In class Wednesday afternoon, I handed out blank sheets of paper and asked students to write for five minutes about their responses to the election and how they plan to move on from here to care for each other.They wrote and wrote and wrote.
I asked them to find someone on the other side of the room or at another table with whom they felt comfortable sharing their thoughts. It’s a very diverse class of 19. The groups talked, deeply, for about 10 minutes. I had to cut them off for large group sharing.
One said we needed to remake the government. Another said she had spent the night comforting a sobbing friend. A third student said she wanted people to be free to say how they really felt and not just fall into the Goshen College assumption that we are all liberal HRC supporters.
Finally, one student said he felt unsafe at the college today–that he was a white Trump supporter from a conservative area, where most Mennonites are Trump supporters, and he was afraid that people were going to think he was a racist. The tall African American kid next to him put his arm around the Trump supporter and gave him a squeeze.
Since the whole class is about arguing responsibly and critiquing other arguments, I made a link to why it is so important to respectfully disagree. Then I referenced the divisive and negative rhetoric of the campaign. That’s why I really haven’t done much with the election in the class before now.
But today I pulled up Clinton’s concession speech and Trump’s acceptance speech. “The discourse is changing.” I showed them Clinton’s definition of the peaceful transfer of power as key to democracy and her instructions to keep an open mind to our new president. I read from Trump’s speech and his invitation to the “few” who didn’t support him to reach out and share their ideas.
We have many different reasons for supporting those we did or did not support. The main thing is that we can honor the differences that don’t always show on the surface, to reserve judgment, to live together in peace and be kind.
And it’s up to us to do that work now, every day, across the American divides. We haven’t elected a symbol of diversity to do it for us. It was a moving class period and some students whom I didn’t expect to hear from thanked me afterward.
I am heartened by their bravery, vulnerability, and willingness to express differences and listen to each other. We have a lot of work ahead of us that we need to do together.