This is a challenging time at the University of Michigan, as it is in our nation. The presidential campaign, combined with other events, has revealed how divided we are as a country, and how challenging it has become just to conduct a strong but civil conversation about our direction. As a public university, one of our roles is to help our students learn to lead these conversations.
In the aftermath of the election, members of U-M’s community experienced several types of emotion. Many were devastated by the election of Donald Trump and the fact their candidate lost. Others were euphoric. Many students had a difficult time getting back to work after a long night of watching the returns.
And many awoke feeling unsafe on their own campus. Given recent incidents—especially the hatred and bigotry expressed through racist flyers and on social media, chalkings on the Diag, and even by physical assaults—and the hostile tone of the presidential campaign, minority students in particular felt vulnerable.
Many Trump voters and conservatives also felt ignored or scorned. Some of them were verbally attacked and threatened. I know that many of them feel as if the institution has not lived up to its ideals of open debate—that their views are not appreciated and that their conservative values are unfairly conflated with bigotry and white supremacy, and that they, too, feel they don’t have a home on this campus.
Let me be very clear: All students are welcome here, regardless of how they voted, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, socioeconomic status, immigration status, or politics. And let me also be clear that will do everything we can to ensure all our students' safety. (You can find a list of campus safety resources here.)
While we believe it is counter to a democracy to shield students from uncomfortable or challenging ideas, that does not mean we condone racism, sexism, bigotry, or religious intolerance; those are not consistent with our ideals, and where we see them we need to repudiate them, firmly but without violence.
The nature of politics is that there are winners and losers. But as a nation we’re at our best when we move past the contest and work together to get things done.
The election leaves us with significant challenges. One is to understand the economic despair in many parts of our country that led to the repudiation of both the traditional Democratic and Republican parties. How can we help those who have been left behind economically?
Another is that populist rhetoric is working across the globe even as we’re getting more interdependent. That’s a tricky paradox to resolve.
And we are seeing alarming acts of bias and intimidation across the country and our own campus.
How we respond will be a test for our community and our country.
At a post-election forum hosted by LSA, I saw first hand that our students are rising to this challenge. A diverse group of some 150 students from all walks of life and across the political divide came to the LSA building to engage in a robust, civil conversation about their experiences of the past months, their hopes for the future, and concrete ways that we can move forward together as a campus community and a nation. These students are not fragile; they are not complainers. Rather, they set an example for adults much older than them with their intelligence and willingness to engage across differences.
We will all make mistakes along the way, but having heard from these students, I am more optimistic than ever that we will meet the challenges before us, and that together we will create a positive path forward. They made me proud and grateful to be part of the University of Michigan community and an American.