Election Sparks Opposing, Heated Reactions on Campus

The outcome of the recent and deeply controversial presidential election, which named Donald Trump President-elect of the United States, has left the Choate community in a state of conflict on multiple fronts. On campus, reactions ranged from the formation of support groups to club outreach through emails. However, while this event has caused certain groups to rally together, it has also created divisions and disagreements amongst various others. As Liza Mackeen-Shapiro ’18, a member of the club Young Democrats, explained, “I have never felt closer to some Choate people this week, but never felt further from others.”

One of the first public responses on campus addressing Trump’s election came from Young Democrats in the form of an email publicizing a vigil to “come together after this devastating loss and show our solidarity against Donald Trump.” Mackeen-Shapiro commented, “A lot more people came than I expected. People stood around, talked, and hugged. It was a really nice, sweet, and supportive atmosphere that definitely helped me feel better.”

Communication within the Young Republicans group seemed to criticize the vigil held by the other club.  Mackeen-Shapiro said that the club’s critique  of the vigil “felt like a slap in the face to the pain a lot of us have been feeling.”

Another Young Democrat, Larisa Owusu ’17, added that the Young Republicans were acting in a way that was “unnecessarily inflammatory.” She continued, “The vigil wasn’t an attack on the election results; it was about standing in solidarity with each other. At this point, it’s surpassed just being Young Repubs against Young Dems. It’s more of an issue of human decency and how you’re going to treat others, especially on the Choate campus.”

While this conflict affected and involved many members of the community, certain students on the other end of the spectrum found the entire conflict futile. Joshua Gonzalez ’17 said, “I think this shows how childish many people in our community are. Honestly, if Trump had lost, we wouldn’t have a vigil. Come on! Are you serious? Many people don’t like Trump because they hate him personally, and I hate him personally, too, but it’s the policies that matter.”

The divergence between the two clubs continued when a group of Young Democrats attended a post-election Young Republicans meeting. Gonzalez explained, “Basically, at 6:15, everyone came. Then all of a sudden, I saw a bunch of Democrats walking in, and they didn’t look happy.”

Owusu said that Young Democrats intended only “to be respectful, sit down, and genuinely listen to what was said.”

With miscommunication between the clubs and their members at something of an all-time high, Dean of Fifth Form Girls Ms. Nancy Miller stressed the importance of listening to each other during a decidedly stressful time.  “People are really passionate on both sides of this election, and if there’s one thing to be salvaged from all this, it’s that please, God, let us talk to each other. Let us be out front and open with each other; let us not be snarky and mean to each other. It doesn’t do anyone any good. This is a hard thing, and it’s going to be hard for awhile.”

Besides disagreements between Young Republicans and Young Democrats, several other episodes of discord and protest have occurred on campus since election night.

In an unsigned open letter distributed across campus on Tuesday, November 15, a “group of concerned students” detailed what they see as post-election grievances of marginalized groups. “Our tears, frustration, and anger respond not to partisan defeat but to a deep fear for our own humanity and that of our loved ones,” the students wrote. The letter demanded that students and faculty more vigorously promote respect and inclusion in the aftermath of a divisive election. The next day, at School Meeting, twenty students identified themselves as the letter’s coauthors. (See the letter here.)

As it happened, the day after the election had been named Represent Your Country Day, a part of Spirit Week leading up to Deerfield Day. While many students proudly dressed in their country’s colors, several American students chose to wear all black, as a statement of mourning.

Ellie Feltovic ’19, who wore red, white, and blue that day, commented, “Everyone looked at me negatively. It felt like if you weren’t wearing all black, you were just automatically bad, and I shouldn’t have to be afraid to wear American flag leggings when it’s Rep Your Country Day. When you say that you’re happy about the election or that you’re a Republican, people look at you like you don’t have morals, when that’s not true.”

Other Republicans at Choate shared similar sentiments regarding the community’s reaction to their political preferences post-election. “Recently I’ve been targeted for openly supporting Trump, both pre- and post-election. Now more than ever, I feel like I can’t express my happiness and gratitude for Trump winning because Conservatives are silenced every single day here,”  said Nicole McGuigan ’18.

Jack Bergantino ’18 continued, “This election has caused intense discord on our campus and throughout America. It has been disheartening to see people reduced to tears following the outcome of the election, and I can certainly understand why so many fervently dislike the idea of Mr. Trump as America’s next president. However, it angers me to see violence or blatant attacks on other people’s character because of their support for Trump. Even if I take the stance of supporting some of his economic policies, I subject myself to harsh criticism and accusations from fellow peers. There really is only one way for our campus to heal: we need to move on and give our president a chance to succeed because his success is our success.”

Both clubs and faculty have reached out to the community, particularly those members who may feel targeted and suppressed by their peers. In an email to the student body, Director of Equity and Inclusion Dr. Keith Hinderlie suggested that  students turn to deans, advisers, counselors, chaplains, and other trusted adults on campus for support.

Even with this form of outreach, some students still felt alone. Feltovic elaborated, “A lot of the emails sent by the faculty said that there were support groups for those sad about the election, but I felt like people who were happy about the election needed support groups, too. Even though we were happy, we couldn’t express it.”

Choate’s international students have also been affected by the election. Alyssa Shin ’18 explained, “As a dual citizen, I think I could give insight into how people are reacting to the election of Donald Trump. I believe the election was pertinent to the world at large, but I think many people back at home in Seoul, like friends my age, were able to put distance between themselves and the results and even laugh and joke. Although I have been keeping up with the election personally and was very affected by it, I think even those who are not American citizens on campus were affected by the election as well because of the amount of student-led discussion on campus. I think it’s great that students are not only willing but eager to have challenging discussions about complex topics like modern politics.”

Since Trump’s victory, Headmaster Dr. Alex Curtis, Dr. Hinderlie, and other administrators have addressed both students and faculty on several occasions. Three days after the election, Dr. Curtis, who was traveling on behalf of the School in China on November 8, sent an email to the community. “Whatever your feelings about the results of the presidential election, I ask you to live out our school’s values of integrity, respect, and compassion—individually, as a community, and in the realm of U.S. politics and policy.” He went on, “If you are happy about the results of the election, please do not gloat. And if you are angry, don’t lash out at others. Whoever you are, and whatever your politics, care for those around you.”

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