A week ago, Donald Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United States of America. Our campus reacted that night, and we continue to react in different ways every day. The feeling on campus remains somber. As we prepare for the peaceful transition of power and what the next four years might entail, it’s important to first consider the ways Amherst College, as an institution, has facilitated or stifled student discourse on the new government.
It’s undoubtedly important to maintain Amherst’s status as a non-partisan institution, one that maintains equal opportunity for all ranges of intellectual and political thought. However, the Editorial Board would be remiss to not start with the clear statement that with regard to Donald Trump’s bigotry, homophobia and misogyny, this is simply not political. By continuing to normalize this rhetoric as political, we remove humanity and dignity from our democratic system.
In the midst of the reactions across campus, President Biddy Martin graciously requested to speak with students in Johnson Chapel. President Martin’s talk spoke to the importance of friendship and the need for community in the wake of this election. The talk pulled on literature and valued the importance of poetry. President Martin spoke with eloquence. But what the talk failed to do was to fully and authentically validate the very real turmoil students across this campus are feeling and will likely continue to feel for the next four years. It failed to acknowledge the bigotry, homophobia and misogyny that permeate the rhetoric of our president-elect.
As is natural, students have turned to trusted professors in hopes of gaining some clarity and comfort in this tense situation. However, most professors remain trapped by the idea of politics surrounding this incident. Though conversations regarding the election did enter classrooms, many professors feel obliged to maintain a non-partisan classroom, allowing participants to express whatever their opinion might be and possibly dancing around the truth or awkwardly prefacing their words for fear of the repercussions should they not. Again, the Editorial Board would like to remind that this is outside of the political. Normalizing this narrative has truly terrifying repercussions.
Despite the College’s attempts to remain non-partisan, some professors have spoken out boisterously with their views, with some going as far as to bring alcohol to class in celebration of our new president-elect. Why hasn’t this professor been held accountable? Even if this professor is being held accountable, it seems to be behind the closed doors of the administration, and that is an entirely different problem to reckoned with. Amherst is tasked with upholding a non-partisan classroom. The question we might ask ourselves is who, in this political moment, has the privilege to refuse to be non-partisan? Certainly, the discussion of politics has a place in the classroom, but how that conversation takes place should be considered with care. There are students on this campus whose lives and civil liberties will be compromised in the next four years. Not only does Amherst’s non-partisan stance invalidate their struggles, but brash and insensitive political partisanship creates irreparable scars.
Though perhaps an important thing to recognize, simply as a fact, there is a careful balance to be maintained moving forward. How do we recognize opposing views in the American political sphere without compromising our values and invalidating our experiences? While it is important to engage in discourse with individuals of opposing political views, we cannot ask others to engage with others who have discounted their existence. For people of color, immigrant families, the LGBT+ community and more, Donald Trump’s rhetoric has destroyed their voices in American political life. A candidate endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, explicitly referred to racial minorities with hateful slurs and objectified the bodies of women (among many other things), promotes the view that anybody who is not like himself is lesser than. How does one engage in discourse when the other person does not see them as an equal? While it is important to engage in political discourse, the Editorial Board encourages students to do as much as their privilege (or lack thereof) allows them. Political discourse should not be the reason for ignoring self-care and self-preservation.