The Trump effect

Chico State and Butte College react to unease, fear and racism on campus following presidential election

Ka Lynda Watts is comforted by Gillian Sammis as she shares her experiences with racism in Chico at a solidarity rally and march held at Chico State Nov. 16. Sammis and another student, Alexandra Wynter, organized the event in response to Donald Trump’s win.

Ka Lynda Watts is comforted by Gillian Sammis as she shares her experiences with racism in Chico at a solidarity rally and march held at Chico State Nov. 16. Sammis and another student, Alexandra Wynter, organized the event in response to Donald Trump’s win.

Photo by Ken Smith

When Charles “C.C.” Carter arrived at work on Nov. 9, he quickly realized it wasn’t going to be just another day on campus. The director of Chico State’s Cross-Cultural Leadership Center saw that the students who had gathered inside the center the morning after the presidential election were obviously devastated by the results.

“You would have thought somebody died,” he recalled.

By noon, about 100 students had gathered there to discuss what a Donald Trump presidency meant to them, Carter said. They expressed fear, frustration, utter disbelief. Many said it was hard to imagine that U.S. citizens had elected a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women and repeatedly insulted blacks, Mexicans and Muslims.

“Some of the people who supported Trump now see someone who may or may not have assaulted women is the president, and [think] that’s an OK behavior,” said Rebecca Norton, a public relations student at Chico State. “It’s nerve-wracking, because it then leaves an excuse for domestic violence and rape.”

In the weeks following the election, campuses across the country have been grappling with the aftermath of Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton. At Butte College and Chico State, reactions have ranged from vindication to fears of being deported, the target of racism or bigotry, or losing basic rights. Some students have indeed been victims of and witness to racist acts reportedly fueled by Trump’s win.

Late on election night, Carter said, a Hispanic student employee was leaving campus when someone in a truck threw eggs at her and yelled, “Go back to Mexico,” “You’re going to get deported” and “Trump, Trump, Trump!” In a separate incident, he added, a black student reported that somebody had thrown rocks at her from a car.

According to a widely shared Facebook post, a flier promoting diversity and inclusion hung in Meriam Library was defaced after the election. Its text was crossed out and somebody had scribbled “MAGA,” the initials for Trump’s campaign slogan (make America great again); “President Trump!”; and “14/88.” According to international Jewish civil rights organization the Anti-Defamation League, 14 stands for a phrase coined by notorious white supremacist David Lane: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” And 88 stands for “Heil Hitler” (H is the eighth letter of the alphabet).

In all, the recent incidents indicate that some people now feel comfortable being “overtly racist,” Carter said.

And it’s not just people who opposed Trump who are feeling uneasy following the election. Some Chico State students who supported the president-elect aren’t feeling safe either, said Michael Pratt, president of the Associated Students. “There has been some expressed sentiment from them that they are fearful that they … might come under attack,” he said.

Over at Butte College, students had similar reactions to the results of the election. Initially, international students felt particularly vulnerable, according to Monica Brown, Butte College’s student equity director. “One asked if he might be killed,” she said. “Another one asked if he should get a plane ticket home.”

Several student populations—including Muslims, those in the LGBT community and those who speak English as a second language—are now concerned about their rights and how their communities will be treated, Brown said.

In reaction to the general unease on campus, both colleges’ presidents emailed their respective students, staff and faculty following the election to reaffirm commitments to student success, safety and core institutional values such as diversity and inclusion. They also highlighted counseling services and other available campus resources.

One offering at Butte College was an information session for students with a status known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Those students were brought to the United States illegally as children but are lawfully permitted to work and attend college in the U.S. because of a federal program initiated by President Obama.

Trump vowed to eliminate that program during his campaign. In a recent interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes, however, he seemed to backtrack somewhat, stopping short of calling for a repeal of DACA and concentrating immigration discussion on securing the borders by first deporting undocumented immigrants with criminal records.

On Nov. 29, the leaders of California State University, University of California and California Community Colleges signed a letter urging Trump to continue DACA.

“These sons and daughters of undocumented immigrants are as American as any other child across the nation, in all but in the letter of the law,” the letter reads. “Some never even spoke the language of their native land. They do not represent a public safety threat. In fact, they represent some of the best our nation has to offer.”

While both campuses were caught off guard by Trump’s victory and initially had to scramble to deal with students’ reactions, as the fall semester winds down, administrators are preparing for what lies ahead, Carter said. He added that the university will remain politically neutral and hold true to the core tenets of higher education: free speech, open inquiry, reason, civility and the pursuit of truth and knowledge.

“Everybody’s place here is valuable and we want to support all of our students, regardless of where they land politically,” he said. “That’s our job.”