Though the election concluded a month ago, the shock waves from the results are still resounding across the nation and on Truman State University’s campus.
The 2016 national election results left many feeling unsettled because of the controversy surrounding the candidates and policies which prompted Truman to respond to students differently than how previous election results have prompted.
Institutional Compliance Officer Jamie Ball says she sent out an email containing resources available to students on campus after the election results because she felt the reactions from the students were more disappointment.
“I’d taken the temperature of a few students here locally, and the national climate [and] it seemed there was a fairly strong reaction to what was happening with the election, and not just a disappointment reaction,” Ball says. “The reaction I saw was also one of tremendous anxiety and fear associated with what the election results would mean for things like immigration status.”
Ball says she thinks if anyone feels at risk, it’s helpful to remind them they have an option of reporting those kinds of things, reaching out as a community for support and to be mindful of those resources.
Ball says she hasn’t seen a huge increase of students reaching out, but she did have some feedback from the email itself. A couple of students responded to thank her, she says, and one student responded with a little bit of criticism, which she says she understood.
“I welcomed his viewpoint as I think his perception was that we were trying to console people because they were disappointed,” Ball says. “I think that’s a part of what we’re trying to understand — maybe this is a little bit unprecedented. We’re not just trying to coddle people and comfort them because they’re disappointed. This is a fairly extraordinary situation where there is a sense of anxiety and fear that you typically would not see just because of political disagreements.”
Ball says she doesn’t think there’s a specific approach undertaken as a response to the election, but we are fortunate here in our community that we’re not seeing a lot of serious instances where people feel threatened. She says she checked with DPS and the Kirksville Police Department to ensure everything that should be on her radar was and they said they hadn’t had reports of anybody saying they felt they were targeted or any harassment or assault related to the election.
In terms of developing specific programs as an ongoing effort, Ball says she didn’t think that was going to be necessary, but the timing was good because Truman is at the point where it’s trying to implement some of the strategies of the Inclusive Excellence Strategic Plan. She says those efforts included forums set up before Thanksgiving Break and the Coffee with the President event to encourage conversation about what to do as a community to create an environment where people can talk about disagreements and do so in a constructive way.
“I think the results of the election, the campaign itself and the results of the election call on us as educated people to really think about the dynamics of our populous,” Ball says. “If there is a silver lining to all the difficulty and controversy that people have experienced over the last 18 months it’s that we get to look more clearly [and] get out of our little bubbles.”
Ball says she thinks Truman students are pretty tough on the whole. She says she thinks everyone copes differently with these kinds of stressors, but on the whole the community has weathered these issues well.
Ball says University Counseling Services has been taxed and a stronger need has been expressed for counseling services, which is something to be mindful of moving forward as Truman evaluates staffing needs. Perhaps these events have shown Truman needs to increase the availability of that service to our campus because it’s such a valuable and needed service, she says.
Ball says she also thinks it’s interesting to think about how the community of higher education is in a particularly different place in these kinds of moments.
“It’s very interesting as an administrator to think of this work and the controversy that it does seem to engender, things like safe spaces and people seeking academic accommodations,” Ball says. “There’s definitely a balance to be struck, but I would hope that leaders within individual colleges and universities would be trusted to make decisions to strike that balance and identify what their students need and to do those things that respond effectively to their students needs.”
College Republican chairman Benjamin Terrell says his organization does not currently have any events planned to respond to events by other organizations, but would not be opposed to organizing forums to discuss issues in the future if a need arose.
Terrell says he thinks the role students play in elections is very important. He says during the Obama/Romney race, it was the youth vote that changed the election to be in favor of Obama, demonstrating the change they are capable of affecting.
“First, they changed an election,” Terrell says. “Imagine if they were to start pitching in on campaigns [or] working with county officials and county problems — they could be a real force to be reckoned with.”
Terrell says the College Republicans participated in events during the campaign on a local level, such as helping to staff events, walking in parades to support their candidates and demonstrating how students can be involved in elections. He says they expected Adair County to vote Republican because they knew Adair County was conservative, but they remained optimistically cautious during the election.
Terrell says his organization believes Truman’s campus is handling to the election results well even though many were disappointed with the results.
“Of course, a small portion of campus is handling this extremely well — we did have those Trump supporters — but then I would say another small portion of campus is handling this with less grace and dignity,” Terrell says. “They’re protesting, but it’s peaceful protests.”
Terrell says he disagrees with the destructive actions those across the country who took the election results extremely poorly are taking, including rioting. He says he believes causing physical damage to someone’s property or person is awful, especially to do it in response to democracy taking place in America.
But Terrell says he wanted to bring attention to the good things going on in light of the election which have been overshadowed.
“When we had an overwhelming Republican win here [in Adair County], as well as on a federal level, these people said, ‘Congratulations. We’re here to work with you — let’s make sure we work to make this country a better place,’” Terrell says. “As soon as the election was over, it stopped being a partisan issue and it became making America a better place to live, so that really warmed my heart. I know all these awful things are happening, but there’s so much good in the world — that’s what we like to focus on.”
Senior Trista Sullivan, Students for a Democratic Society member — a multi-tendency all inclusive organization — says she thinks there was a very mixed response to the election results.
“Of course, it was really shocking at first for a lot of us to see Donald Trump be elected,” Sullivan says. “A lot of people in general are really happy and a lot of people are really excited and a lot of people are really hurt and confused and fearful.”
Sullivan says she thinks the fear stems from people who have already felt marginalized or as if their voices aren’t equally heard or regarded in our society.
Sullivan says her organization arranged a “Dump Trump” rally during November as a chance for people to speak to each other and create a space of support for one another. She says during the rally students who supported Trump also counter protested, but it was an important display of students using their right to free speech.
“I think overall [the rally] was very productive and regardless of which side you’re from, I think it’s important to recognize that the freedom of speech and the freedom to assemble is important to exercise,” Sullivan says.
Sullivan says the Students for a Democratic Society have created new committees in an effort to respond to the implications of the election results. First, she says they have added a committee whose job is to keep up to date with Trump’s policies, his nominees for Supreme Court and his Cabinet. She says the goal is to research those policies and people so they know the facts and don’t get caught in a cycle of judging decisions and people without knowing the truth.
The Education and Recruitment Committee was also added, Sullivan says, which will be hosting events on different social issues that some people may feel will be affected under a Trump presidency while also recruiting members to join.
Last, Sullivan says the Community Outreach Committee is working with people outside of the Truman and Kirksville community to organize events as well. For example, she says they are working with Truman alumni Brendan O’Brien to create a call to reform the electoral system.
“I know a lot of people are upset that, even though Trump didn’t win the popular vote, through the electoral college system he was able to be elected president,” Sullivan says. “Some people believe that the electoral college is important for democracy and some people believe it’s antiquated and needs to be reformed, so we’ll be working on that and just educating ourselves and others on that reform under Brendan’s guidance.”
Sullivan says she thinks the administration at Truman could do more to addresses the issues being discussed in the future. She says she hopes the administration will promote discussions of issues without saying they have to be completely civil because, though it’s important to be civil, sometimes to spare other people’s feelings we get stuck in what’s called respectability politics — where the focus is more on being polite and respectful than on getting to core problems of issues.
Sullivan also says she cautions people from placing blame where it doesn’t belong, such as on the groups of people who chose only to vote down ballot and third party voters.
“It’s more important to focus on the bigger issue,” Sullivan says. “It’s not those smaller groups that led to a Trump election, I think it’s the entire system. I think it’s the lack of representation for third-parties, it’s media controlling who is favored and what is talked about and how those conversations are directed, and I think there are issues within the GOP and the Democratic Party that need to be addressed and resolved. We need to be holding our politicians to higher standers to create a better society where people are more accurately represented.”
Alumnus Brendan O’Brien says he was a member of Alpha Phi Omega — APO — and reached out to Truman organizations that might have an interest in getting conversations going and connecting people in the community.
O’Brien says while he attended Truman, he wasn’t very involved in politics, but he felt there were a lot of people who sat out during election time and didn’t want to get into more conflict-oriented conversations. He says he’s realizing how important those conversations are and that they don’t have to be a divider between people.
“I realized that during the election season and after it, especially, there are a lot of people that just feel like they haven’t been heard by their elected officials and the process doesn’t reflect the candidates and policies that we would actually want as people in the country,” O’Brien says. “So I think there are a lot of different conversations about, ‘Where do we go from here?’ but they’ve been pretty informal or divided. I was hoping by adding some structure to it that it could move forward more, getting people on the same page.”
O’Brien says he just finished working for the city of Minneapolis on the election support staff. He says the effort focused on promoting early voting or absentee voting had four early voting centers. He also says this year there was a change in the rules for absentee voting from needing a reason to have an absentee ballot to allowing anyone to vote absentee. Minneapolis ended up having 60,000 absentee ballots, he says, a much greater number than the previous high of 14,000.
O’Brien says though working in Minneapolis was a temporary job, in the past year he’s gotten more into politics and more aware of what’s going on in the world.
“I’ve realized the conversations regarding current events in politics are getting more and more divided, where we can’t sit down and talk with someone and leave respecting their opinions if they disagree with us,” O’Brien says.
O’Brien says his future plans include being involved in civic engagement and getting conversations started. He says he thinks people spend so much time following campaigns, certain candidates and their policies that they don’t get involved on an individual citizen level, so he thinks organizing conversations and getting people talking who wouldn’t really find themselves in the same space will help resolve that issue.
O’Brien says his goal was to get organized conversations happening once a week in different communities with people he knew across the country to talk about election reform and how to move forward. He says he hopes to not have conversations so driven by politicians. If people are interested, he says there’s a Facebook group called Coalition of the People where information about meetings going on in Kirksville or different areas will be posted.
“The way I see it, I think people are hungry for something different and there’s so much information and so much misinformation, skepticism [and] cynicism out there that a lot of people are left thinking, ‘I don’t want any part of this’ or ‘I can’t realistically process all that’s going on’ so we tune out,” O’Brien says. “But I think most people do want to be involved in what’s going on in their lives and [want to] really hear from other people and their perspectives, as long as we can have respectful conversations about it.”