A little over a year ago, President Donald Trump’s electoral victory energized students and campus organizations to stand against what they saw as the deeply concerning values espoused by the president elect. Today, many of those same campus organizations are facing a new challenge — how to keep that energy alive.
The evening of Nov. 8, 2016 began a period of intense emotional and political reflection on campus. In the hours and days after the election results came in, a primal scream took place on Cross Campus, students assembled in Dwight Hall for emotional music performances and Fox News published an article likening shocked Yale students to snowflakes. For many student organizations involved in causes that they considered under threat by Trump, the moment led to extensive efforts to confront Trump’s agenda. But this week, some student leaders told the News that the passage of time can make it difficult to keep Trump’s actions in context.
“It is incredibly difficult to not become desensitized to what’s going on,” said Mary Miller ’20, public relations coordinator for the Women’s Center. “At a certain point, it becomes very, very hard to give what you feel is the right, correctly weighted reaction to the Trump administration, because they’re really firing on all fronts.”
Miller recognized the significance of the consistent activist work undertaken by students on campus, but she explained that many Trump-related issues can feel difficult to tackle because the problems are so enormous. Miller added that regardless of who is currently in the White House, the Women’s Center will continue its mission to promote intersectional feminism and be a safe space for people of all genders and identities on campus.
Kendall Easley ’20 said that, as a student, she worries that Trump’s presidency is following a trajectory similar to his election on campus — that people are starting to not take Trump seriously again and allowing him to gain momentum. She added that there is “definitely not as much energy as there was a year ago today” on campus to organize against Trump, partly because it seems that the student body has become desensitized to Trump’s habits.
“Speaking for myself, the election was both heartbreaking and angering, but I also know it lit a light in a lot of young people around the world, including members in RALY,” Maraya Keny-Guyer ’19, president of the Reproductive Justice Action League at Yale, wrote in a message to the News. “While I think people are still engaged in the work and activism — in a way that maybe wasn’t seen in the recent years before his election -— specific to reproductive health — but it is hard to sustain the same energy — especially in light of executive orders that are more difficult to fight.”
Other student groups have worked over the past year to counter Trump’s initiatives. The Yale College Democrats, for example, worked on this year’s municipal races in Connecticut, state legislative races in Virginia and the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia to help deliver Democrats high-profile victories earlier this month. Keerthana Annamaneni ’20, the Dems’ communications director, told the News that the Dems gained a newfound energy after Trump’s election, which she does not think has diminished over the last few months.
She pointed out, though, that the energy has taken on different forms since the election, and that right after the election, Democrats nationwide seemed most willing to express displeasure through highly visible marches and rallies.
Some are concerned that the Yale community’s conversations about Trump have not evolved since the election. Branson Rideaux ’20 said that he and other students have begun meeting recently in part to address how, in spite of anti-Trump activism at Yale, the conversation regarding Trump has not changed. He said that other colleges, such as Cornell and Columbia, have better models for discussing the implications of Trump on campus.
“Since the Trump election, a lot of what I’ve been stressed out about is realizing how Trump’s election is a reflection of power, privilege, race and gender, and how those things affect our campus conversation,” Rideaux said. “There may not be many Trump supporters on campus but there are Trump ideas, for lack of a better word — neoliberal ideas, xenophobic ideas that affect how we do discourse on campus.”
Nazar Chowdhury ’20, the president of the Yale Muslim Student Association, said the organization was most active immediately after the election, when the association helped coordinate an open-mike reflection in Dwight Hall, and after the Muslim ban was announced, when the MSA held a community discussion and an informational session about the ban.
Since then, Chowdhury explained, national media outlets covering the president have swithced their focus to topics that do not directly affect the Muslim community.
“Muslims are further out from the spotlight than I think they were when the Muslim ban came down,” said Chowdhury. “There are things that we are looking to respond to, but I’d say our response is much different than the initial ban or even the initial election, where people would get together very rapidly or very collectively because people were fired up about it.”
Trump was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017.
Britton O’Daly | firstname.lastname@example.org