The 2016 election is now over and Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States. A process that took more than a year to get through finally ended a few weeks ago, but the political divides in this country have not. With that in mind, UNH Provost Nancy Targett and NH Listens brought the UNH community together to discuss what to do next.
Students, faculty and staff members met in the Strafford Room of the Memorial Union Builidng (MUB) on Friday, Nov. 18 to carry out the talk. In groups of six, the attendees spent time getting to know each other and started discussing why they were there. When introducing themselves, they were asked to state an important value to them. From respect to diversity and equality, the UNH community members shared a pretty strong consensus on what constitutes a healthy campus. The way in which to approach achieving equality and diversity, however, received more discussion and debate.
Many students feeling unsafe on campus stood up to tell their stories. The instances ranged from taunting to assaults. Targett encouraged students there to report any instance of racial, sexuaor any of other type of assault to the Report It UNH website. As noted during the discussion, there has been an uptick in assaults on campus since the election.
UNH freshman Samrawit Silva told the fellow attendees about the two times she’s been attacked. Silva, who is African American, was adopted by a white family and has lived among mostly white people her entire life.
The weekend after the election, Silva was on her way to work when she was spit on by a man walking by her on Garrison Avenue. The man was with his friend and the two ran away from Silva when she swore at them and decided to run after them. Both men got away before she reached them.
“I can’t even explain to you how I felt in the moment. I’ve never received that type of hate,” Silva said. “Like I said before, all of my family is white, I’m adopted, both of my parents are white, everybody’s white, and that’s what I’ve been surrounded with and always felt safe and so in that moment, it really woke me up. I was like ‘Oh, wow. This is really happening.’”
Two days after the election, Silva and her Hispanic roommate were walking down a public road in Durham when a group of at least seven male students were drunkenly walking toward them. On their way by, the group started chanting “Trump. Trump. Trump.” Silva reported both instances to the police and said that UNH has made her feel safe outside of these instances. She also said she felt that UNH students need to do more to protect each other instead of the university needing to do more.
Selina Taylor, the chair of UNH’s Presidents Commission on the Status of People of Color, said she wanted students, faculty and administration to come together and listen to each other. She also said that we are in a politically charged time and we need to hear what others have to say, while stressing that our differences over opinions are complicated and the first step is to have conversations.
Many students talked about the frustrations they had with the administration who they see as not being active enough in dealing with the assaults and hate toward people of color and other traditionally underrepresented groups.
“Whether there is or isn’t a disconnect is not the issue. It’s the perception of one. And sometimes perception can be reality. If people are not seeing or hearing, or are not aware of things that are happening to support students of color then that becomes an issue,” Taylor said. “How are they supposed to feel safe? How are they supposed to feel valued? A lot of students are feeling devalued. We need to deal with that. It’s all about the students. We have to be there to support our students.”