What do we do on November 9th? A guest post by Nancy Thomas and Adam Gismondi
The outcome of the presidential election remains uncertain. Just as this campaign has been qualitatively different from any other in our history, there is reason to consider the possibility that its aftermath—regardless of who wins—may raise distinctive challenges.
Since August, journalists and pundits have been considering the possibility of “unimaginable” reactions to a Hillary Clinton win on Election Day. In August, Michelle Cottle of the Atlantic wrote, “as hyperpartisanship, grievance politics, and garden-variety rage shift from America’s first black commander-in-chief onto its first female one…” Cottle explained, “As the culture changes, people resent that change and start freaking out, others look to exploit their fear, and things can turn really, really nasty on their way to getting better.”
Others agree. Also in August, Malcolm Gladwell rhetorically asked CNN, “If Hillary Clinton wins, what happens? Does the fact of her victory and the achievement of our first ever female president open the door to people venting a level of misogynistic vitriol that would’ve been unthinkable before her election?” Trump supporters, according to the New York Times last week, appear to be “on edge and ready to lash out” if Clinton wins. One Trump supporter said, “I’ve never seen the country so divided, just black and white — there’s no compromise whatsoever. The Clinton campaign says together we are stronger, but there’s no together. The country has never been so divided. I’m looking at revolution right now.”
Colleges and universities are hardly immune to political forces, which got us to wondering what might happen “the morning after” Election Day on campuses. What challenges and opportunities does the outcome of this election (either way) present? Will campus climates be affected by the election results? What do institutions have planned? On October 31st sixty three people from colleges and universities nationwide called in to discuss these issues. Here are some of the highlights from that call.
People expressed these concerns:
- Student feelings, well-being, and campus climate – “Who is left still standing?” one participant asked. How might students from historically marginalized groups feel if Donald Trump wins? Will students be emboldened to talk the way he talks, to use language that simply would not be tolerated on a college campus? If Hillary Clinton wins, will students with more conservative views be even more isolated than they may have felt during the election season on some campuses? How do we heal these divides and reconstruct campuses as communities?
- Free speech and civility – How do we balance free speech – a normative value on all campuses – with rules of civility and respect? How do we do so without appearing partisan?
- Civic learning and accountability – Were students adequately informed about election issues? Did they learn anything about the electoral process or U.S. government? Were they held to high standards regarding facts and the truth? Did our campus do enough to focus on learning? How do we compensate now for deficits in student learning during the election?
- Backlash – If Hillary Clinton wins, will there be a backlash against women? Will misogynistic speech be a new normal? Will her presidency be questioned as “illegitimate?”
November 9th and beyond: Ideas for healing
- A letter from the chancellor to the entire campus community “the minute the polls close” to celebrate the end of the election season and to rally people around the president-elect, no matter who wins
- “Day after Tomorrow” events
- “November 9 and Beyond” learning events “from election to inauguration,” a collaboration between faculty, staff, community partners
- A message jointly sent by the student government and administration about the need for “civility, dignity, and respect”
- A “civic conversation” to reengage people across differences
- A common reading, The True American by Anand Giridharadas will be used to prompt discussion after the election
- A “Citizen’s Academy” working with local government agencies and civic organizations
- A “Passion to Action: What Now?” event on the importance of staying involved with local politics and ways students can remain politically engaged after the 2016 election
On November 9, Tufts University is hosting a “Post-Election Paper Project” – essentially a room stocked with tables, newsprint, and markers for students to write what they are thinking. We do not plan to censor any statements, and the only ground rule will be that students should counter any “bad speech” with more speech (hopefully good). We imagine people will spontaneously talk with each other, but it will be more of an open space opportunity than a highly structured dialogue.
Election Day is a means to an end, not the end goal. In the latest episode of the Compact Nation Podcast, Andrew Seligsohn and Nancy Thomas talked about the election as a teachable moment that should spur political learning 365 days a year, not just during an election season. We call for a learning agenda, not just a voting agenda. The day after the election is the ideal day to launch a sustainable approach to educating for democracy.
Nancy Thomas and Adam Gismondi are with the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education, home of the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE), at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. If you have a story about your post-election efforts, please share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow along with our work on Twitter @TuftsIDHE.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
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