By VIRGINIA BIXBY
The unprecedented election of Republican candidate, Donald Trump, has upset many Americans, including a large number of UMW students. But while every election causes some disappointment in voters, this one has been particularly controversial and divisive.
Trump is the first president in the students’ lifetimes who has expressed overt racism, misogyny, Islamophobia and homophobia. He has also been accused of sexually assaulting women, and has suggested plans to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. In additional regard to immigration, he has proposed requiring Muslim-Americans to enter a registry.
Senior Mariam Khan, stayed up the whole night of Nov. 8 to watch the voting results come in live and was excited to welcome who she thought would be the first female president-elect, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. However, she began to panic when Trump started receiving a steady stream of Electoral College votes.
“I was getting visibly frustrated with people,” Khan said. “I went into the bathroom and cried.” She was shocked by the upset. “I thought Hillary had it,” she said.
For Khan, this was about more than simply disliking Trump. As a child of two Muslim immigrants, “I couldn’t stop thinking about my parents. [They] are the embodiment of what Trump believes shouldn’t be in the country… I didn’t understand how a man harboring so much hate could win,” she said. Junior Sophia Hamdan, feared that the country could regress to a darker time in world history. “This man is horrible because he wants to register all Muslims in this country, which is just like how they registered all the Jews in Nazi Germany.”
She was also put off by his comments about women. Hamdan added that he “said numerous things about women that are degrading and he has been accused of sexual assault.”
While Trump’s radical beliefs were the main concern, many students voiced fear of his running mate, Mike Pence, who has held controversial views surrounding LGBTQ+ rights. He has supported taking money away from health programs that fund AIDS research and using it to fund conversion therapy, in which LGBTQ+ individuals are provided psychological treatment to change their sexual orientation.
“I think that this election is terrifying for many Americans, not only because of the future president of the United States, but his running mate, Mike Pence,” said senior Lauren Rainford. She voiced her concern over Pence’s past actions against the LGBTQ+ community.
LGBTQ+ issues were at the forefront of sophomore Andrew Unger’s mind. “I can’t believe this has happened,” Unger said. “Everybody was under the impression that this would never happen in a million years. These people support conversion therapy, which makes people [more] likely to kill themselves. This is absurd.”
Many members of the university have called for students to unite behind the president and to try to understand those on the other end of the political spectrum. But some students have said they have a hard time supporting the president-elect or empathizing with his supporters, whom they feel are willing to overlook the divisive racially and sexually charged rhetoric of his campaign.
“He [Trump] represents everything that is wrong,” said senior Heather Banikas. “He represents misogynistic values, racist values. He doesn’t respect the LGBTQ+ community. And with that, I can’t agree with him in any of his policies.” Banikas’s thoughts strongly resonated with senior Clara Martin.
“I cannot abide by people who would throw away the basic human rights of others just for the fear of job security and money,” Martin said. “I’m here today to fight for people who are too afraid to speak their voice and for myself as a queer woman for a country that I feel free to be myself in.”
Hamdan voiced another concern, that having Donald Trump as president-elect lowers the standards of civility for everyone, particularly children, which only further marginalizes Americans.
“It is so terrifying to me that little kids will now see our president and call him President Trump and say ‘Hey, I want to be like this guy’ and see that he’s done all these things that are absolutely horrifying,” Hamdan said.
For many students who did not support Trump, they have found comfort in finding solidarity with others similar concerns.
Sarah Heisey, a senior at UMW, decided to organize a peaceful protest on Friday, Nov 11. “On Wednesday I was with a bunch of friends who were equally distraught and traumatized, terrified for our lives, so anxious that we were [becoming physically ill], and we saw that there were a bunch of student demonstrations around the country and we were hoping to do something here,” Heisey said.
“We just wanted to show all groups on this campus, that feel like maybe they are alone, or that they are targeted, or that something terrible might happen to them, that we can all come together.”
She decided to organize a die-in, a protest in which participants lay down on the ground in total silence to represent how their voices and livelihoods had been suppressed. She contacted Cedric Rucker, associate Vice President and Dean of Student Life, and checked with the fire marshal to ensure the protest fell within safety guidelines. Khan noted that she was very impressed by the support of President Troy Paino, Juliette Landphair, vice president of Student Affairs and the James Farmer Multicultural Center.
The climate of the die-in was mournful but impassioned. Students were anxious to voice their fears and concerns. They felt the event helped to symbolize their unity. Heisey made remarks about potential concerns following the outcome of the election, there was a moment of silence, and then students proceeded to lie down on the ground in front of Lee Hall. Many students draped American flags, pride flags, flags of other nations, and handwritten signs over their bodies.
“It went really well and we had a great turnout,” Heisey said. “We’re really grateful for that. It couldn’t have gone any better.”
Many participants said it felt cathartic to express themselves and that it helped them process an event that was very upsetting.
“I thought it was a good visual of how people felt,” Khan said, who served as the voice of the protestors during the event by speaking to passersby about what they were protesting. “It was a powerful statement. I realized that I am not the only one on this campus feeling these emotions. Students who feel disenfranchised feel like they’ve lost power, and this helped make them visible and say ‘my voice won’t be silent.’”
In regards to how to continue channeling their anger into productivity following the election, many students suggested supporting organizations such as Planned Parenthood and sexual assault survivor networks to fill a gap in support that a Trump presidency has the potential to leave open. While still angry, there was an overwhelming sentiment of hope coming from students.
Heisey firmly believed the success of the protest was indicative of future progress. “There are so many millennials in this world. There are so many immigrants, gay people, brown people, black people, all sorts of people that can come together and unify through that,” she said. “We can make it through what might be the most difficult time of our lives.”
Rainford is hopeful that people will continue to fight against their oppression. “We’ve never really seen [Trump’s ideas] that outwardly spoken in a country that firmly disagrees with a lot of the things he says, and the fact that he has won to me is just evidence that we aren’t as far along as [I thought],” Rainford said. “We’re going to keep fighting for these next four years to try to bring him out of power and show the American people that we care about all of them.”
Khan felt the that the number of UMW students who were protesting on campus in various forums was evidence of an inclusive student body. She voiced that she believed in the power of UMW students to make a change, and insisted that hope is not lost.
“The students here are very passionate about not letting this election be the end all be all,” Kahn said. “They are willing to fight for what they believe in and willing to fight for their humanity.”