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How a liberal school faces a conservative presidency

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Since the inauguration, the effects of a Donald Trump presidency have rippled across intellectual and communal landscapes far and wide. Reports of policies, executive orders, cabinet nominees and tweets are screeched into the ears of nearly everybody on a daily basis. New College, a school liberal in more than one way, faces the question of how to respond to the current political climate.

“I see people in distress not being sure administratively where they want to stand but knowing that they want to support students,” Counseling and Wellness Center counselor Duane Khan said. “At the staff level, I think there’s confusion about how to handle our own processes and handle what students are going through and figure out how we’re supposed to be voicing our descent while at a public institution.”

President Donal O’Shea has so far sent out two emails regarding the effects of the presidential election. The first one, sent out directly after the election results, acknowledged a commitment to diversity and to ensuring safety and respect for every student.

The second email was sent a week after Trump’s executive order banning entry into the United States for roughly 218 million people from seven Muslim-majority countries. In this email, O’Shea confirmed the presence of all international students and promised to stay in touch to ensure their safety on campus, adding “ours is a nation of immigrants, and those immigrants have helped create our institutions, our science and our way of life.”

O’Shea has, twice in the past year, sent out similar emails directly addressing the student body in response to two aggressive and disturbing moments: the Orlando mass-shooting and an incidence of anti-semitism over Halloween festivities.  

Deliberate response to the Trump presidency is not limited to administration. Several professors explicitly welcome in-class discussion on the topic and have incorporated related discourse into their Spring syllabi.

I think faculty have an obligation to engage students with current events,” Professor of French Amy Reid said. Reid’s Intermediate French class was assigned to read about the trials of refugees and immigrants trying to make it to Canada to escape the crackdown coming from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“I think honest and critical discussions [are so important] and that’s something I’m trying to emphasise in my classes,” Professor of Anthropology Erin Dean said, echoing Reid’s intentions with her own classes.

Reid initially expressed a hesitancy to speak with the Catalyst, concerned about the implications of being quoted in the time of Trump. She explained that one thing that concerns her is how the Trump administration has continually shut down public debate.

While current events weave their way into classes, students are tuning in to the news on their own time as well. In a survey posted to the students-list and the forum, over 75 percent of 123 respondents reported reading the news more since the election.

Professor Dean has committed to a major change in her relationship with the media.

“I’ve always read the New York Times and now everyday I also read Fox News because I feel like I was so surprised and feel really distant from a lot of the country that voted this way,” she explained. “I realized that we’re all in these media silos and I’m trying really hard to break that. It’s not always pleasant but I think it’s really important to read opinions that are not your own.”

On the other hand, several students who took the survey actually reported reading the news less, concerned for their mental well-being. Perhaps relatedly, 31.9 percent of students practice self-care more since the election of Donald Trump.

“The first thing my older daughter said to me [after the election] was ‘now they’re really going to build that pipeline across the Native American reservation’ and I realized then how much she had absorbed,” Dean said. “She’s seven. I’ve definitely turned off the radio more. There’s only so much ugliness a person can take.”

To the question “what part of your life is most impacted by the results of the 2016 presidential election,” 46.7 percent of survey respondents answered “emotions” out of identity, physicality, social life, emotions, financials and other. With students increasing their news intake, they may also be increasing emotional stress. A 2014 NPR survey found that one in four Americans experience a “great deal” of daily stress due to the news.

I’ve stopped listening to NPR daily because I’m sick of hearing Trump’s name soil my ears,” a respondent to the survey conducted for this article said. Instead, the person has become more active in a local community group.

“When we talk about being engaged politically, when we talk about activism, social justice, equity, those are words that are just heavy, laden with a lot of connotation and meaning,” Khan said. “What we fail to do is take time to acknowledge our personal wounds and ways we are personally affected, to be able to be vulnerable and see the meaning behind some of those wounds. In many ways, there’s a disconnect, a belief that if we solve the issues out there, the wounds on the inside will be healed. And those are two different things.”

88 out of 123 students reported changing their everyday behavior since the election. One respondent said that they “fact check news sources” and “try to engage in more productive dialogue.” Another person wrote “career goals” as the part of their life most impacted by the election results.

First-year Parankush Bhardwaj also experienced a shift in his career interests post-election. A Computer Science major, Bhardwaj had planned to use Independent Study Period to create an education app for iphones. The election results changed his plans.

Instead of an app designed to make math easier, Bhardwaj created an app called Congress, which enables anyone to become politically active at the touch of a button (or two). The app uses your location to pull up a list of your representatives accompanied by their voting record (provided by ontheissues.org) and a connection to their office’s phone line. In addition to your representatives, a list of local and national protests is available through this app as well.

It’s disappointing to see a country that was so great in science and tech elect Trump,” Bhardwaj said. “I was born in India and a lot of people in India dream of coming into the United States and now that’s kind of foreign to me. Now it’s like, how can that idea be true today?”

Bhardwaj dates the beginnings of his own political activity as recently as 2016. The election is what formed and shaped his relationship with politics, he says. The election also altered his perception of the tech world’s relation to the White House.

“I realized that it doesn’t matter if you have this great new app if a political barrier is stopping it,” Bhardwaj explained. “I think at the end of the day if everyone is politically active then that’s better for everyone.”

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