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Hopes and fears: Campus reacts to Trump


By Drew Keller     11/15/16 11:28pm

The morning after Donald Trump’s electoral victory, a palpable gloom had settled over Rice University’s campus. Laughter was scarce; students gave their friends hugs and offered words of support. Some professors took time out of class to discuss the election, while some students described an immobilizing despondence as they tried to go about their daily routine. Others who identify as conservatives or supported Trump, however, expressed more optimistic sentiments.

A Republican victory

Rice University College Republicans president Jake Blumencranz said the group, which voted to not endorse Trump’s candidacy in September, hoped Trump would appoint officials who would carry out conservative and Republican ideals. Blumencranz, a Brown College junior, declined to comment on who he voted for.

“Like everyone else, we are surprised at the outcome of this election but we are not shocked that Trump’s message of change has resonated with much of the country,” he said. “Now that the election is over and Trump is in the White House, we must come together and unite as one party and one club.”

Will Rice College sophomore Patrick Kowalski and freshman Madison Buzzard both voted for Trump, though they did not expect his Election Night victory. Buzzard, who described himself as a conservative favoring small government with strong national defense policies, said economic turmoil in Midwestern industry that he attributed to Obama administration policies played an important role in his vote.

“Rural voters are disenfranchised — people sort of mock that term — but people don’t generally understand,” Buzzard said. “I’m from southwest Missouri, and manufacturing and agriculture are part of the economy. Those issues were prominent in how we vote in a rationally economic sense.”

Both Kowalski and Buzzard also expressed dislike for what they described as the corruption and establishment politics of Hillary Clinton, as did Will Rice sophomore Hugh Grier, another Trump voter.

“She is a lying, cheating, bought-out criminal,” Grier said. “There are people in prison for doing what she did. Electing a president that knowingly broke the law and openly lied to the American public would undermine everything this country stands for.”

However, both Grier and Buzzard said they supported all or most of the other Republican candidates over Trump during the primaries; Buzzard said Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Jeb Bush were his first three choices. They said they did not support Trump’s widely reported comments regarding women, nor did they identify with some of his more extreme supporters. Kowalski expressed a similar sentiment.

“Racists would vote for [Trump] for all the wrong reasons: His policy means a lot less darker people within these borders, whether they be illegal immigrants or refugees,” Kowalski said. “It doesn’t mean his policies are rooted in hate. I don’t think he won any sexist votes, though perhaps he won some pro-life votes. I’m pro-choice, and his policies on environmentalism bother me, but in every other respect he was the superior presidential candidate.”

Kowalski said he wore a pro-Trump hat featuring the words “Make America Great Again” around campus the day after the election.

“Honestly, I feel like it was social suicide and winning the lottery at the same time,” Kowalski said. “A lot of people have come up to me quietly on their own to compliment me for wearing it. I feel like Rice saw it as me wearing a swastika on my arm, which is completely and utterly absurd.”

Buzzard said he mostly receives negative reactions to being a Trump supporter on campus.

“‘If you voted for Trump, you should burn in hell,’” Buzzard said. “I’ve heard that. I’ve heard, ‘If you voted for Donald Trump, you should kill yourself.’ I’ve heard, ‘How can you look your minority friends in the eye and tell them that you voted for Trump?’ That sort of language is not productive for conversation, not productive for policy, and it‘s not productive to unite America.”

Buzzard said he would welcome further dialogue with liberals, but for such conversations to occur, both sides need to listen to one another.

“How can I expand outside my bubble, if all I’m greeted with are comments like these ones, instead of genuinely asking, ‘Why would you vote for Trump?’ and just listening,” Buzzard said. “[Democrats] are not sitting down and putting aside their emotional attachment to the election, and just listening to why conservative voters voted conservative and why so many people decided to dismiss the statements that Trump said for the sake of all the other issues.”

Buzzard said he experienced few successful conversations about politics on Rice’s campus.

“The only people I’ve been able to discuss reasonably with have been a few people that already personally know me as a good person, because everyone else assumes I’m not,” Buzzard said. “That’s a very difficult thing. But I’ve moved past it, and that’s why I’m willing to talk and know that this will be published in a [Thresher] article, even though I’m going to receive horrible backlash.”

Duncan College freshman Juliette Turner, a Trump supporter who said she had predicted a Trump electoral victory with Clinton winning the popular vote, said she is saddened by the labeling, hurt and fear she sees on campus and in the country. She rejected the idea that Trump is homophobic, racist or sexist, pointing out he waved a rainbow flag at a rally and his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway is the first woman to lead a successful presidential campaign.

“The fear people have is based on uncertainty, rhetoric and beliefs that the GOP and Donald Trump is ‘insert label here,’” Turner said. “We live in America, my friends. We have checks and balances. Trump does not have a free check to implement any policies he wants.”

Like Buzzard, Turner said she hoped for increased dialogue across the partisan divide.

“I encourage everyone at Rice and around America to refrain from saying ‘person’ is ‘label,’” she said. “Let’s talk about actual policies. When we do, we find that we have much more in common than we previously thought. I will proudly wear a safety pin for solidarity, right next to my Donald Trump pin.”

Anti-Trump students grieve

David Cirillo, president of the Rice Young Democrats, expressed fear for the effect of a Trump presidency on the environment and minorities. He called for participation in local elections and non-governmental organizations.

“What we need to do next is build up a network,” Cirillo, a Sid Richardson College junior, said. “We need to fight back, to show our public opinion as a check on Trump and the Republican Party’s power, to say that we will not let you take away our rights without opposition.”

Vietnamese Student Association president Thu Nguyen said while Asian Americans may not directly feel the impact of the election, they must support other minorities.

“We need to fight with all of them, because in the end, eventually when it comes to something, that’s our fight, they will have our backs,” Nguyen, a Wiess College senior, said.

Nguyen said she has had difficult discussions with her parents, who voted for Trump in Texas primarily because of economic concerns.

“I’ve heard from one of my family members that [Islamophobia and sexism are] such a big part of American culture, it wouldn’t even matter if Trump was voted because it’s still embedded in American culture,” Nguyen said.

Jones College sophomore Shlok Sobti said the support of peers at Rice has been vital following the election.

“I am fortunate to have people stand by me, stand by anyone who feels threatened, and I stop to wonder whether I would have done the same back home — India,” Sobti said. “Having my privilege stripped away from me made me aware of the privilege that I’ve always possessed back home. America isn't an isolated case, this divide exists all over the globe, and we as humans need to realize our privilege and lend our voices to those who need them.”

Head Diversity Facilitator Gabriela Balicas, a Clinton supporter, said the fact that such an overwhelming majority of students thought Clinton would win shows the extent to which many live in an information bubble.

“Is every single action you're taking actually helping?” Balicas, a Duncan College senior, said. “The expression of anger without purpose is the most dangerous thing you can get in this country or in this world. Our president-elect won on a platform of hate, and you're so angry about that that you are going to hate every single person who supported him. Really? Then what makes us any better than them?”

Brown freshman Phillip Hedayatnia is the founder and editor in chief of RealPolitics, an online news and opinion media outlet with content written by college students nationwide. Hedayatnia, a self-described centrist, said he was happy with the student body’s response to the election at Rice, where he said more people seemed willing to engage in conversation than at other universities.

“The response at Rice was to say, ‘Let’s support the people in our community who feel marginalized and threatened, rather than getting all up in arms about the result of the election,’” Hedayatnia said. “I don’t believe that sort of protest is effective at all.”

Hedayatnia, who worked with the Gary Johnson, John Kasich and briefly Bernie Sanders campaigns this election cycle, said he disliked the election result personally but believes dialogue is key to moving forward. He declined to say who he voted for.

“I have family I worry for, as somebody whose mother is Colombian and has a thick accent and I know how many people have said to her in the past, 'Speak English,'” Hedayatnia said. “As somebody who has an Iranian father [and] existing legislation almost threatened his ability to come to and fro from the country, which he depends on for his job — this stuff frightens me, but I don't think the way to deal with it is the crazy protests I've seen in other schools.”

Jones College sophomore Pamela Ekechukwu said her initial reaction to Trump’s victory was that it was a result of white supremacy deeply ingrained in the nation. However, she said she as time passes she has tried to understand why those in the Rust Belt were more inclined to vote for Trump and now feels there were a number of contributing factors.

“I’m not saying every time someone calls you a racist it means you’ve done something wrong,” Ekechukwu said. “Not everyone that voted for [Trump] is a racist or sexist — that is a fact. [However,] you enabled a racist and a sexist to assume office. You enabled him to appoint other racists and sexists and anti-semites.”

While Ekechukwu said she was trying to better understand Trump supporters, she said it is important that other Trump opponents who are still coming to terms with his election be given space to process the event. She said those who have immediately advocated for cross-partisan dialogue overlook the concerns of students who feared a Trump presidency.

“A lot of people posted [on Facebook] saying, ‘Make sure you keep an open mind, don’t try to block Trump supporters from your life,’ which was a very rational thing to do,” Ekechukwu said. “At the same time, I had issues with how people went about that because they were more concerned with order than equality.”

Faculty reactions

Political science professor Robert Stein said he did not anticipate Trump’s victory, though he said on reflection he felt he should not be surprised. He said the reaction on campus to the result differed from any he had witnessed in past decades.

"I've never seen it,” Stein said. “I've lived through many elections but I've never seen an election that's so surprised — and frankly, among those who were Clinton supporters, [caused] a real abject depression and in some cases, particularly with students of color, students of foreign nationalities, a great deal of trepidation."

Stein said he knew many faculty in the political science department felt similarly after extensively discussing the election with other professors.

"Most of the colleagues I've talked to are not only shocked but greatly dismayed,” Stein said. “[There's] probably much more politically Democratic faculty here at Rice.”

While Stein said it is too early to predict what the next four years may bring, beyond speculation, he expressed hope that some of the worst fears about the effects of the election will not come to pass.

“I'll be cautious and say we tend to exaggerate in the moment the consequences of elections,” Stein said. “I've lived through enough elections to see that the republic, close to 250 years of it, seems to withstand shocks.”

History professor Douglas Brinkley had a similar impression of the student body’s reaction.

"I think most of the students at Rice are brilliant and they have their own ways of analyzing what happened,” Brinkley said. “I felt there was a great disappointment from many, many students that Hillary Clinton lost, but I did not feel it was debilitating to students."

Brinkley was a guest on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah on Election Night and has commented on the presidential race for many national news media outlets. He said many students were particularly crestfallen about Clinton’s loss since she came so close to becoming the first female president.

“There were a lot of women who were excited to have a historic first happen while they were in college,” Brinkley said. “Having to see [Hillary Clinton] get defeated by someone who is quite misogynistic is heartbreaking.”

News Editor Amber Tong and Assistant News Editor Emily Abdow contributed to this report.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Patrick Kowalski is a freshman. He is a sophomore. The article has been edited to reflect this correction.

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