Students responded to Donald Trump’s election on Wednesday morning with multiple events.
Isabel Peña ’19 and Suiyi Tang ’19 began communicating with other students, particularly those who had previously discussed having an interest in activism groups such as Minority Coalition and Divest Williams, to organize an event on Wednesday. A number of students indicated their interest, resulting in a meeting at 2:30 a.m., at which they created a Facebook event entitled “Unsafe Unsound — Occupy Baxter.” From there, the event “took off on its own and gained momentum,” Peña said, with 328 students indicating they were going on Facebook.
Students occupied Baxter Hall from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event included an open microphone, providing an opportunity for attendees to share their feelings. Although students organized the event, the College provided logistical assistance. The Office of Student Life helped set up the microphone, while the Davis Center provided food.
“We wanted it to be space for students, not just for discussion, but a space for healing and education, especially for the people of various identities that Trump’s election put in danger,” Peña said. “Undocumented students on campus and their families are threatened by Trump’s election. There are real implications for my family, which is of mixed immigration status, when a president says he’s going to deport Mexicans, who he referred to as rapists.”
Tang also said that she feared Trump’s election would legitimize hate crimes and could lead to limitation of access to birth control and abortion.
According to Peña, the event was primarily intended to provide a space for students, but also for staff and faculty, while the role of administrators who attended was to listen.
“If I didn’t suggest occupying Baxter, there still would have been some kind of organizing,” she said, emphasizing the collaborative nature of the event.
Tang was among the many attendees who spoke at the open mic. She discussed feelings of grief and disbelief over the election, and how it was important to have people who share the same kind of pain next to each other.
“Being in Baxter on Wednesday was really tiring, but listening and talking, in a way, was cathartic,” Tang said.
Peña spoke about how reform can happen during times of crisis. “As students, we can’t reform the Electoral College at this time, but we can make changes on campus,” she said.
While the Occupy Baxter Facebook event served to organize the Wednesday gathering, it was also the source of a movement for the College to cancel classes.
A few students provided sample emails to make it easy for others to communicate their desire for classes to be cancelled.
“Hope you’re well and able to find peace and rest despite tonight’s circumstances,” read one sample email, addressed to President Adam Falk, Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom and Provost David Love. “Please cancel class. I know many on this campus aren’t affected. But if there is any respect for those who are, then we need to be given the right to step back and reflect. I know you’ll understand. I trust you will try your best to make this happen and ensure students, staff and faculty feel supported through this.”
While classes were not canceled on Wednesday, Falk, Sandstrom and Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Leticia Haynes ’99 sent all-campus emails directing students to various campus resources and emphasizing the need for students to work together. Falk also emailed the faculty, asking them to be “flexible and sensitive to [Tuesday’s events].”
“The classroom is one of the most important places where students and faculty engage with each other,” Falk said. “I thought it was very important that, at a such a significant moment, our community be able to take advantage of this incredibly valuable space for discussion. In fact, I heard from many faculty and students that they were very grateful to be in class together on Wednesday morning.”
“Not many college presidents would have responded with that email, so I appreciate that,” Peña said. “However, some students feel that the response was not enough.”
Tang and Peña criticized the lack of spaces that the College devoted to responding to the election, creating the need for the Occupy Baxter event.
“It is important to have public spaces where we can take up physical space,” Tang said. “Some of us can’t afford to mourn in private when we will be persecuted in public.”
“We are a part of the College as much as everyone else,” Peña said. “At lunch, you could tell there was a divide between those who felt the election would change their lives and those who felt it would not. We interrupted that space. The day was anything but normal.”
However, Peña noted that it was important that the Davis Center provided food, because not all students who wished to attend Occupy Baxter were on a meal plan. Tang also noted her par-ticular appreciation for female staff, staff of color and queer staff, who helped to take care of others, even as they had to take care of themselves.
Students further criticized a photo on the College’s Instagram of the Occupy Baxter event, as it did not indicate that students, rather than the administration, organized the event.
“To clarify, Williams College did nothing to organize the event,” a comment on Instagram by Valeria Sosa-Garnica ’19 said “… This was a student space organized by students co-opted by Adam Falk and Williams College …”
With classes still taking place on Wednesday, how to respond to student concerns about the election was at professors’ discretion. Associate Professor of Economics Sarah Jacobson chose to delay an exam deadline, have discussions with students who wished to talk and posted a sign on her office door, reading, “You are valued and respected in my America.”
“Honestly, I know a lot of students are deeply worried about what will happen to their country and their families and loved ones, and I wish I could do more, but I feel a little helpless,” Jacobson said. “I share their worries. I don’t want to alienate students with different political beliefs, but I also told a group of students today that I’m concerned about what I’ve read about a spike in hate crimes and I think we all need to stand up against hate, which seems like it should be a nonpartisan issue.”
Professor of Latino/a Studies María Elena Cepeda opted to devote class time to discussing the election and allowed students to not attend class or leave at any time if they wished.
“Latina/o studies is grounded in an ongoing critique of institutional structures and their impacts on people’s everyday lives, so it struck me as critical to engage in a post-election conversation together,” Cepeda said. “For many — if not most — of individuals on this campus, the election was a referendum on our humanity, and we are deeply concerned.”
While some professors decided to alter their classes in response to the election, others did not. “We hope to see all faculty working critically together to create more inclusive and productive spaces, as so many, especially those in Africana, American and [Latino/a] studies have already,” Tang said.
On Saturday morning, students gathered with staff, faculty and community members at a “Stand up to Trump” rally at Field Park at the intersection of Routes 2 and 7 in Williamstown. Northern Berkshires for Racial Justice (NBRJ), a community group working to address white privilege on a local level, organized the rally, which had attendance of over 400.
“The goal in organizing the rally was to show that this is not okay,” Jane Berger, co-founder of NBRJ, said. “Things are not okay, and they will not be okay if we don’t seriously step up — particularly white people. We also want to show those that may feel validated by this election that we will not normalize their blatant white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia or xenophobia.”