As a student affairs professional working in diversity and inclusion, this election has been exceptionally important to the students and colleagues I interact with every day. Last Wednesday morning, I woke up thinking about the undocumented, queer, trans, black, brown, and Muslim folks in my life. I thought about the sexual assault survivors. Then, I thought about my students.
I knew when I went to work that day, it would be up to my colleagues and me to figure out how to explain this—to find ways to comfort students who were so invested in this election they felt like their futures depended on it. I hugged five students who whispered to me that they are afraid their parents will be deported—their tears soaking through my cardigan. I heard students say they woke during the night frightened by the sounds of Trump supporters screaming and cheering on the quad. I heard students talk about the insecurity, hopelessness, and powerlessness they felt waking up Wednesday morning.
I watched as a young, black man tried to talk himself out of feeling anger because he knew he wasn't allowed to feel it. I watched as the crowd in our office grew to more than fifty people all needing to say they are not okay. That night, a group of students wrote the word “n-gger” on the quad on our campus. Again, I spent the next day listening, watching, and trying to comfort students.
Regardless of your political views, the reality of this election is that there are marginalized folks on our campuses and throughout this country left feeling like their humanity and safety are at stake. As #SAPros we have a responsibility to make sure our students have the support they need to stay focused on their success in and outside of the classroom, and as we know, that becomes increasingly difficult when they feel the most basic elements of a strong learning environment—like safety, a sense of belonging, and even love—are fading.
These are the actions we’re taking to support all of our students:
1. Affirming belonging
Make sure your students know that you are here for them. Tell them that any act of racism, sexism, xenophobia, or other forms of bigotry are not tolerated on your campus. They need to know that there is still a way forward, even if they feel lost.
Do not assume you know best. Listen to what students need. What is the climate like in the residence halls, classrooms, cafeteria, etc.? Are students feeling afraid, isolated, or hopeless? It is easier to listen and address than it is to make incorrect assumptions and deal with backlash.
3. Building Community
Has your campus held any space for marginalized folks to process the election results as a community? Have you issued any statements regarding the university’s policy on hate crimes and bias motivated incidents? Organize a bipartisan forum where folks can talk about their hopes and fears for the future. Encourage them to come up with ideas for the university to support everyone through this period of transition in our country.
4. Finding Space for Joy
Processing our feelings of loss, grief, fear, and anxiety is important, AND we must find space for joy. We are the models for most of our students. They need to see our hope so that they can cultivate their own. Plan a campus-wide rally for unity. Organize an open-mic night. Tap your campus activities board to bring in an inspirational speaker. Tell students you are proud of them. No act of kindness and love is too small.
I acknowledge that not all students are feeling this way. In fact, there may be a large number of your students who are thrilled with the election results. We need to be there for the students who are finding it difficult to make it to class, having trouble talking to their peers, or even leave their room. None of us have all of the answers, but I know that by our providing affirmation, listening, building community, and making space for joy in our office, we got through week one. We shared funny stories and joked with students, and a week that began with fear, tears, and an act of racist hate speech ended in laughter and community.
I would be honored to hear what you are doing on your campus and your thoughts on these tips. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @jessicamarie299.