Students, community process Donald Trump victory in search of reconciliation

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Phillip Downey/File

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With the campus erupting into protests after Donald Trump’s election Tuesday night, campus leadership is calling for unity, mutual respect and solidarity as the community and country regroup after a divisive — and, for many, devastating — campaign season.

Since the election, hundreds of students have taken to Sproul Plaza, and a handful of classes were canceled as many in Berkeley mourned Trump’s election. Meanwhile, a minority of the campus community rejoiced: After months of fighting for a controversial and unlikely candidate, their support was rewarded with an electoral victory.

“This has been a long, long election cycle, and it has been really divisive,” said Graduate Assembly President Kena Hazelwood-Carter. “How can we help everybody come to a place where we can be united, and we can create a future that can create a better life for all of us?”

UC President Janet Napolitano and Chancellor Nicholas Dirks sent emails to the student body reaffirming the campus’s commitment to diversity and to the university’s Principles Against Intolerance.

In a third campuswide email, seven campus representatives — including Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Na’ilah Nasir, Dean of Students Joseph Greenwell, Hazelwood-Carter and ASUC President Will Morrow — voiced support for communities that feared marginalization as a result of Trump’s election, such as immigrants, Muslims, people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ+. The email included information about various events held Wednesday to help students.

“As a campus, one of our core values is inclusion,” Hazelwood-Carter said. “That’s not going to change.”

Since Trump’s victory, students have reacted viscerally. A crowd of more than 200 expressed its frustration Tuesday night by marching to Oakland from Sproul Plaza, where election results were broadcast live. One protester was hit by a car as the group attempted to block Highway 24.

On Wednesday morning, about 2,000 students from Berkeley High School marched to the Campanile, chanting, “Not our president.” At noon, students from undocumented student group RISE at Berkeley held a sit-in on Sproul Plaza, protesting Trump’s proposed immigration policies. By 1 p.m., students marching from Albany High School reached campus, also demonstrating at the Campanile’s base. Protests continued into Wednesday night, including a BAMN march down Telegraph Avenue.

Many students expressed their confusion at the result, shocked that Trump had garnered so many votes despite nearly all polls and projections strongly favoring Hillary Clinton for the presidency.

“I don’t understand the immense support that he had,” said Harshil Bansal, political director of the Cal Berkeley Democrats. “There is an entire section of his country that supports him.”

Bansal, an international student from India, said Trump’s election is making him reconsider staying in the United States after he graduates in 2019. He added that he was concerned for fellow international students from countries Trump has pledged to earmark for more restrictive immigration policy.

Others also expressed concern for the potential impacts of Trump’s policy proposals. Furyal Mahmood, a member of the Muslim Student Association, said the campus Muslim community was struggling to cope with Trump’s election but holding united in its faith.

“As a community, we are trying to come to terms with his being elected president,” Mahmood said, adding that Trump’s proposal to increase surveillance on Muslims unfairly branded her religion as inherently suspicious and worthy of scrutiny. “We are trying to understand how this is going to impact our day-to-day lives in our interactions with other American citizens.”

For Berkeley College Republicans President Jose Diaz, however, Trump’s victory came with both surprise and excitement. With Trump in the White House, Diaz said, the country has a unique opportunity to implement new policies, including health care and immigration reform.

“I definitely think it’s a day when people really let their voices be heard through the voting process,” Diaz said. “With the Republican control of the Senate and House, I think we have an opportunity to capitalize and really bring about some change.”

Trump supporter and Harvard University student Eric Prince, who was present at the protest on Sproul, said Trump’s administration will more effectively protect liberty than Clinton’s leadership would have.

“I think that when it comes to giving power, liberty is more important than enforcing equality,” Prince said.

Despite feelings of anger and disappointment, some students say the protests give them hope for the future. Describing a generation “silenced by smartphones,” campus student Kade Percy cried as he marched through campus in a throng of protesters Wednesday.

“For the first time right now, I see a generation waking up to the reality of our political system,” Percy said. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s beautiful.”

UC Berkeley political science chair Eric Schickler compared Trump’s election to President Barack Obama’s in 2008, calling it an even more divisive victory.

“I don’t think there’s much hope to see a lot of unity anytime soon in American politics,” Schickler said.

Staff writers Ashley Wong and Audrey McNamara contributed to this report.

Contact Simon Greenhill and Sydney Fix at [email protected].