On November 8th, the United States elected Donald Trump as its next president. VPR spent the days after talking to students and curating their reactions. We will update this page as we collect more of their stories.
Theses stories were collected by Kathleen McGean, Abigail Fournier, Bailey Bowden, Lindsay Grizzard, Naveen Krishnan, Jacqui Pittman, Benjamin Lackner, and Alex Slawson.
One anonymous freshman supporter of Trump explained his side’s reaction to the results of the election:
“Conservatives were shocked that Trump won and we weren’t sure how to react. We were all happy that our candidate was elected but we were so shocked because of the negative media coverage that it took us by surprise. When he started to win all those swing states, I wasn’t sure what was happening. It didn’t feel like it was reality.”
He also explained what he observed from supporters of Hillary Clinton:
“As for liberal students, a lot were devastated, there were some people who were like ‘Now what?’ There were others that were so emotionally moved that they were crying, making targeted attacks at conservatives, people who didn’t vote, and at the system in general.”
He also explained how he faced considerable backlash as a supporter of Trump on campus:
“I like to think that I voted for Trump for the right reasons. Not because I’m racist or sexist but because I agreed with his policies. He offered palpable change as opposed to Clinton who offered 4 more years of the same. I wore my Make America Great Again hat the day after the election because I was happy my candidate won. I received dirty looks all day and comments from students that unfairly generalized me as well as all conservatives and Trump supporters. One student said, ‘How could you vote for Trump? By doing so you’re a racist and a sexist.’ Another questioned, ‘How can you stand for Trump and his fascism?’”
Finally, the student, a devout Episcopalian, explained how his religious and moral views interact with his support for Trump:
“Religiously I don’t think that it conflicts with my views for the most part. I would say that I don’t support all of Mike Pence’s extremely religious views. I am Christian, but I’m Episcopalian which is one of the most liberal sects of the church. Ethically, I don’t agree with some of the comments he made. I think he could have expressed himself more professionally, but I don’t believe his comments reflect what his presidency will stand for. Regarding some of his comments, it’s hard to always police yourself when you’re in private and you think no one is listening. But I’d like to think he’s learned from his mistakes. Also, I don’t think a lot of his policies are reflected in his rhetoric.”
On the morning of November 9th, I* spoke with Dr. Frank E. Dobson at Vanderbilt’s Black Cultural Center regarding the students’ reactions to election result. By 11:55am Dobson said there had already been multiple distressed students coming to the center seeking support. As the BCC’s Post-Election Open House & Fellowship began, I had the chance to speak with multiple students regarding their thoughts on the election. Andre Mintze, a freshman student-athlete at Vanderbilt, said, “This is how people like me have felt for a long time in this country. There’s always been racism, and there probably always will be. Nothing has changed, it’s just that a lot more groups of people are feeling what we’ve been feeling for all this time.” His teammate who also attended the event, a senior at Vanderbilt, had a similarly somber yet expectant outlook, saying, “It’s shocking, but it’s not surprising. For me, I always thought this would happen.” Throughout the open house, the Black Cultural Center was eerily quiet despite the high attendance; at least 40 students gathered in solidarity with solemn faces and tried to take solace in comfort food and communal support.
Another first-year student I spoke to took a more resistant stance. When respecting other’s opinions was brought up in a class discussion, the student said, “There’s no respecting other people’s opinions at this point. There was a political candidate on one side and then there was xenophobia, racism, sexism, and every other –ism you can think of on the other side. People who voted for him need to know the consequences of their vote.” His statement resonated with his female peers in the classroom and encouraged class conversation about the deeply offensive language Trump and his campaign used throughout the election. Another student shared how fearful her father had been early that morning—calling her and saying how nervous he was for her, a young African-American/Hispanic woman, amidst a Donald Trump presidency.
The certainty of a Trump presidency has left many minority students feeling unwelcome in their own nation. Although racism and sexism have existed for centuries, the election of Donald Trump has normalized hateful rhetoric and exacerbated prejudice, racism, and cultural divides in the eyes of many Vanderbilt students, especially those from historically disenfranchised communities.
*written by Jacqui Pittman
Sydney Silberman is a junior and a member of the Vanderbilt Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Committee. She’s also a survivor of sexual assault, and, for her, this election was personal. On November 9th, she missed both class and work and instead spent the day traveling between the IICC and the many other buildings where distraught students congregated.
“Our incoming president is a perpetrator,” Silberman said. “He boasts about grabbing women by the pussy and thinks that’s acceptable, so it’s only going to re-stigmatize sexual assault, especially for people who actually choose to report.
“There are two sides of me. There is the selfish side, who can only take her personal experiences with being raped at Vanderbilt and also supporting friends who have been sexually assaulted. And then there’s the activist side of me who likes to look at things through a different lense—in terms of progress and what we can do to improve ourselves. So, as Sydney, I feel incredibly broken that I have to live in a country where my president is a perpetrator who mirrors the behaviors of people who directly assaulted me. As an activist, it hurts because I want more progress to be made not only on Vanderbilt’s campus but also in the outside world. But I think the part inside me that’s aching more is the personal side, having dealt with things I had to deal with and friends had to deal with, and having that be the person who will be running our country.”
Justin Banks, a freshman, says that today Vanderbilt felt like a funeral. People around him were numb, sad, and angry at the results of the election.
“I had friends cry on my shoulders for refugees, for immigrants, for me,” Banks says. “I sometimes forget the dangers of my skin, but I felt them today. I live in a country where saying my life matters is a controversial statement. I live in a country whose future President was endorsed by the KKK.”
Banks believes that the real tragedy of the election wasn’t Trump – it was the fact that enough people supported Trump to elect him leader of our country, and that we as a nation are not willing to heal together. This election has been hostile, and Banks says that bleeds onto campus.
“I’ve seen a lot of fighting and a lot of hate in the last 20 hours. Last night, while most of the Commons was in shock and horror, a group of Trump supporters were chanting in celebration, directly antagonizing a Muslim girl and a black girl until they left. My friend was attacked as being racist for identifying as a Republican. I assume everyone has experienced what I am talking about in one way or another.” Banks went on to say, “My Facebook page and one of the happiest universities in the nation makes me feel like there’s no hope. People are afraid and people feel targeted for their beliefs, race, gender, and sexual identity.”
While Banks says that he hates what Trump has done, he can’t hate Trump supporters. He believes that, while many of them are “vile”, they, like many other people, want what’s best for their families. “Good intention does not negate their narrow mindedness,” Banks says, “but it does not negate mine either. I can never understand how anyone can listen to Donald Trump’s rhetoric and vote for him, but I know there’s a person thinking the exact same thing about me and Hillary.”
“We need to communicate with civility if we want to grow from this. Don’t get me wrong, I get it – it’s hard to mourn when others want to celebrate. I do not know what is going to happen the next four years or how we’re going to cope from this, but painting other to be the enemy without proper discourse will make things a hell of a lot worse.”
Patrick Deneen, a freshman, is a self-described incremental anarchist. “Essentially,” he says, “I believe that the government should be determined by mutual agreement with the governed, without the threat of violence.” He’d like to see the government slowly replaced by mutualism, wherein civil society would take over governmental powers and responsibilities. While this may sound similar to libertarianism, Deneen made it clear that there are distinctions—mainly that libertarians ignore the influence and control corporate powers have over our freedoms and that the individualism that libertarians advocate for doesn’t provide support for underprivileged people, while mutualism does. “It’s a process that will take all of us working for a better society every day, absorbing the necessary functions of a government that it consistently fucks up.”
Deneen believes that this election primarily served to highlight the country’s major problems, from a structural, governmental standpoint, and from an everyday American life standpoint.
Calling the Constitution “an antiquated document written for a loosely-coordinated mosquito of a country” that’s “barely even applicable today”, Deneen pointed out one of its major flaws that only comes to national attention during an election year: the Electoral College. “It’s painfully ironic that the electoral college was made to prevent voters from pulling dumb shit, when for both Bush and Trump it enabled it,” he says, referring to how both men lost the popular vote and still managed to become president.
“And don’t hate the people who voted for Trump,” he says. “Address the reasons why they did—rural poverty, Beltway culture, liberal smugness, social deintegration, and hatred in the first place. Obviously there are many character failures at play too, but they rise and fall with the other problems that America needs to address.”
“I don’t plan to move to Ireland, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it either,” Deneen, who is eligible for dual citizenship since his mother is an Irish immigrant, says. His family had been planning to get the second passport at the Irish consulate in Chicago over winter break before they knew the results of the election, but he says that the Trump-induced uncertainty makes progress more urgent. “I’ve already considered living in Ireland, though I think that most of the people who want to and have the means to move will be least affected by Trump. And the vast majority are just blowing smoke, as Americans do on all issues.”
Deneen hopes that what will come out of this election is change. He believes that this election has made people more aware of the real problems facing our country, and that most people have now realized that the change won’t come from the government – it will come from the people. “It’s going to have to come from us,” he says, “in every action we undertake. Oppression is written into the very foundations of American institutions. It won’t be rooted out by those institutions themselves. Oppression will be destroyed by smart, passionate people who work every day to cut the legs from under those institutions, after weakening them with systematic, incremental change.”
“Your vote probably didn’t mean shit. But your actions mean more than you can comprehend.”
Robert Harrison, a freshman, says that what bothers him most about this election is that so many people are now scared for themselves and many others have lost faith in our country, whether it’s because they’re no longer proud to be an American or because they feel betrayed by their fellow citizens.
Harrison worries that Trump’s presidency, his supporters, and those that accept his presidency will be labeled as sexist, racist, and islamophobic. “I’m not. A lot of his supporters aren’t. I don’t defend that,” he says.
He’s also particularly troubled by how Christians, considered to be a large part of Trump’s base, may be perceived. “As a Christian I want to and will seek to protect those people that feel threatened or unsafe, and it hurts to know that a lot of people now associate Trump’s views with a lifestyle of love, forgiveness, and acceptance that my God and savior teachers.”
“I hope this election sparks reform in both parties’ nomination processes and that they listen to input from their supporters and moderates,” Harrison says. “I still believe in the US. I’m glad that we had a democratic election and that there’s going to be a smooth transfer of democracy.”
Harrison, a white male, acknowledges that he can’t empathize with those that are frightened or feel betrayed. “But,” he says, “this election has shown me that I want to and must strive to protect and comfort them through whatever means I have.”
Ari Niko Bradshaw, a freshman, voted for Gary Johnson. Bradshaw wasn’t on Vanderbilt’s campus last night as the election began to unfold – and he couldn’t return when it did. He says he received threats that prevented him from coming back to campus, and instead had to sleep on a friend’s floor at Belmont. “I know I lost around 50 friends on Facebook and 40 followers on Instagram just for voting Johnson. I literally checked this morning and people were just gone,” Bradshaw says. “I had people from back home and here send me messages describing how I cost them their rights and this whole election even though Arizona didn’t matter in the end.”
One of the main issues that influenced Bradshaw’s choice to vote for Johnson was immigration. Having lived in a largely Hispanic city his whole life, with both undocumented and documented friends, he felt that, “the two New York candidates were clueless in their talks about immigration… and Johnson best described the issues faced in Phoenix”.
Bradshaw felt he couldn’t discuss politics, even his more liberal views, because he felt his views were being invalidated; he says, “I’m so ‘cismale, white, and privileged’, despite the fact that I’ve grown up without a father, in poverty, and otherwise would be a traditional Democratic voter. I felt like I had no choice but to vote for Johnson.”
Bradshaw voted early, about a month ago, before Arizona became a swing state. “I didn’t connect with the other candidates and even though I feared Trump, I felt like there were no reason to vote Hillary and I’d rather vote for someone I believed in.”
Emily Hernandez, a junior, really felt the impact of the election when she went to work. “I work at social work/family clinic in East Nashville where I help immigrant and refugee children with their homework and teach them about nutrition and exercise,” she says. “Today one of the seven-year-olds [I work with] who is normally all over the place, like hyper beyond belief, was just really quiet.”
“I sat with her and talked with her for a while, helped her do her math homework, and she finally opened up to me and said (something like), ‘Do you know who won the election? He’s really mean. My mom and dad and I don’t have papers but my little brother was born here so he does, and now our family might be separated, and if I want to stay I can be adopted.’”
“It’s just crazy that a seven-year old is worrying about her family being broken apart.”
Nikki Kragt, a sophomore, feels good about the election, citing her distrust of Hillary Clinton as the primary reason she sided with Trump. “I was very much against Hillary Clinton becoming president, she says. “Voting for corruption is comparatively a lot worse than voting for someone with no political experience.” However, she’s also frustrated with the way that much of the discussion on both sides of the aisle has been about social issues; most of her friends that voted for Trump, she says, actually voted for him “strictly because of his fiscal policies.”
Kragt says she’s also upset with how Trump supporters have been generalized as “uneducated” by some. Even though “most of the conservative side of [her] family doesn’t have college degrees,” she feels they don’t deserve the “uneducated” label, since having a college degree “doesn’t make them any less educated on the issues.”
“I would argue that they are more educated,” she says, “because they aren’t brainwashed by liberalism and are able to actually form their own opinions based on what is happening around them.”
In the end, she says, “You can’t deny the support Trump ended up getting.”
Cedoni Francis, a freshman, was expecting and hoping for a Hillary win. “Being honest,” she says, “I’m still in shock. Trump pandered to voters [with his] rhetoric of hate, and he won. It just shows me that America is not progressive. As a Black woman and an immigrant – I am beyond fearful for my life.”
Many students share Francis’s fears and are looking for Vanderbilt to act. Francis is critical of Vanderbilt’s handling of the current situation on campus so far, and she doesn’t think Vanderbilt has done enough for students who feel unsafe. To support this point, she cited how Vanderbilt handled the police shootings in Dallas: “When police officers in Dallas were killed, an email was sent out saying to go to the PCC*. Keep in mind, this was the summer and very few people were on campus.”
“Specific organizations and spaces like the BCC, the KC Potter Center, and others have really done their best to make people feel safe, but Vandy on an institutional level has not,” she says. “I’m disappointed in Vanderbilt.”
If Francis had the power to do something at the institutional level, she would implement mandatory inclusion and sensitivity training for all students and faculty. “Donald Trump winning the election is an issue, but the bigger issue is Black students feeling dehumanized by other students who don’t understand why we ‘called in black’ and felt uneasy to leave our rooms.”
“I want Vanderbilt to care about Black lives beyond the pamphlets that get sent out. I want to feel included on this campus, and the first step is inclusion and sensitivity training.”
*Since Francis was interviewed, Vice Chancellor Hill has sent out an email reaffirming Vanderbilt’s support for all members of Vanderbilt’s community and recommended that students who need to visit either the Center for Student Wellbeing or the PCC.
Rayan Osman is horrified and angered by the real-world consequences of a Trump presidency. She remembers a story about how the day after the election, a knife was pulled on a Muslim girl on a train and a rock was thrown at another Muslim girl at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.
“To the people saying Donald Trump’s presidency isn’t as big of a deal as we’re making it out to be, it isn’t just about the fact that he, an unqualified, inexperienced person is in office, but now all the closet (or outspoken) racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic Americans have a representative in that position that office that embodies their toxic beliefs.” Osman believes that having Trump in office legitimizes hatred and puts minority groups in danger, the incidents he citied earlier being proof that it’s already happening.
“These are real fears,” she says. “Donald Trump gives a voice to White Supremacy.”
“Also how the hell did he get 52% of female voters?”
Mahek Mehta, a freshman, worries about what impact a Donald Trump presidency will have on children, especially her nine-year-old sister. “I am terrified of how this election will impact [her] and her peers,” she says. “American voters have failed American children, who will complete countless homework assignments and papers about a man who does not have basic respect for human decency.”
Meta thinks of the Obamas as being important role models for her as a kid, remembering them not just as great leaders but brilliant examples of class and style. She says, “Some of my most formative years were spent watching the professionalism and grace of President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.”
“To think that Donald Trump could have a similar impact on today’s youth is disgusting.”
Johanna Goldblatt, a sophomore, was so upset with what she saw this morning that she deleted her social media. “I had people back home gloating while complaining about liberals being butthurt,” she says, “and people here at Vandy failing to respect this democratic process and the choic of America.”
More than anything, Goldblatt says she is disappointed “for getting [her] hopes up through polls and believing that American had progressed more than it actually had.” She woke up with “this little optimism” that Clinton would pull through in the end, only to be let down in the worst way.
“The hardest thing now is to accept that this is what American is fighting for,” she says, “even though it is what I thought we had spent hundreds of years fighting against.”
“I have to support this country for a message I completely disagree with.”
One student, who wished to remain anonymous, had the following to say.
“When I grew up, my parents would incentivize me to do well in school by saying that one day, if I worked hard enough, I could do anything, even be president of the United States. I was raised thinking that that was the ultimate role model – the Gold Standard – the leader of the free world. All I’m saying is, by the time my kids come around, we better have someone they can aspire to be. Someone who at least PRETENDS to be empathetic. Someone who is fundamentally a better person than Donald Trump is.”
Theses stories were curated by Kathleen McGean, Abigail Fournier, Bailey Bowden, Lindsay Grizzard, and Naveen Krishnan.