In the aftermath of the recent presidential election, students of all backgrounds and political standpoints have begun to ask, what’s next? Throughout Whittier College’s campus and the entire country, tensions have surfaced, caused protests, and division. As a college named after Quaker and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier, students have wanted to hear a statement from the College’s administration regarding President-Elect Donald Trump’s rhetoric, as well as how political differences will be handled.
Recently, the California State Legislature released a statement denouncing Donald Trump. “By a margin in the millions, Californians overwhelmingly rejected politics fueled by resentment, bigotry, and misogyny,” the statement wrote. “While Donald Trump may have won the presidency, he hasn’t changed our values. America is greater than any one man or party. We will not be dragged back into the past. We will lead the resistance to any effort that would shred our social fabric or our Constitution.” This statement is similar to what students are looking to hear from the College.
Senior Maxwell Hoversten saw interactions happening on campus between students after a lack of administrative comment and felt that action needed to be taken. He decided to write a bill to present to the ASWC Senate at the weekly meeting on Monday Nov. 14 which asked that the Senate denounce President Trump and his rhetoric.
The bill also asked that the ASWC implore the Whittier College administration to prohibit “explicit public acts of support for Donald Trump and his rhetoric” to make Whittier College a more welcoming environment. The bill also stated that support for Trump should be limited to private and classroom settings only and those who continued to produce public acts of support be punished by administration.
“I just want all Senators to decide, in light of this bill, to the extent that we respect free speech, when does that turn into hate speech,” said Hoversten. “When are we going to tolerate that on one of the most diverse liberal arts colleges in the country? I speak especially to those who were terrified and horrified on Tuesday night and their constituents who felt the same, but didn’t necessarily have a platform with which they could do something like you have.”
The bill’s first reading brought forward a new conversation regarding what this bill would mean for student’s freedom and first amendment rights. ASWC President senior Amer Rashid brought forward concerns for the Senate to consider, such as the College’s Quaker heritage and support for diversity, even if they are opinions of dissent. “We need to consider very carefully how this infringes on our Quaker heritage, freedom of speech, academic freedom and the precedence we want to set. We need to encourage constructive conversations, not silence voices in this extremely divisive time in U.S. history.”
This bill stemmed from an incident that happened on campus. On Nov. 10, junior Krista Fonseca was walking to class with her friend at approximately 10:30 a.m. when she stopped to observe another student writing with chalk in the Upper Quad. The student was writing “I love Trump” in big letters.
As a person of color and a daughter of immigrants, Fonseca felt scared once she realized what the student was writing so she decided to pull out her phone to record their conversation and stream it live to her Facebook account. The student and Fonseca began a discussion about why they voted for Trump, which led to Fonseca yelling “shame on you” in an attempt to persuade the student to leave the area.
Since the video was posted, it has received over 2,200 views on Facebook. “Taking out my camera to record what happened was natural for safety whenever I was interacting with someone potentially threatening. I didn’t expect it to get that many views, I only recorded it as a safety mechanism.” Once their conversation concluded, she exited the area feeling shaken. The student in the video declined to comment.
Many Whittier College students commented on her video sharing their support or opposition for how she handled the interaction. A larger conversation about political differences then began on social media and throughout campus and eventually made its way to ASWC Senate.
Diversity Council Representative senior Sammatha Vega spoke for her constituents and said that the bill is entirely necessary and desired by students because they have been waiting for the institution to say something. When presented with the argument that a statement of support for Trump shouldn’t be considered hate speech, she disagreed. Vega along with Senator senior Christina Brown will be working with Hoversten to bring more clarity to the bill’s purpose.
Senior Andrea Perez spoke from the audience at the Monday night meeting and encouraged the senators to consider the intention of the bill instead of its content. She described the fear that students have felt and the divide between those who don’t understand one another. “This bill is a product of that division. I don’t even know what my role as a student activist is right now,” said Perez. “I want to be supportive for my peers ... but also I want to make sure this is a safe space for Donald Trump supporters. They don’t even know what the repercussions of their votes are, either. What we need to focus on now is making sure everyone feels safe.”
Sophomore Charlotte Quarrie said she felt the bill was a step in the wrong direction. “If we try and silence [Trump supporters] then are we no better?” Quarrie asked. “Shaming a person is not meant to change their beliefs, it is meant to rally others against a common enemy. The voters cannot be our common enemy. It has to be the policies, not the people.”
An anonymous student was told by a Trump supporting student that they weren’t American and should go back to their country which made the student feel unsafe. The student believes that constructive conversations would be difficult without intentional spaces provided by the institution. “The minute you react or you try to fight back you’re adding more fuel to the fire,” the anonymous student said. “Regardless of how much I try to argue with this person it’s not going to change their opinion. The person is entitled to their rights and if that’s the way that they feel, that is how it is going to be.”
After sophomore Tiffany Livoti and junior Maddie McMurray attended the forum held in the Poet’s Corner of the Wardman Library they grew concerned for students with non-democratic political views, They decided to spearhead an effort to hold a community dialogue that would allow all students the opportunity to express their opinions. This event’s time and location is yet to be determined as discussion surrounding best practices continues.
Until then, Brown and Vega will work with Hoversten to add specificity to the bill and to clarify its purpose and message. Students can email Hoversten at firstname.lastname@example.org with any feedback.