Months of frenzied election coverage culminated Tuesday as voters finally headed to the polls. Campus was abuzz with Election Day excitement. Students wore buttons, shirts and even face paint to class along with their “I Voted” stickers. The anticipation grew as polls began to close, eventually resulting in a Trump victory that took many by surprise. On Wednesday, the administration organized spaces for students to engage in reflection and conversation following Trump’s win.
Voting Efforts on Campus
In the months, weeks and days leading up to the 2016 presidential election, many members of the Macalester community dedicated countless hours to campaigning and getting out the vote. MacDems and the Civic Engagement Center (CEC) were two of the most instrumental groups in this campus-wide movement, organizing everything from registration assistance to phone banking to voting parades.
Darwin Forsyth ’17 has served as the co-chair of MacDems since Fall 2015. Well before this semester began, he and other members of MacDems were busy planning for the election. “We worked closely with the DFL and campaigns for Congress, State House and other offices to make sure interested Mac students had an opportunity to get involved in the election,” he said.
“The past few weeks, we have been registering voters, assisting with absentee ballots and answering questions about how students at Mac can vote. We’ve also hosted numerous phone banks on campus and, on weekends, we have sent students to doorknock competitive congressional races, competitive state house races and to Iowa for the presidential election,” he added.
On the morning after the election, Forsyth said he was grateful for the many first- and second-year students that became active MacDems members over the course of the semester. “A student org, particularly a volunteer-based one like MacDems, lives or dies with the enthusiasm of its members, and our first years have exceeded all expectations,” he said. “We couldn’t be more grateful for all the hard work and energy they poured into this election.” Like many members of the Macalester community, however, he is devastated by the results of the election. “I haven’t spent any time on campus because a lot of people have come to me asking me to tell them it’s okay. I can’t give people that reassurance,” Forsyth said.
“I’d like to thank everyone that volunteered and/or came out to vote,” he added.
Rachel Auerbach ’17 works in the CEC as a Public Policy Issue Based Organizer supporting election-related efforts on campus and in the community. “There are a lot of people involved in politics across campus, and part of my role is to coordinate efforts across departments, organizations and individuals,” she said.
Over the last few weeks, Auerbach and her team focused on upping Macalester’s voter turnout. “The past few weeks have mostly been devoted to making sure that any student who wanted to pre-register to vote was registered or knew how to. Mac has had really low voter turnout rates in the past few elections, and this year we are trying to change that,” she said. These efforts include registration help outside the Campus Center, photo campaigns and the four voting parades that took place on November 8.
“The disconnect between registering to vote and actually submitting a ballot is startling, and we are hoping that the Election Day parades that we’ve planned will generate excitement and encourage students to vote. We’re also using the parades to think of Election Day as a celebration, and show that Macalester values political engagement,” she said. The voting parades drew high turnout and featured campus guests like President Brian Rosenberg and Dean of Students DeMethra LaSha Bradley, along with entertainment in the form of acapella and bagpipes.
Anticipating the Results
A number of Macalester students continued their Election Day involvement at the Democratic Farmer Labor Party’s (DFL) Election Night at the Minneapolis Hilton. Attendees watched election results come in, and heard from several high-profile Minnesota Democrats throughout the night.
Early in the night, House Representative Keith Ellison joined the crowd in chanting, “Everybody counts, everybody matters!” With very few states reporting, Ellison remained optimistic. “I can’t wait to take a big ole baseball bat and smash the hell out of that glass ceiling,” Ellison said.
Halley Norman ’19, who interned on the campaign of Representative Ellison, came out to experience a sense of community and involvement.
“I think it’s also more stressful but also more reassuring at the same time,” Norman said of the event’s atmosphere. It was Norman’s first vote in a presidential election. “It matters a lot more and the consequences for it not going my way will be a lot more drastic,” Norman said. “And I don’t have nearly as much control over it.”
As the night progressed and Trump gained an increasingly large edge over Clinton, crowds milled around and watched the TV screens intently as the results came in.
Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar addressed the thinning crowd, thanking supporters for their involvement in electing Democrats statewide.
“I’m the poster child for close elections. It appears that we have one tonight,” Franken said. “The work that you guys have done has been fantastic. This is going to be tight, but I have faith that whatever happens, we will keep fighting.”
Klobuchar also reminded the crowd not to jump to any conclusions. “No one knows better than Minnesota that you wait until all the votes are counted,” she said.
“Our country must find a way to heal after this election,” Klobuchar said, on the negativity of the presidential race. “This country’s spirit is good and it is so much bigger than what divides us.”
Once Trump was finally declared the winner, the atmosphere was grim as attendees left quietly.
Community Conversations in the Aftermath of Trump’s Win
The atmosphere of the Macalester campus on Wednesday morning was subdued as students talked in hushed voices around campus, and some professors cancelled classes to allow students to process the outcome.
The Institute for Global Citizenship (IGC) hosted an afternoon panel for students to share their feelings about the outcome of the election and to offer a forum for discussion to members of the community who are in need.
Anthropology Professor Dianna Shandy moderated the panel, which consisted of Political Science Professor Julie Dolan, Chaplain Kelly Stone, Civic Leadership and Outreach Coordinator Derek Johnson of the CEC and Political Science major Ollin Montes ’17. The panelists spoke before allowing the audience to talk in small groups. The audience then reconvened to share thoughts from group discussions.
The general sentiment of the panel was one of shock, disappointment and grief. “I feel ill; I feel disappointed and I feel fearful for many people in the United States who probably have more reason to fear than do I as a white woman sitting up here,” Dolan said.
“My feminist heart is broken,” Stone said. “I’m thinking about all the young women in this country for whom that feels real as well.”
Montes urged the audience to be resilient in the next few days and weeks. “We talk about it as some kind of cute, fleeting emotion, but I think hope is something that’s born out of resistance and out of struggle,” Montes said. “It’s born out of those moments where we didn’t think we could make it through.”
Race was a common theme among responses to Trump’s election. “This is a critical moment for white people in the audience and the larger community to take responsibility and to be vigilant, and to do the heavy lifting for those that have been marginalized,” Dolan said. “I cannot help but think that we have to do something to change where we’re at.”
Several students asked to speak as the event neared its close. Kofi Ofosu ’19, Ayaan Natala ’18 and Becky Githinji ’18 shared their frustration over the Macalester community’s response to Trump’s victory.
“People at this campus were making jokes about Black Lives Matter; now you understand,” Natala said. “Donald Trump is America, and I don’t understand why that conversation isn’t being had here.”
Natala critiqued the feeling of white guilt that she feels often pervades the campus around events such as Trump’s election. “We always have to have our spaces co-opted by white emotions, white tears,” Natala said. “And where have I had the space to have black rage, have black anger, confusion? I am mad that I have to get up here to bring this up.”
Natala’s speech was met with a standing ovation.
Githinji urged students to consider the role that race played in Trump’s victory. “The reason why Trump won is because people don’t want to give up their stakes in white supremacy,” Githinji said. “All the people didn’t say they were voting for Trump, but they were thinking it. We need to stop pretending like this isn’t the world we live in. It’s always been the world we live in.”