore

Involvement: SAAN, MCSP Intergroup Relations Council

To put it bluntly, I do not feel safe in Trump’s America; nor do I think anything positive will happen over the next four years. In fact, I think the next four years will be very rough for many Americans. By the end, we’ll need to work hard to repair the damage left in his wake. But somehow more concerning to me is the potential for damage committed by Trump’s supporters. And with him as president, I don’t foresee any dip in the number of hate crimes we’ve seen against marginalized groups since Trump announced his candidacy. This constant state of fear, for myself as well as my fellow Americans, is, quite frankly, exhausting.

Perhaps the only silver lining I can draw from Trump’s presidency is that his goal to divide people ended up uniting us. While Trump’s victory may have been because he pitted people against one another, the women’s marches last weekend showed the world that we are united as one against hate and bigotry.

Still, there is much more progress to be made when it comes to coalition building. While marching is a great way to exercise political opinions, it’s crucial that future movements don’t forget intersectionality. Someone who marches for women's rights should also find themselves marching on the streets for #BlackLivesMatter and LGBTQ+ rights, to name a few.

Moving forward, it’s essential we make more of an effort to communicate with others. I truly believe that if more Trump supporters had ever met and had a conversation with a Muslim, a Latinx, an African American or an immigrant, Donald Trump would not be in the Oval Office today. It’s easy to vote against a group you’ve never met; it’s much harder to vote against a fellow human. Even on our “diverse” campus, students should still make an effort to reach out to those different than themselves. When this occurs, we will start ridding ourselves of the misconceptions that fueled the rise of Donald Trump.

Jules Merringer

LSA Freshman

Involvement: Michigan Community Scholars Program, Alternative Investment Club

Many minority groups on campus are understandably concerned about where they stand over the next four years. Will their rights be taken from them? What’s going to happen? Trump has said a lot of scary things, and people are worried about the future.

I see a lot of parallels between the recent Women’s March and the civil rights movement. While people think about Martin Luther King Jr. when they think civil rights, the march on Selma was organized by Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee — a group of people just like us. Many people from different backgrounds united under one voice to try to persuade a privileged group to give them full equality. People need to put aside differences and come together to create that collective voice in the struggle for equal rights because not one group can do all of this. Coalition building is necessary for success.

Jonathan Kuriakose

LSA Senior

Involvement: Global Medical Missions Alliance, Alpha Epsilon Delta Pre-health Honor Society, Volunteers Involved Every Week, Michigan Pops Orchestra

For people of color to be effective, I think it is a two-pronged attack. We need to not only improve our situations on an individual level, but also on a societal level. We often feel that our impact is small, but I think it is important for us to keep these topics in our conversations with our friends and family — the people we can really affect. We have to continue to take a stand with non-violent protests. If we can truly show our pain and suffering to another, that’s how the perception of people of color will truly change.

I am not worried about a facetious rule. A lot of the president’s statements are unbacked. I think they were superficially said and used to gain votes. I truly believe and hope his statements won’t come true. I worry about the increased power of big business because America’s greatest weakness comes when those of power gain more control.

It’s important for us to remember what America stands for because at the core we cannot change America, though society will continue to change. For me, Obama’s greatest impact he’s had is instilling hope and that is something we cannot forget.

Mark-Anthony Lingaya

LSA Senior

Involvement: UMHS Volunteer, African Students Association, MHIRT, Circle K

I did not let my frustrations with the results of the election stop me from taking advantage of the opportunities I have as a student of the University of Michigan. Had I done so, I would not have been accepted as a participant for MHIRT, the Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training program. Over the course of this summer, I will travel to Ghana to fight the health disparities I am so passionate about.

Whatever feelings you have as a person of color are valid, and you have the right to express them in the ways you feel are best. However, you should not let these feelings inhibit you in any way; rather, let them fuel you. The election is over and it is time to think of the best ways to move forward. I am worried that the president is not going to listen to some of the issues people of color face when they should listen to all of those who are affected by their policies.

I will continue to tackle health disparities and medical racism with all that I am and in all I do. Along the way, there may be setbacks, but I will still push forward with the passion and drive to accomplish my goals.

Andrew Mei

Business Junior

Involvement: Student Organizational Funding Commission, Center for Positive Organizations, GMS Michigan

For students of color, you know that the way other students of color are treated indirectly affects you. As an Asian-American male, the racial oppression we have faced hasn’t been as highlighted as other groups, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stand in solidarity with them. By supporting other students of color, I know I can contribute to the fight for equal justice, which improves racial conditions for groups even if their struggles aren't as well-known. Knowing that can be powerful, impactful and can go a long way.

From taking Intergroup Relations last semester to being more invested as a student of color on campus, I feel that I can speak more openly and freely to other non-students of color surrounding racial issues on campus. For non-students of color, their voices have the most resources and most power to bring about change, especially in the political process. It’s important for them to realize that there are policies and systems put in place that unjustly and unfairly lessen groups of people, and they need to realize that non-students of color have the power to do something and ultimately help provide a more positive and just society.

Vidhya Aravind

First-year Masters of Information

Involvement: CommonGround, Students4Justice

People of color have different needs; different marginalized communities will have different needs and different fears. A lot of our activism has to be productive in a defensive way. We are a lot less free to make activist choices — which more privileged identities can make in terms of protesting. I’ve skipped out on a few protests because I am a brown trans-woman. If I am arrested and end up in a male prison cell, that would do bad things for my mental health and for my ability to keep going and doing this work.

I also have to worry about whether action will be inclusive of all my identities, which it's usually not. I have to do what I can, which is participating in more education-oriented work and in safer spaces. At first I was a little down on myself for that, but I realized I’m still doing positive work. I’m still making a difference.

The first thing people of color need to do is selfishly take care of our own needs. In the upcoming months, we will lose a lot of resources and things important to us. We need to do our best to exist. A big thing I try and tell marginalized people is existence is a form of resistance. Much of the greater world at large, whether they’ll admit it or not, wants our existence to be limited to certain modes of being in specific places where they can choose to avoid.

Beyond taking care of ourselves, people of color need to find ways to educate white people. It sucks because that’s not our responsibility and not an expectation I have for people of color, but also one of the only ways they will learn is by education from us. White people need to be educated on our needs, our fears, the things we need them to be doing for us.