A House Divided

Photo Courtesy of gazettenet.com

Photo Courtesy of gazettenet.com

Traci Williams  AC ’18
Staff Writer

There is a swelling happening at Smith College, a swelling with all the ugliness and odor of a boil – a dangerous and volatile situation for many who feel powerless with the announcement of President Elect Donald Trump.

The Election Watch Party and the Stress Free Zone hosted the evening before did not prepare the students, faculty and staff for the possibility that our Smith College, which promotes the full acceptance, the embracing and not the tolerance of diversity, inclusion, equity and intersectionality would reveal itself as divided as the red and blues of the nation’s Electoral College map. Wednesday’s rain seemed symbolic of the grief and mourning of many Smithies thrust into the realization that Smith is not “its own bubble” and all are not safe here. “It will be okay … NOT! The world is ending!!!” wrote an anonymous student.

Seasoned Sophomores, Juniors, Seniors and Adas are feeling as unsteady as first semester freshmen. Grappling with the imagined world of Donald Trump as President for the next four years feels like a magnified and repeated nightmare of the transition first years work so hard to conquer. The work done over the years to become surefooted in their studies and their identities seems to have been undone within few minutes and hours of the news of election outcome. “I set my clock back an hour…not a hundred years,” was written on a note found in Neilson.

Everyone is feeling targeted and unsafe in some way. Everyone is suspicious. Some voting for the first time in their lives feel betrayed, not only by their country but by family members, roommates, housemates and friends who didn’t vote for their candidate or didn’t vote at all. Trump supporters are uncomfortable expressing the jubilation publicly. Clinton supporters are fighting to resist the expected and undue burden to mourn publicly, thus leaving them little to no outlets to process their emotions. “I am seeing students, faculty, staff, and administrators reeling with grief, fear, anger and confusion over the election,” said Maria Wood, AC ’17. “[While] I have seen compassion and solidarity to a greater measure than perhaps ever before on Smith’s campus, I have also seen divisions growing sharper and more entrenched in some ways as people withdraw into themselves looking for relief from fear and anger.”

This sudden, lack of dialogue, this wrestling with the unsayable and the unspeakable amongst faculty, staff and students in classrooms, dining halls, workplaces and houses has sent those who cannot see fully through the lens of a student of color, a non-Christian, or a member of the LGBTQ community – white, cisgender, Christian women – “into a frenzy,” says an anonymous student, “regarding what kind of America we live in, the reality of the [far-reaching] level[s] of white supremacy, and the ills [white supremacy] has taken on the electorate.” These students are experiencing a sort of domestic violence and reevaluating their white privilege, as they were confident and believed in a Hillary win to validate all their studies and work, aspiring to become Smith Women of the World.

Wednesday’s attempt by Dean of the College and Vice President of Campus Life Donna Lisker, “to gather as a community [sic] in John M. Greene Hall to connect with friends and colleagues and feel the power of our [Smith] community,” proved a failure to many students who dubbed the event a Hall of White Tears. Students described the event as a deliberate and “a violent apprehension of a [needed] space.” Some students had begun organizing to begin the work of processing fully the impact of the election results and the work of how to move forward and navigate the waters of a Trump presidency. These students believed they were “ripped from their [safe] space and forced to assimilate into [an unsafe space],” expressed an anonymous student of color, explaining Smith’s marginalized populations were not permitted equal time to speak and had to suffer through the sobbing of its least affected, privileged population.

Despite dealing with a little disbelief that this really happened, not everyone was   surprised by the election of Donald Trump. In an open letter to students, Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Dwight Hamilton wrote, in part:

Like most people with marginalized identities, I never believed the election couldn’t turn out the way it did. I hoped, however, that it wouldn’t. But I knew this country was vulnerable to xenophobic politics at its highest level. Recent elections in other countries have demonstrated that. But I still thought at the end of the day, we’d dodge the inevitable…So much of the political rhetoric in the campaign was targeted against individuals based on where they are from, how they worship and [whom] they love.

Sheilena Downey AC ’19 agrees, “this is something many marginalized people expected and so we’re not shocked”, and believes the election of Trump “may be a good thing since it has removed the thoughts some have, believing this country is forward thinking and free of racism.” Witnessing a spike in open acts of hatred but refusing to live in fear, Downey “hope[s] these results will act as a mobilizing catalyst for those who say they want change and want to help.”

While President Kathleen McCartney has declared she “will not allow the often ugly rhetoric of this campaign, nor the results, to bring [her] to a place of despair” and she and her administration work to offer the Smith community quality time, sufficient spaces and a variety of options to work successfully through this, Students and members of the faculty are not waiting for a sanctioned administrative plan. They are mobilizing on their own, staging protests and circulating petitions.

A student-organized and unapologetic F**k Donald Trump protest took place on Nov. 10, the afternoon of Smith’s Fall Preview and Open House (at the center of Chapin Lawn). Prospective students and their families passing by witnessed Smithies in action. Clad in all black, students took back their voices after such a silent Wednesday. “[We] will not support a presidential candidate who is openly hateful and advocates violence against communities of marginalized identities,” reads the Facebook event site.

Maria Wood’s father, a white cisgender male, was at the Fuck Donald Trump protest. Her teenage daughter watched from the upper level of the Campus Center and joined the group before they left Chapin lawn marching to downtown Northampton, Wood smiled through her tears as she shared her pride, “My father and my daughter were inspired by the sight of the strong, powerful students of Smith College united in the repudiation of hatred and lies and bigotry.”

Faculty are taking action to support colleagues, staff, students, hourly workers and their families too. Smith Alum and Associate Professor Ginetta E.B. Candelario ’90 created and circulated a petition reminding the college of its commitment and written notice to practice nondiscrimination in its educational, and employment and admissions policies, and its practices in its undergraduate and graduate programs. In the petition, Candelario questions Smith’s plan to uphold this commitment: “How is [the] college providing for the safety and security of students, faculty and staff who may lose legal protections for their immigration status or face other serious problems?” The petition does not wait for a satisfactory response. It offers this suggestion: “The College declare itself a ‘sanctuary center of higher education’ committed to protecting the members of its community from unfair deportation, investigation or other intimidation.”

Many Smithies, like Zuinda Leon AC ’18, are struggling to audibly utter the unsayable and make sense of the unspeakable. She said, “Something irrevocable occurred on November 8th, something has been lost, and I do not know what that is because life in this country has been crushingly unbearable for so many of us, including students on this campus.” The work of resistance is being done and Smithies can become engaged, beginning with deliberately caring for this community. In the words of Dwight Hamilton, “This is our community. We have every right to be here. Playtime is over. [So] be good to each other [and] be good to yourselves.”

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