Updated: Nov. 14, 2016 at 8:34 a.m.
Knowing that Donald Trump will soon be living down the street, students on campus are trying to figure out what comes next for them.
Protests, vigils and gatherings have dominated campus activism since Trump’s election last week. Some students have expressed fears that they will be targeted by Trump’s policies because of their identities or that the president-elect will encourage a dangerous national dialogue.
The Hatchet spoke separately with 24 student leaders last week about their initial reactions to the election: Some were motivated, others were still shocked. Although many said they felt uncertain about the future, all said they were inspired to continue their work and spread their messages.
Trump or his followers had targeted an array of minority populations during his 17-month-long presidential campaign, which has been described as one of the most divisive in U.S. history. It was the rhetoric regarding Mexicans, women, Muslims and disabled people that students said they feared most.
“Naturally, much of the electorate that voted for Trump will be empowered, and some of their racists views and leanings might be validated,” Zan Mir, the president of the Pakistani Students Association, said.
Black Student Union Vice President Haben Kelati said this election brought up concerns for minority students on campus who felt targeted by the rhetoric Trump has used to describe the black community, like instances in which Trump called black supporters “thugs.”
“These are direct attacks towards specific groups in this country, and we see it as such, and it’s personal,” Kelati said. “To the students who supported Trump or didn’t openly before, but now openly are, just know we see you – we know what that means.”
Osama Al-Saleh, the president of the Muslim Students Association, said he was concerned for the safety of Muslims, particularly women who wear hijabs. And Alex Murawski, the president of the Organization of Slavic Students, said he is worried about the future of NATO and about Trump’s neo-isolationist comments. Tayller Marcee, the co-president of the Black Women’s Forum, said she felt uncertain of the legacy of the Obama administration, especially First Lady Michelle Obama who is an inspiration for young black woman.
Leaders of advocacy groups like Voices for Choices and the Progressive Student Union said they were concerned with Trump and his aides’ stances on women’s reproductive rights and climate change, in particular.
Allied in Pride President Ciaran Lithgow said LGBT students have expressed fear of hate crimes against their community and Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s public support of “conversion therapy.”
“There were several people posting sad messages who were in our community about wanting to go back into the closet, about not feeling safe outside anymore, not feeling OK to go out and be queer in public,” Lithgow said. “We want to make sure that they know that campus is a safe place for them to be out.”
The Republican victory especially came as a surprise to GW College Democrats leaders. The chapter often promotes itself as the largest College Democrats chapter in the country and held several campaign trips to support Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton throughout the semester.
Levi Debose, the vice president of communication for the College Democrats, said students seemed disheartened as they struggled to put their faith in a president-elect whose remarks had personally offended many of them.
“It is tough to say, ‘I respect my president’ when your president does not respect you or your background or your people or your person,” Debose said.
But Debose said while some students are struggling to come to terms with Trump’s election, they should respect the office and the sanctity of the electoral process. Debose wanted members of College Democrats to be open to what Trump could bring to the nation’s highest office, he said.
“I hope students will actually wait and see what the president-elect of the United States says,” Debose said. “But if he stands against the values we consider as Americans, then we do have to stand up and fight back. We cannot be apathetic in any way.”
Allison Coukos, the public relations chair for the College Republicans, said members of the group are now fully endorsing the president-elect after remaining neutral during the campaign.
Coukos said since Election Day, members of the organization have been spit on, slapped and told they deserve to die. She said these instances – which have not been independently confirmed by The Hatchet – were not only frightening but go against what both Clinton and U.S. President Barack Obama have encouraged in their post-election remarks: to keep an open mind and find ways to move forward.
“If you want to move past this election and move towards progress and towards equality and tolerance, treating your classmates like they are the scum of the earth because of their political opinion is not the way to do it,” Coukos said.
She added that students should keep open minds about the incoming administration, because it’s unclear what Trump and other leaders will do in office.
“You can criticize them on different policy stances, totally fine,” Coukos said. “We would have done that if Clinton won. But we would have told our members to respect the decisions of this country because we would have owed her the benefit of the doubt. These are your peers, your friends – some are your mentors – and so you owe them a conversation.”
Even after sharing their concerns and uncertainty, student organizations’ overwhelming response to the election was a collective call to action.
Since election night, students have been involved in near-daily protests and gatherings on or near campus. Students first formally gathered in reaction to the election and in support of the multicultural community in Kogan Plaza Wednesday night.
“What I saw in Kogan is literally beautiful,” Mir,the Pakistani Student Association president said. “It was people from cross sections of races, ethnicities, religious groups, a lot of the LGBT community and allies all coming out and were there for each other.”
Student Association leaders said in the anxious climate, they encourage students with concerns surrounding safety and inclusivity on campus to meet with Student Association senators to turn emotions into activism.
“I think that there are a lot of unknowns, and we are going to have to see what Trump does,” SA Executive Vice President Thomas Falcigno said. “It is hard to address the fears of the unknown, and sometimes those are the most dangerous things.”
Student leaders from Fossil Free GW emphasized that they have the responsibility to be on the front lines of bipartisan conversations because they are some of the only college students in the nation’s capital.
“This movement is bigger than one human being,” Pranav Nanda, the president of gun control advocacy group Colonials Demand Action, said. “The real defeat would not be that President-elect Trump was elected. The real defeat would be Americans who supported this movement suddenly looked at it as a defeat.”
Yesenia Yepez, the outreach director of the Mexican Students Association, said there have always been and will always be those people who do not want to understand multicultural perspectives. In spite of those obstacles, multicultural populations should continue to push for equality, she said.
And Veronica Zutic, the president of the Association of Queer Women and Allies, said the LGBT community on campus is already planning to campaign for Democratic candidates in the midterm elections.
“Our community has been through worse in the past,” Zutic said. “We have suffered through administrations that ignored us and put us on the wayside and ignored our health and well-being. We have come out of that stronger.”
Al-Saleh, the president of the Muslim Students Association, said the election results served as a wake-up call for students to come together and speak out against hatred.
“I really do believe that he is unifying us,” Al-Saleh said. “I think that Trump is unifying minorities and unifying people that are being discriminated against. We have a common ground.”
Emily Creighton, the president of Democracy Matters, said while students can and should exercise their rights to freedom of expression and protest, those protesting need to understand that Trump supporters are not all “ignorant bigots.”
“They were a struggling people who were ignored for so long,” Creighton said. “Trump was the only one to address their concerns. Until we realize that, nothing is going to change, nothing is going to get done and there will be no progress.”
Callie Schiffman, Sarah Chadwick and Elizabeth Konneker contributed to reporting.