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Duke community feels threat from Trump

Wave of anxiety sweeps through campus as Duke contemplates future after election

Duke community feels threat from Trump

By 10 p.m., the anxiety at the Sanford School of Public Policy was palpable.

By 11 p.m., some students were bawling. Many were in disbelief. By the next morning, people across campus were waking up afraid that their future—or even their safety—was in jeopardy.

“I went to sleep hoping it was a bad dream and that I would wake up and it would be ok,” senior Joy Patel said. “It wasn’t okay.”

He said that as he walked around on a dreary campus the next day, he saw two groups of people.

“One that were just people moving on with their lives," Patel said. "The other group were people who were really scared. I think I would put myself in the scared category.”

On a liberal college campus, disappointment from the election of a Republican president is nothing new. But the election of Donald Trump has brought out something more at Duke and across the country. A number of students and faculty told The Chronicle that they feel fearful after seeing the results of the election, either for themselves or for their friends and family. Some students have spoken out and dismissed these fears as an overreaction, but they are real and pervasive.

Deep-seated anxiety

The fear began to spread as soon as the results of the election were clear. By 11 p.m., students at Perkins Library and the Sanford School of Public Policy used words like “scared,” “terrified” and “nauseous” to describe their feelings.

“I was kind of feeling okay at the beginning of the night. But I’m not feeling okay right now,” senior Meghana Rao said. “There’s a stock market completely crashing. It’s just kind of completely horrifying.”

But although the volatility in the stock market was temporary, the anxiety flowing through campus was more permanent. Student activists who had spent years working for policy goals shared with Hillary Clinton saw their hopes come tumbling down, and students in groups— including Muslims, Latinx, immigrants and women—that had borne the brunt of Donald Trump’s vicious attacks saw his as a personal threat.

Senior Dana Raphael, an activist against sexual assault and Chronicle columnist, argued that the election amounted to a validation of violence against women and other marginalized groups.

“It’s not that my horse lost the race,” she said. “It’s that the things that fundamentally protect and define people’s humanity are gone.”

Raphael noted that a Trump administration could roll back many of the efforts started by the Obama administration under Title IX to fight sexual assault on college campuses.

In particular, she said that comments by Trump campaign officials and surrogates suggesting that the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights—which investigates complaints under Title IX—should be scaled back or shut down were worrisome for sexual assault victims

“All it takes is to dismantle the Office of Civil Rights, which oversees Title IX, to really throw a wrench in enforcement,” Raphael said. “Or newly released guidance that says Title IX doesn't apply to sexual violence. Trump and the Republican Party Platform suggest that both are likely.”

Reversing the Obama’s administration’s efforts to combat sexual assault using Title IX could lead to a much more hostile climate for sexual assault victims at colleges, she said.

“As a victim of sexual assault who knows how impossible it is to have things prosecuted criminally,Title IX is what I had,” she said. “And if that doesn’t exist, students have nothing. Schools could refuse to investigate complaints against students or even suspend victims because they don’t want to deal with them. There’s no protection at all.”

Raphael added she has seen a lot of pain from the possible consequences of the election.

“I’ve been talking to victims all day,” she said. “A lot of us see our abusers and rapists in Trump. The way he talks and acts, a lot of the stuff is verbatim what we’ve been told. And it just hurts.”

Senior Farzain Rahman expressed fear both as a woman and a Muslim that a Trump presidency would have a negative impact on her life and on the life of her friends and family.

“There’s already been a lot of reports of-especially for Muslim women who wear the hijab-of them being attacked or assaulted in the street today,” she said. “Because I don’t wear the hijab I have the privilege of not being stereotyped in that way, but I do think that being a Muslim American, having so many friends who are Muslim American, there’s definitely going to be real impacts on our lives.“

Rahman said that the day after election she ended up staying in her room for the entire day processing the results.

“My roommate and I just decided not to go to our class,” she said. “We were watching CNN and we felt like we needed to, with the mood on campus. It felt like a day of mourning or something.”

Rahman added that although she had hoped the election would be a happy occasion, her feelings after the election were very far from happy. Her grandfather died a few days before the election, and the results only compounded the sadness that she felt.

“I never thought that an election would make me feel the same way that I felt after the Orlando massacre or Sandy Hook or Charleston," she said. “I never thought that a presidential election would evoke the same feeling in my gut, like really a physical feeling. That’s really the best way I can sum up how I’ve been.”

From campus to the Internet

Rahman also wrote a Facebook post on the day after the election discussing her sadness about the election results as well as the loss of her grandfather. Many others at Duke went online to share their thoughts. Students used posts on Facebook and other sites to share their fear and sadness, but also to reach out for support and to advocate for more political engagement.

These posts often received dozens or hundreds of reactions from other students. Their tone generally mixed sadness and anger with defiance and hope.

Senior Leonard Giarrano, a member of The Chronicle’s independent editorial board, wrote in a Nov. 9 Facebook post that he had been affected by the way that the election had hurt the people around him.

“I'm crying because nothing I post today has power. My tears are just drops in an ocean of sadness that I'm reading on Facebook,” he wrote. “And yes that ocean has power in it, but looking on all the hurt I see in my friends, I really just want to retreat inwards.”

His post received almost 300 likes and other reactions.

Giarrano wrote another post later than day in which he reflected on the fact that he was frightened by the potential impacts that a Trump administration could have on people he knew. The post mirrored many of the same fears expressed by Rahman and Raphael about whether certain groups would have their safety and rights threatened by a President Trump.

“It's chilling to picture the faces of my friends and the people I know who are undocumented, who are closeted and out, who are racial minorities, who now wonder about how freely they can really celebrate their religion, and who now more than ever fear for their safety and basic right to pursue happiness,” he wrote. “Even more chilling to me are the millions I don't know who went to sleep last night in their beds but woke up in a country that is foreign to them.”

Patel also took to Facebook to discuss his thoughts. He noted in his post, which received more than 100 likes and other reactions, that although some people were able to go along with their lives normally after the election, he was not able to do that.

“I don't feel safe! And if you don't understand where I'm coming from, please go find someone who is scared and figure out why they are scared! Like go do that right now!” he wrote. “There is something fundamentally wrong when people are scared of their government.”

Others wrote about their feelings in Chronicle columns. Senior Steven Soto, president of Blue Devils United, expressed his reactions to the election in a heartfelt piece titled, “What we can do now”.

“A majority of Americans decided that my Latin skin denotes inferiority,” he wrote. “They told me that whom I love is a cause for moral shame. They told me that if you are queer, Muslim, black, brown, differently-abled, an immigrant or a woman, you have reason to be afraid.”

Raphael also wrote a column in which she expressed her fears for the future of a Trump administration.

“I am so afraid,” she wrote. “I’m afraid that we just elected a rapist to be our president. I’m afraid that the gates of hate have been opened to release a flood.”

‘I tell them we love them’

Students are not the only ones who have concerns about the results of the election, however. Faculty members have also expressed concerns, both for themselves and for the broader Duke community.

Omid Safi, director for Islamic studies, did not hold back in describing what he believed the significance of a Trump presidency would be.

“We have gone from America’s first black president to having a president who has been endorsed by the KKK,” he said. “I don’t want to mince words over that. We have gone from the prospect of electing America’s first female president to a president who is under investigation for the sexual harassment of a dozen women.”

He explained that he had seen real fear not only from members of the Duke community but also from children in local schools that he had reached out to. Many of these children, Safi said, were not exactly sure what to think about the election results, but had questions about whether their lives could continue as normal under President Trump.

Safi also noted that many parents might have trouble explaining to children why the president has behaved in ways children are told not to.

He added that although there were no “easy answers” to these questions, he is focused on making sure that people feel accepted wherever they are as they process the election results.

“I tell them that we love them, that we have their backs and that they are not alone. I tell them that their community is here to love them and support them and protect them,” he said. “I also tell them that we are disappointed. I have also been in the middle of processing my own sadness and grief.”

Salman Azhar, visiting associate professor of computer science, said that he believed Duke was generally a safe environment for students, but added that he worried in the short term about what Trump supporters might feel empowered to say or do.

“I think Duke is a very safe environment. I would be shocked if something like what I’ve been hearing in the news about the harassment of immigrants and women were to happen at Duke,” he said. “So I think as long as [students] are at Duke that would be safe, but if they are somewhere else [they should be careful] until things calm down.”

Azhar said that he had not discussed the election with his computer science students, but he did note that during his first class after the election people seemed to be “more down than usual.”

He added that the election had affected his family personally as well.

“It affected my children much more than it affected me,” he said. “My nine-year old, in the morning when he found out, didn’t stop crying. He was very deeply involved, he watched the debates and so on, and so it was really a shock to him. My son who’s in high school was in a complete state of shock and didn’t want to talk about it at all. Both of them dealt with it differently but both of them were affected by it. My oldest son was really angry. He’s older and felt, ‘We should be protesting this.’”

‘Now is the time’

From precautions to protests, different members of the Duke community are thinking about different ways to move forward now that the election is over.

Junior Amy Wang, vice president of Duke Democrats, said that groups that could become the target of Trump administration policies needed activists to stand up for them.

“It goes without saying that we have friends who are Muslim or who are LGBTQ or females. This isn’t a choice to them that this election has been decided,” she said. “For them the fight never ends. There are a lot of people who are going on and saying, ‘It’s not as if our voice has been silenced, there’s still plenty to do.’”

Wang said that she was now looking to make sure people didn’t forget about politics and got involved in the 2018 midterm elections when campaigning for them begins.

Other students also said that they were hoping to work on a political campaign in the 2018 elections. Rahman noted that she hoped to be even more involved in politics during the 2018 campaign than she was during the 2016 campaign.

“I think for me my biggest regret is not doing enough. I worked on Roy Cooper’s campaign over the summer, but I kind of wish I had done more,” she said. “Moving forward, starting from the midterm elections I think it’s going to have to be something that we dedicate ourselves, and myself, to so that we are always committed to be politically engaged, not just every four years.”

Raphael said that the election results had left her with more commitment to help sexual assault victims by eventually becoming a lawyer and litigating to improve protections for victims.

“My career dream has been to become a lawyer and do these Title IX cases and represent victims who don’t have access to representation,” she said. “I think that’s going to be critical more than ever.”

Safi added that he felt now is the time when Duke’s emphasis on leadership should be put into action.

“We at Duke, just like every other prominent institution of higher learning, speak a lot about being in the business of training global leaders,” he said. “Now is the time where in this particular context, we get a chance to figure out what does it mean to lead and to follow with a commitment to love and justice at a time when so many people find themselves vulnerable.”

Rachel Chason contributed reporting.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the Office of Civil Rights was part of the Justice Department rather than the Education Department. The Chronicle regrets the error.