Get involved with campus organizations. Pay attention to state and local politics. Connect with other students and friends. Support one another.
That’s the advice that a group of University at Albany professors gave to an overflow crowd of students, who packed a classroom on campus Thursday night to continue the process of digesting and making sense of the election of Donald Trump as president.
The initial shock had appeared to wear off, but the students were pressing for answers to enormously complicated questions: How do we stand up to attempts to roll back reproductive rights? How do we engage with Trump supporters? Can we just move past a campaign rampant with racist and misogynistic comments that singled out minority groups?
“Organize, organize, organize,” UAlbany political scientist Julie Novkov told the students. “You folks are going to be far more affected by climate change issues. It’s up to you to take the world and do something with it, you must organize, you must come together, you must figure out what your agendas are, you must figure out ways to build coalitions.”
Novkov urged the students to engage with local and state politics, pointing out that even if federal protections were rolled back, state laws could still maintain programs and rights students and young people value.
“The federal government is not the only government that affects your life; there are sub-federal courts and state and local governments that are very important,” she said. “Don’t forget about your state constitutional rights, they are going to become increasingly important.”
The professors — including a social worker, an expert on political violence and director of UAbany’s Washington semester program — puzzled over the consequences of a Trump presidency. It remains to be seen what kind of president Trump will be, they said, pointing to a long list of political appointees he will be making in the coming months. Those appointments will be key to the kinds of policies he ultimately adopts.
With Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress and two-thirds of governors’ mansions, real policy changes are coming, the professors told the students. The resources spent to support marginalized groups, disabled Americans and other minorities may well decline, Loretta Pyles from the School of Social Work said.
“The kinds of fears and the needs of those populations are going to become really important,” Pyles said. “And generally with the trajectory being a continued retrenchment of resources, needing to do more with less, that has a real impact on people’s lives.”
And many of the students were clearly concerned with the “validation” that Trump’s election may give to people in the darkest corners of his supporters. The KKK endorsed Trump, one student pointed out.
“I speak for the humanities. He won, and the landslide has started, an entire far right viewpoint has been more or less validated by his win and we have people being targeted more than ever, what do we do about it now?” a young black woman asked.
Pyles told the students to “attend to themselves and one another,” seeking support if they needed it. And Novkov said that while many students might have “woke up [Wednesday] in a country they did not know … a country that did not welcome them,” they should not forget that more people will have voted for Hillary Clinton than Trump — despite his electoral college victory.
The professors were also grappling with their own challenged assumptions and the consequences of a surprising election on their academic disciplines.
“The bottom line of all of this is we all have a lot to learn no one is going to stand up here and pretend we fully understand what is going on, it’s going to take a while,” said Michael Malbin, who leads the college’s semester in Washington program.
Victor Asal, who researches terrorism and political violence, told the students engagement and turnout in future elections was the best way to turn the conservative tide that swept Trump into power this week.
He asked the students to raise their hands if they knew someone eligible to vote this year that had not voted. Almost every hand in the room shot up. In fact, far fewer millennial voters turned out for Hillary Clinton than did when Barack Obama was elected and re-elected.
“Everyone. Think about that; that is the factor that had the biggest impact. If it doesn’t change, who knows what will change.”
But Tuesday’s outcome seemed to strengthened students’ belief in the importance of engaging in politics. The students repeatedly asked how they can fight back against policies and actions that run counter to what they believe is right. One student highlighted walk-outs and protests at other colleges.
Erik Villalobos, a UAlbany junior, wore a shirt that said: “My illegal family is here to stay.” He said that most all of his family had immigrated to the United States from El Salvador without documentation. He was born in America and some of his family had become naturalized but not all of them, he said. While he wasn’t enthralled by Obama’s deportation record, he worried that things would get worse, not better under a Trump presidency.
“We were hoping for immigration reform, a pathway to citizenship, now we are just hoping it doesn’t get much worse,” the political science student from Long Island said. “I have to get out and be more engaged and do something outside of school. The Trump presidency is not only driving me to do that it is making it an obligation to do it.”
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, email@example.com or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.