For a tense, reflective moment, Elon University senior Josh O’Neil stared at the Nov. 11 front page of The New York Times, which was plastered with a picture of President-elect Donald Trump shaking hands with President Barack Obama at the White House.
It was a picture he never thought he would see.
“It’s sad that the first black president has to hand over the White House to someone endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan,” O’Neil said. “When I look into Obama’s face, even through a lens, you can see disappointment.”
But while he grieved over who his country elected, one of his peers was excited that the United States chose Trump as its 45th president.
“At 2 a.m., when they hadn’t called Florida yet, I turned off my TV and went to sleep and was like, ‘I’ll see what happened in the morning,’” said senior Francesca Collins. “But then my roommate came in and we turned on the TV, and there he was, about to give his acceptance speech. We were like, ‘What just happened?’
“I was happy because I was hopeful that the next four years, we would be able to get our county in check.”
On either side students have taken, polarizing statements have been made: O’Neil said Trump was “endorsed by hate,” and Collins said Trump was “the best candidate in the election.”
These words have consequences, and they have been felt at Elon.
Now, the community is forced to pick up the pieces.
Not trusting the person next to you
As a person of Native American heritage, O’Neil compared Trump’s controversial campaign track record to Andrew Jackson — the president known for the Trail of Tears.
O’Neil wasn’t shocked at the Nov. 8 election result.
“History repeats itself,” he said.
Looking at that picture on the front page of The New York Times, O’Neil said the thought of those two leaders working together is “awkward.” But whatever newfound rapport Obama and Trump have “formed,” O’Neil said that does not erase the effects of 18 months of harsh rhetoric Trump has spewed.
While walking home Nov. 11, O’Neil said men in three cars called him n**ger in rapid succession — probably after seeing his dreadlocks, he said.
“The people that called me the N-word stereotyped me, and now they’re not going to do it when they’re drunk and emboldened around their frat boys — they’re going to do it openly because they feel they can get away with it,” he said.
O’Neil said he fears the culture he says the president-elect has manifested — the same culture Obama alluded to Nov. 15 in Greece, when he said the language among Republicans has been troubling, and Trump has “tapped into that particular strain.”
After the election, many Elon students expressed similar feelings of betrayal and hurt in words — in person and on social media — and through tears.
Junior Alexis Williams, president of the Black Student Union, said witnessing the grief in her friends’ eyes has been the hardest part of the election’s result. She said she wished so could offer a solution to their pain.
But she doesn’t have one.
“It s a very absurd time we’re living in,” Williams said. “I think that the biggest thing is seeing your peers distraught and just feeling very unsafe. In general, there’s just an air of panic all over the country, as well as Elon’s campus.”
According to the State Board of Elections, almost 54 percent of the votes cast in Alamance County, which surrounds Elon’s campus, went to Trump — while the Associated Press reported that Clinton prevailed with college-aged adults North Carolina with 59 percent of voters, according to an exit poll. And though Williams said she is trying to recreate a sense of “normalcy” at Elon, she said the effects have already been felt tangibly on campus.
Less than 48 hours after Trump’s victory, someone wrote on a whiteboard, “Bye Bye Latinos, Hasta La Vista.” Though later that day the writer was identified by university administration as a Latino student who wrote the note as “satirical commentary” out of dissatisfaction with election results, the story of the note released a flurry of activity on social media.
Elon President Leo Lambert quickly released a statement that day calling the act “reprehensible” and “directly in conflict with Elon’s values of inclusion and treating others with dignity and respect.” Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Smith Jackson also sent an email Nov. 15 outlining the university’s resources and policies regarding campus safety and security, counseling services and bias response.
Williams said she sees this incident as a direct result of the Trump campaign’s stance on Latino and Hispanic people. In the past, Williams said she has seen hateful things appear on Yik Yak around Elon, but never something so bold and public.
According to USA Today, The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported more than 200 separate complaints of hate crimes have occurred since Trump won.
To Williams, the dots are connected.
“The white board incident was definitely in response to Trump winning,” Williams said. “I wouldn’t have thought something like that would happen, but I’m not surprised.”
To her, this incident exemplifies what she sees as the current state of many in Elon’s student body.
“Not knowing who you can trust on a daily level and not knowing basically who is on your side,” she said. “That’s what a lot of people are scared of.”
A Republican misconception
Despite the excitement of seeing her candidate deliver his speech on election night, Collins said she was heartbroken through her happiness because Trump’s win devastated and frightened such a large portion of the country. Collins voiced quivered when she described her emotions knowing that her peers outright dread someone she believes will progress the nation forward.
“It was heartbreaking in the sense that so many people that I know were desperate,” Collis said. “It was just so sad. I don’t even know if it can put into words how that made me feel.”
Accompanied with her grief was her disappointment in how Republicans were treated in the wake. As a New Jersey native, Collins was nurtured in a liberal state. Once she arrived at Elon, her political identity morphed into the conservative beliefs she holds dear today.
Since the primary season, she supported Trump for his business ventures and proposed economic policies. Other conservative bindings swaying her vote toward him were his pro-life stance, his strong military agenda and a lack of trust in Clinton for her email and Benghazi controversies.
O’Neil argued that a vote for Trump was in overt opposition to marginalized groups. Yet, as a woman, Collins said some of the things Trump has said appalled her as a supporter. But she also believed he was the best candidate available and “would not write him off,” saying his questionable language would not affect his ability to lead.
But since the election, she’s kept a list of names she’s been called: Racist, bigot, Islamophobic and jerk are on the nicer side of the ones she can remember.
In total, she said she’s being falsely labeled.
“There’s a good amount of conservatives on campus, and you wouldn’t even know it because they wouldn’t tell you,” Collins said. “Some of the most loving people that you know are people who could very well be conservative, and you wouldn’t even know it.”
Freshman Caroline Enright agreed with Collins and said those harsh premises are harmful to the country and to Elon.
“The election is over and we’re still trying to process it,” Enright said. “There’s a way to realize that we’re still one country … to still show love and acceptance. What matters now is how we react.”
Collins denounced the whiteboard incident, saying it made her angry, an emotion she rarely feels. The misconception that every Trump supporter is a bigot is a dangerous one because she said it paints the majority with a broad brush. To the extremist, stereotypical conservatives bolstered by Trump’s campaign rhetoric, Collins told them to stop defaming her party.
“I know a lot of them think they’re really deep Christians from what I have read, and I want to look them in the eye and say, ‘If that’s true, what do you think God would say?’” Collins said. “These hurtful things really show the content of their character. I know it’s sad to me to think that those people are the basis for some many people’s assumptions. I would look them in the eye and tell them, ‘What are you thinking?’”
Confiding in each other
Collins said the best way for Trump supporters to comfort those afflicted is to simply lend a soothing hand.
“Just showing people love and saying, ‘I respect their opinions,’ can go a long way,” Collins said. “Even if we might not agree on some things, I’m going to respect you. You’re a child of God, too. No matter what you think, no matter what you say, I’m here for you.”
Protests in cities like Los Angeles and Oakland, California, lashing out to the chants of "Not my president" have made headlines in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s win. But Elon students have taken a different approach.
A number of different organizations, including the Latin American Student Organization (LASO), the Asian Pacific Student Association (APSA) and the Center for Leadership (CFL), held meetings and dialogues in the days following the election. They branded them as “safe places” — venues where people could air their concerns without fear of backlash.
Some people worshiped. Some people cried. Some people hugged.
But most importantly, everyone listened.
Video produced by K McKay.
Interim Director for the Center of Leadership Dana Carnes said the Nov. 9 CFL gathering was meant to give students a safe, non-biased space to talk about how they were feeling after a night of events that stunned those on both sides of the spectrum.
“We wanted to give folks an opportunity to come together … to share their feelings, to process,” Carnes said. “There’s fear on both sides.”
Senior Tyson Glover, one of the more vocal participants at the CFL gathering, said the election had taken a toll on him. Calling the last year a “reality television show,” Glover said that, while the election is over, a season of divisiveness has taken its place — and he does not know how to react.
“I’m not about to put on a face and say it’s going to be okay,” Glover said. “I cannot find a silver lining. I just feel exhausted.”
The overarching theme at most of these events was to comfort those who were distressed and offer any guidance needed.
Two students support each other as they listen to their peers share their thoughts. The students were part of a safe space event in the CREDE following the election of Donald Trump earlier. Photo by K McKay.
Williams said this path is the best route people should take, saying to “take it one day at a time” and not to let the “craziness of this world consume you.”
On Nov. 10, huddled in the pews of Whitley Auditorium, similar to how church congregations seek answers on Sunday mornings, students flocked to the “After the Election” discussion panel hosted by Elon’s Political Science department to hear a different kind of post-election discussion from experts in the field.
The panelists — Jason Husser, Carrie Eaves, Jessica Carew, and Elisha Savchak-Trogdon, all of whom are assistant professors of political science — addressed the fear many students have expressed.
Husser said while many people are discouraged, they have to accept the election results. The peaceful transition of power is a constant of U.S. democracy and a luxury the majority of the world doesn’t have.
Eaves said understanding each other and stopping the harsh rhetoric is imperative for people on both sides.
“It’s easy to show frustration right now and quickly fire off a tweet or a Facebook post, but there is hurt on both sides, and it’s something that needs to be addressed,” Eaves said. “This is something we have to support each other with on both sides of the aisle. All voters on either side are not bad people.”
Carew echoed Eaves’ thoughts and said the only way to move forward is to recognize everyone is still a human being.
“If we focus less on attacking one another and rather focus on the issues that we are facing, we will start to be in a much better position,” Carew said.
Moving forward together
Williams sees president-elect Trump’s tone and demeanor already making moves in that direction, away from the harsh attacks that she said characterized his campaign in her mind. She said she was “encouraged” by this shift, saying she hopes he will not be a “buffoon” while he is president as he was during the last year and a half.
Though O’Neil and Collins differ on numerous ideologies, they agreed on one thing — the country is more divided than ever, and after the initial shock, it is now the country’s mission to reach across the aisle with a friendly hand.
But in order to compromise, O’Neil said, everyone has to recognize where they stand.
“Empathize with us if you can’t sympathize with us,” O’Neil said. “Spend some time with us. Put yourself in our shoes. Regardless of whatever side you stand on, be careful because there are a lot of hurt people out there.”