Headlines proclaiming the name of the newest president-elect greeted members of the Yale community Wednesday morning, ushering in a period of reflection on the election’s unexpected outcome.
Following Donald Trump’s presidential victory over Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, who was widely favored by the student body, Yale faculty members and administrators sent out emails expressing empathy for students and encouraging the community to be sensitive and supportive in the coming days. In emails to students and in interviews with the News, professors communicated their shock and disbelief while urging Yale students to come together and lend support.
“As students and faculty, we should engage in the debates of the day — exercising our full commitment to diversity, inclusion and the free exchange of ideas — and in so doing seek to elevate the level of the discussion,” University President Peter Salovey said. “And, as members of a University community, we are obliged to engage fully with each other, speak frankly, listen carefully and seek common ground.”
In an email to the community Wednesday afternoon, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway urged students to be sympathetic and respectful to each other. Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews also sent out a note earlier Wednesday, emphasizing that Yale is a welcoming community and reminding students of events and gatherings held throughout the day to help process the election results.
Various heads of colleges also reached out to their respective college communities, offering support and space for gathering.
In an email to Pierson students early Wednesday morning, Pierson Head of College Stephen Davis acknowledged that some students were feeling uncertain, numb and hurt, and added that he was experiencing the same emotions. While Davis said he did not have any answers to the confusion, he maintained that all students have a place and a support system at Yale.
Given that some faculty members have been publicly engaged in the election, Holloway said they may be “confused,” “shocked” and “concerned,” among other emotions, while others may believe that Trump’s election is the right direction for the country.
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler said she, “like most of the world,” was “stunned” by the election’s outcome. Faculty members are addressing the results in individual ways, from incorporating the election into class discussion to engaging with students in their roles as faculty mentors, heads of colleges and college fellows, Gendler said.
History professor Beverly Gage ’94 said she was surprised at the election’s results, although she always thought Trump stood a chance of winning, she said. Gage added that this election has no historical precedent, and it is still too early to tell where the experts went wrong in their predictions, most of which had Clinton as a clear winner.
Even in the 1968 election of Richard Nixon, which came on the heels of nearly a decade of social progress, there remained a Democratic Congress and “stable” Supreme Court, Gage said. In Gage’s Wednesday seminar “Modern U.S. Liberalism and Conservatism,” students studied, per the preplanned syllabus, the transition of white, Southern and working-class voters into the Republican Party in the 1960s and 1970s. They were also assigned a reading called “The Forgotten American,” a term Trump used in his victory speech and the topic of an op-ed Gage published in The New York Times on Wednesday.
Gage added that this is an “alarming moment” for the country, and this election result is “a repudiation of everything that a place like Yale stands for.”
“I think for me personally,” Gage said. “I take a deep breath and then try to figure out what to do and how to keep finding a place in this country for the values that I believe in and that I think most people at Yale believe in, which are racial pluralism, deep thought and respect for fact, and civil conversation among other things. And I hope that those things still have a place in Trump’s America.”
Eitan Hersh, a political science professor, echoed Gage’s sentiments that he was not necessarily surprised by Trump’s win, especially given the modern political landscape. That, combined with Clinton being a “very bad” candidate for the Democrats and the previous eight years of a Democratic administration, made the election results somewhat less surprising, Hersh said.
Both parties have neglected to address issues important to the working class, leading to an anti-establishment attitude, Hersh added. For political activists and donors, the stakes of policymaking and elections are often lower, leading them to “play around” with issues they prioritize rather than addressing issues that resonate with the general public.
“Part of me thinks that for a lot of Trump supporters, this was an expression of emotion, and it felt gratifying, but I don’t know if they’ve really perceived the stakes appropriately,” Hersh said. “[But] it is important to emphasize that Democrats and elites in general have really failed over a long time to focus on issues that are a priority to working-class voters.”
Indeed, both Hersh and political science professor Gregory Huber noted the shift in previously pro-Obama votes and states. Voter turnout this year was lower than in past elections, while groups such as women and Latinos that previously supported Obama instead voted for Trump, Hersh said.
Huber said this pattern implies that voters were not necessarily motivated by race, but instead cast their ballots based on other still-unknown factors. The unanticipated results are either a product of inaccurate turnout models, miscommunication from voters polled or surveys sampling the wrong people, Huber said.
“Where Trump overperformed was not surprising,” Huber said. “But that he did was a surprise to everyone — including, it appears, the Trump campaign.”
Ray Fair, an economics professor who accurately predicted a GOP win in 2014 using his Fair Model, which excludes data collected by polls, emphasized the influence the economy had on the election. Both the state of the economy and the Democrats’ long-standing control of the White House favored a GOP victory, according to the model.
Regardless of how or why the election swerved to a Trump upset, members of Yale faculty and administration emphasized the need to come together despite differences in opinion.
“As administrators, our work is to keep doing our work,” Holloway told the News. “That’s the appropriate response, to make sure the work of the University continues forward. The one thing we’ve got to remember is that, basically, we are a complex organism [with] lots of different ideas. The one thing we can really do together though is treat each other with respect. That’s such an important project. It’s certainly a project that I think was often neglected during the campaign by the political actors, but we need to be better than that.”