Natalie Wright

As the votes from Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania came in, the die was cast — what began as an optimistic and cheery night for many on Yale’s liberal-leaning campus ended in waves of shock and sadness, triggered by the upset victory of Donald J. Trump. 

The night of Nov. 8, 2016, saw students across campus glued to their screens, eagerly awaiting the results of what they believed was an already decided presidential election. An overwhelming majority of Yalies — 80.87 percent — supported Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, who earned 86.4 percent of the vote in New Haven. Most expected her to win. But as the night progressed, many students found themselves dismayed, and many New Haveners woke up the next morning afraid of what the future held. Scores of students and city residents alike took to the streets to protest the election results and call for solidarity with the Elm City’s most vulnerable. 

“I’m scared at the prospect of waking up in a country that elected Donald Trump as our president,” Leah Smith ’20 told the News at the time. 

Others echoed this sentiment, expressing sadness, fear and outrage at the election results. Several students and New Haven residents expressed cautious optimism or open support for the president-elect — but they were a small minority in the overwhelmingly blue campus and city.

Even among conservatives at Yale, Trump’s nomination initially sparked conflict. The Yale College Republicans’ decision to endorse the Republican nominee drew swift backlash within the organization — four of seven executive board members resigned in August to form the Yale New Republicans. Six former chairs of the Yale College Republicans signed a letter urging the Yale College Republicans to reconsider their decision. 

But Yale College Republicans presidents Emmy Reinwald ’17 and Michaela Cloutier ’18 defended the endorsement by pointing to the group’s constitution, which says the organization’s purpose is to “aid in the election of Republican candidates at all levels of government.”

The morning after the election, the focus shifted from electoral politics to emotional impacts. La Casa Cultural, the Afro-American Cultural Center and Dwight Chapel opened their doors for students to cope with their feelings. 

“I’ve tried not to extend my work too much or put it off until later because that’s not how I can best cope with it,” Isaac Scobey-Thal ’20 said. “But I think that people taking a day to cry and feel all their feelings — to listen to music, to be with friends and to put work out of their minds — I think that should be given to them.” 

Still, then-Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway and professors made it clear that the election result would not impede Yale’s academic mission. They did not grant dean’s excuses to students distressed by the election outcome.

On the other hand, for the five percent of Trump supporters on campus, the win was a cause for rejoicing. 

A senior Trump supporter in Berkeley College, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of backlash, said the distraught reaction to Trump’s victory highlighted a double standard in Yale’s political culture.

“[Students] talked about Trump not being able to graciously change over our democracy if he lost,” the student said. “Well, we’ve gotten five or six ‘f— you’s just walking around this evening [in “Make America Great Again” caps]. I think section’s going to be hilarious tomorrow.”

A junior in Jonathan Edwards College, who similarly requested anonymity, supported Trump in his presidential run and told the News that he was optimistic about the country’s future.

“I listen to a lot of kids at Yale saying, ‘How could this happen?’ but it shows really how a lot of people within these campuses and these universities are really out of touch with the everyday American,” he said.

Two days after the election, frustration among Elm City residents and students manifested in a 500-person protest that began on the steps of City Hall. Protestors, escorted by police through city streets, led chants such as “no Trump, no KKK, no more racist USA” and “say it loud, say it clear, Muslims are welcome here.”

According to Jesus Sanchez, an organizer with Unidad Latina en Acción, the group received more than 20 calls the morning after the election from Latino residents fearful for their status and safety. Many felt that deportations would ramp up soon and that Trump would empower law enforcement to exercise force against Latinos.

Jane Mills, who works with the criminal justice reform organization People Against Injustice, was worried about the vulnerability of people with arrest and conviction records. She pointed to Trump’s support for the death penalty and stop and frisk, as well as the support he receives from police unions and officers.

But not all New Haveners shared the pessimism — or surprise — associated with Trump’s win. Elm City activist Barbara Fair believed that Trump’s words would not translate into racist policies.

“When Trump said to black America, ‘What do you have to lose?’ some saw it as an insult,” Fair said. “But as I saw it, we’re sending our kids to the worst schools, we’re living in the most impoverished communities, our kids are dying on the streets — all of this under Democrats. What is there to lose? We can only grow. We’ve survived a Clinton and two Bushes. We can survive Trump.”

She added that activists must push for broader national conversations about racism while still agitating for local change on issues like the impending public bus fare hike in New Haven.

Trump is running for a second term and will be on the ballot this November 3.

Talat Aman |