“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”—Dr. Maya Angelou
Students, Faculty, Staff, and Administration of Champlain College:
Hello, my name is Nina Knorr. I am a survivor of gender-based violence. I grew up in poverty in the Old North End of Burlington, and I am 23 years old. I held the position of AmeriCorps VISTA at Champlain College Women’s and Gender Center. But today, I quit my job.
I graduated Magna Cum Laude from Champlain College, and was granted the opportunity to speak for the Class of 2016. I have never quit anything in my life, and I have fought for everything I have.
I began my AmeriCorps service in August, and have been helping to develop the new Women’s and Gender Center from the ground up. The climate in this office has been pretty somber since November 8th.
Like many of you, I am also devastated by the election of Donald Trump.
On Thursday I went to a conversation to process election results put on by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Students of color voiced fear for their safety and their families. They voiced fear for their healthcare, for what is going to happen when they go home for Thanksgiving. They are afraid for their physical well-being, in addition to the long-term systemic effects that this election will have.
These are not light matters for a 20-something to have on their shoulders.
Friday morning after the election, I sat in a meeting with the Vice President of Student Life, a woman I have come to deeply respect, who looked me straight in the eyes, despite all the other sets of eyes in the room and said, with tears in her eyes, “A good leader entertains both sides of the story.”
She was talking about students who have decided to wear Trump hats.
Conflicted, I went back to my office. My whole body was heavy. My head hurt. Tears just seemed to have been living in the corners of my eye sockets, ready to fall. I sent out emails. I talked with students. I did my job.
That evening, I sat in an auditorium filled with Faculty and Staff to discuss the election and how to deal with it.
“I think it’s an age thing, they’re too sensitive, they can’t handle losing and seeing Trump hats,” a Staff Leader said.
“They only voted for him for economic policies—it doesn’t mean they’re racist,” a Faculty Member said. Others in the room nodded in agreement.
“It’s our job to make space for those perspectives, too,” another Staff Leader, who was helping to lead the conversation, kept reminding the room.
Again, this was all in defense of students wearing Trump paraphernalia who were pushed out of class by unkind words from other students.
As I sat in that auditorium and I listened to the rhetoric going around perpetuated by one perspective—White people who work at a private college who get paid healthy salaries— I knew that I, someone who is a survivor, and someone who fought her way through poverty and who still lives in it, someone who strives to reach higher everyday— will never be on the same dangerous and silencing page.
This is whitewashing history. This is falling in line. This is accepting a new normal, a dangerous normal that has been lying in the undercurrents of American society since its founding.
We know that Donald Trump is racist, sexist, and that he has more than likely raped multiple women. We know that he can’t differentiate between “inner-cities” and people of color, that he wants to cut funding to impoverished people. We know that he thinks “Mexicans are rapists.” We know that he built his campaign on building a really big wall, and that he got into politics by fueling the Birther Movement.
But I have been told many, many times in the past few days that I need to make space for this. It is my job as a Staff member.
There is a constant loop back to the students who feel uncomfortable in their classrooms who have voted for Trump. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about racism, classism, or feeling disadvantaged—these students are more than likely white and from wealthy backgrounds. These are students who will not really be affected by a Trump presidency, except for in positive ways.
Here is the difference: You cannot shed an identity as quickly as someone can shed a Trump hat.
Where is our concern and emotional safety net for students who are afraid for their lives? Hate crimes are on the rise after all, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. What about our Staff and Faculty, who are expected to compartmentalize this election in contrast with our own identities?
It has been alluded to by Staff members that “maturity” is a determining factor as to whether or not the Trump perspective can be handled. But maturity has nothing to do with it. There are millions of us who are afraid and who feel this way, and those feelings are valid. They are real. Just because you can brush them off while you sit in your privilege does not mean that they do not exist for the rest of us.
I will not be silenced.
There is a false equivalency being created between students who have openly voted for Donald Trump being bullied and students of color, female students, poor students, and LGBTQ+ students who feel scared for their lives. They are not whining. Already having been marginalized, these groups of students require more support and attention that the former.
Is it the role of higher education to foster racism and sexism? Is it the role of higher education to coddle students who voted for Donald Trump? Or should we hold them accountable and allow students to hold them accountable?
I am not saying that physical violence is ever okay. But how can we have a “civil discourse” if we are giving the students who are white and privileged another out for their actions?
Staff and faculty are questioning students of marginalized identities for being upset, but maybe we should be questioning students who have decided to overtly express hatred, racism, and bigotry.
Ignoring these students is ignoring your own privilege in this conversation. Brushing them off like Millenial Crybabies is whitewashing, dehumanizing, racist, and sexist. Trying to make the conversation about something else because you are afraid of the conflicts that could follow are covert cousins to this.
Will Champlain College look back at this time in history and say that it fought instead of falling in line? Will it look back and say, “Yes, we empowered our students of color. We empowered women, we empowered our LGBTQ+ students, and we empowered our Pell Grant recipients?”
Or, will it attempt to use the dominant narrative to silence the mass? To calm us? Someone wise said to me: “Now is not the time to be afraid. Now is not the time to be silent.”
Now is the time, more than ever, to use whatever privilege you have to stand up to this silencing voice. I will not make room for racism, bigotry, sexism, hatred, or classism. I will not be treated like I’m a “child.” I’m not whining. I am actively taking a stand against my own oppression and the oppression of others.
Silence is how hatred and hopelessness takes over a country and our hearts.
Hold your Professors, your college, and your Administration accountable.