After Donald Trump’s election on Nov. 8, much of the nation grieved. The country felt like the site of a crime scene. Life and vitality were drained from the tearful faces of students. Boxes of tissue lined the perimeter of Paresky. Bloodshot eyes prevented us from looking ahead towards the future. The bell rang solemnly in the gray distance and the sky cried with us that day.
Some were struck with disappointment at the system because this was the first time the democratic process had let them down. Many minority students felt an unending sense of fear for their friends, their loved ones and themselves. Some still thought they were trapped in a bad dream.
Strangers held each other for the first time, united in their collective anguish. My friends and I gathered in our common room, silently reflecting on what a Trump presidency would mean for our families. I called my parents and asked about how my little brother was doing in a school district home to many Trump supporters. As I walked down Route 2, I genuinely feared for my life in a nation that endorses hate speech and hate crimes.
It was as if we were no longer watching a tacky, mildly funny movie. We are now the cast and the country is the backdrop. Trump’s hateful threats are no longer empty, and he has the country at its knees with a red House of Representatives and Senate to back him.
Suddenly, our worst nightmares can be realized. It seems that we are living in this nightmare alone and others are merely visiting for the moment. This is the reality for a person of color and we do not get to just wake up. Minority students felt like spectacles as onlookers watched their reactions to the election, hoping to see how they would respond. Again, we are the cast in the movie; our sorrow is their entertainment and our pain is consumed like popcorn.
Following the election, the College invited two former politicians to come and speak on the election. Former governor Jennifer Granholm (D-Mich.) and former senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.) were invited to speak on the presidential campaign. When inviting individuals to speak on this campus, it is important to take into consideration what they stand for before you give them a platform to influence an audience.
Brown got up on stage and spewed pseudo-Trump hate speech. He said things that reflected Trump’s mindset that illegal immigrants are raping and murdering citizens and also employed the “we need to build a wall” rhetoric. Many students in the crowd were in tears, reliving the trauma they felt from the entire election cycle. This was only two days after the election.
When I asked a faculty from the College about the purpose of providing people like Brown a platform to embolden concealed racists and traumatize minority students, I received an answer that essentially informs the disconnect between minority students and the administration. I was told, “We must take every event as a learning opportunity. In life, we will meet people that we do not agree with.”
When someone says that every event should be taken as a learning opportunity, I have to ask which demographic is actually learning and which demographic is being intellectually consumed, while onlookers gape at their emotional turmoil. Who exactly is learning?
If you think that, a day or two after the election, everyone is learning, then you are unaware of the gravity of the situation. You are not taking into consideration minority students who are now faced with a real and present danger.
Lastly, I must address the impact that the Scott Browns of the world have on this campus. Upon leaving the ’62 Center, I overheard two white male students acknowledge that they held conservative views and felt like they would be persecuted on this campus if they were vocal about them.
Translation: Brown made them feel justified in their bigotry, in a liberal space where racist views should not be tolerated.
Again I ask: Who is learning in this case? What exactly are they learning?
The administration is able to disinvite John Derbyshire, but chose to allow Brown to enter into our sanctuary, incite concealed racists and further rob minority students of their sense of safety, security and agency.
I end on this: When minority students grieve national events, whether it be because of election results that we are personally implicated by or a shooting of an unarmed black man, it is not too much to expect that we need time to heal and process these events. We do not want the administration to compound the issue; instead, we do want genuine support and understanding. Otherwise, the College becomes a microcosm of the very oppressive structure that we are trying to combat.
Valerie Oyakhilome ’18 is a political science major and Africana studies concentrator from Lindenhurst, N.Y. She lives in Horn Hall.