Almost 1,000 undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and other members of the Yale community crowded into the Yale Law School auditorium Monday evening as music played and fliers circulated, launching a two-hour symposium aimed at addressing potential consequences of Donald Trump’s unexpected presidency.
Attendees packed the auditorium to hear introductory remarks from two of the many organizers and then broke out into 19 discussion groups on topics ranging from LGBTQ rights to tax policy. The groups scattered in buildings across campus, such as the law building, William L. Harkness Hall and Linsly-Chittenden Hall. The goal of the event was to bring members of the Yale community together to discuss areas of concern and establish a structure for collaboration moving forward, according to Hope Metcalf, executive director of the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights and a clinical lecturer in law who helped organize the event.
“This is by far the brightest minute of the last week, certainly for me,” Metcalf said in her introduction. “Thank you for joining what is a pretty hasty social experiment, which is seeing how we can get this campus’s energy, resources, talent, passion and kindness — and anger — to be brought to bear on what lies ahead.”
Gregg Gonsalves ’11 GRD ’18, co-director of the Law School and Yale School of Public Health’s joint Global Health Justice Partnership and the other introductory speaker, suggested the idea for the event only a few days ago, and it was widely publicized “informally” through email, Metcalf said. In preparation for the event, organizers printed 700 flyers titled “Responding together to what may come: Planning how to address the potential challenges of the new administration,” according to Louisa Brown, a postgraduate fellow at the Schell Center.
“Why are we here tonight?” Gonsalves said in his introduction. “Because that emotion we feel, as potent as it is, can be transformed into action and save us from feeling powerless and subject to the whims of the politicians around us.”
Metcalf told the News that the 500-capacity auditorium and 200-capacity law school dining hall were both full, and more attendees joined the discussion groups directly, putting total estimated attendance close to 1,000.
In preparation for the event, Gonsalves set up a Google Doc to solicit ideas for discussion topics on Friday, Metcalf said. She added that they received 150 suggestions and narrowed those down to 19 topics to serve as a starting point for Tuesday’s discussion.
The categories discussed include access to health care, biomedical research funding and regulation, bridging ideological divides within the U.S., climate change, community relations and organizing, counterterrorism and risks to Muslim communities, criminal justice and prisons, freedom of speech, global health, harassment and hate crimes, immigration, labor and economic justice, LGBTQ rights, refugees, reproductive rights, state and local politics and organizing, tax policy, voting rights, and other open groups determined by the interests of attendees.
“I think [I want to hear about] all the issues,” said Emily Hoff MED ’19. “That’s almost what’s been breaking my heart about the whole thing, is I care so much about everything that’s on this list right now.”
Each section had at least one facilitator, subject experts, note takers and a point of contact so that people could follow up with groups outside of the one they joined. Metcalf and Gonsalves also urged group members in their opening remarks to exchange contact information to continue their work in the coming months. The flier distributed to all attendees read, “This is the start of a process, not the end of one.”
Every small group held discussions about problems and solutions surrounding their topic of interest. In the “Access to Health Care” group, members broke into smaller subgroups to share their thoughts on different aspects of the Affordable Care Act.
“Our hope is that people with similar interests will find ways to work together across schools and disciplines and connect with allies in New Haven and nationally,” Metcalf told the News. “Certainly a goal of this event was not … to have us claim some special authority and expertise, but lots of people are wondering what they can do and are worried and in some cases, fearful, so we wanted this to be a place where people knew they could connect and figure out productive ways to be involved.”
Devorah Bogart ’13 NUR ’17 said she was excited to attend the “historic” event and harness the community’s “constructive energy” to respond to potentially harmful policies of the Trump administration.
Brown said the event was an opportunity to gather all of the “expertise across the University” and build a community, rather than set any particular agenda.
“We’re going to work tonight to take our fear and our anger and turn it into something else,” Gonsalves said.