Participant names have been redacted to respect the privacy of the safe space.
The silence was deafening. In your face. Powerful.
As students trickled into the Center for Race, Ethnicity, & Diversity Education (CREDE) Wednesday evening, looking for a space to process the events of the day — Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 presidential election — they had little to say as they sat down and waited for the program to begin. A couple of students engaged in small talk with their neighbor as they settled in, but conversations were far and few, often ending after a minute and replaced with pensive silence.
The safe space, co-hosted by a variety of Elon's racial, ethnic and diversity student organizations, invited students to gather in the CREDE Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. to reflect, share their thoughts and find strength in the company of others.
Sophomore, Nikki Manderico, president of the Asian-Pacific Student Association (APSA), led the event by using music to facilitate discussion. While Manderico performed Christian music, students were repeatedly encouraged to request songs from a variety of faith backgrounds and languages. Between songs, students were given a period to take the floor and talk. During the first pause, one student spoke. But in the second and third pauses, a heavy silence returned.
After one student broke the silence following the fourth song, students began to open up about the thoughts that had been lingering on their minds all day.
"I feel like I can't speak Spanish in public, and I feel like I have to remove my stickers that are in Spanish off of my water bottle, and I feel like I can't just talk to my mom on the phone, and I feel like I can't just express who I am anymore," one student said. "This is probably the first time in my life I've felt so unwanted and so hated and the first time where I really don't feel like I really am an American, even though I am."
"For me, when I was walking across campus today, the only thing I felt like — we still have to put on this face, and it's tiring," another student said. "It's honestly tiring."
"I know personally, for myself — I'm gonna regret this tomorrow — but it was really hard to me to look a white person in the eyes today," an African-American female student said. "I couldn't do it, because I didn't know if they were a Clinton supporter or a Trump supporter and that hurt me. ... It's scary to think that, because of one man's hatred, I'm being biased against one race because not everybody has the same belief that Trump does."
Many students nodded in agreement of the difficult statement. A different student added, "Today, walking across campus, the silence was very noticeable."
"I don't necessarily hate Trump," one student said. "I just hate the platform that he stands for in the sense that his whole entire campaign is rooted in hatred."
While hurt, fear, anger and confusion were the main emotions of night, hope also made an appearance.
"I think that [hope] is important to continue and go forward and process," one student said. "If the president of the United States can sit in the same room as Donald Trump tomorrow and look him in the eyes ... We can do anything."