Like many people around the world, I remain stunned by Donald Trump’s election. I am not a political scientist and therefore cannot fully explain how this happened. Undeniably, sexism played a part in our failure to elect to the presidency an extraordinarily experienced woman with credentials as impressive as Hillary Clinton’s. During CNN’s televised election night coverage, commentator Van Jones argued that Trump’s election is a form of “whitelash” -- the response from frustrated white Americans to a two-term black president and our nation’s changing racial demographics. Both are among the wide array of plausible explanations.
I think another fundamental issue has been at play. Again, I am not a political science professor, but I am a scholar who listens to people whose voices are often ignored in higher education. And while few participants in my research probably voted for Trump, they share with his voters at least one common experience: being ignored.
In her CNN interview the morning after the election, Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said their victory was partly attributable to the failed attempt by Clinton campaign leaders to listen to a large segment of the American electorate. “They were trying to tell people, ‘This is what is important to you -- temperament or this comment that was made many years ago or that comment yesterday,’” Conway maintained. To my own surprise, I agree with her assessment.
I published a piece in The Washington Post last month in which I deemed Trump’s so-called locker room talk sexist and disgustingly unacceptable. I was definitely telling people they should care about sexism and sexual assault. Perhaps some Trump supporters were troubled by his statements on the Access Hollywood video but not enough to vote against him. They cared more about other things. Did Secretary Clinton and the rest of us listen closely enough to sufficiently understand the matters about which Trump supporters were most concerned?
President-elect Trump repeatedly bragged about the enormous size of crowds at his rallies. Too little effort was invested in understanding why so many people -- most of them white, working-class and lower-income Americans -- were so enthusiastic about his candidacy. Many people were there because they held sexist, racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic views that aligned with his. But others had needs and concerns to which Trump appeared to be listening. Many of us, in contrast, were focusing more on Trump’s controversial words than we were on the experiences and concerns of people who ultimately voted him president.
Bad things happen when people’s concerns are largely ignored and when listening occurs only in polarized, racially homogeneous spaces. That happened in our most recent presidential election. It also happens on college and university campuses.
Around this time last year, the University of Missouri System president and the chancellor of its flagship campus resigned because they did what students of color considered an inexcusably poor job of listening and responding to matters that most concerned them. I imagine those two executives were about as stunned by the outcome of their inaction as many of us were by Trump’s election. But because the president and chancellor weren’t listening, students of color lost faith in the ability of those leaders to effectively address their encounters with racism and marginalization. Similarly, victims of sexual assault keep telling us that people on their campuses are not listening.
In our campus climate studies, researchers at the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education listen to students, faculty members and staff members at predominantly white institutions across the country. While we always include white people in our climate research, most participants are people of color. As I note in “Paying to Ignore Racism,” people of color often tell us that leaders on their campuses ignore their voices and experiential realities. In most instances, it isn’t until some type of crisis erupts (for example, national news coverage of students protesting a racist incident that occurred on the campus) that the president and other administrators seemingly get serious about understanding marginalized people’s experiences.
While I would not categorically lump together Trump voters with people of color who are demanding racial justice and inclusion in higher education, both groups want to be heard and their realities to be understood. When they are not, bad things happen. Eventually, fed-up people shock those who fail to listen and fix, or at least demonstrably aim to improve, their situations.
Posters at political campaign rallies read, “The Silent Majority Stands with Trump.” His supporters were not silent. Thousands, perhaps millions of them showed up at his events. But the Clinton campaign did not pay close enough attention to what they were saying are the most important issues for them and their families. Confession: I engaged only two Trump supporters in conversations -- one of those instances was in a televised CNN interview, the other was on an airplane. I did not seek them out. Like me, I bet Secretary Clinton and her team wishes they had done more to find these fellow Americans, learn more about their lives and demonstrate serious care for their hardships. They were hiding in plain sight at his rallies; we could have found them. We should have listened.
It is not too late for us to listen to what women, people of color, immigrants, undocumented students, LGBT persons and people with disabilities tell us about their experiences, needs and concerns. It also is not too late for faculty members and administrators to create spaces for people from different racial groups and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as those with different political perspectives, to listen to and learn from each other. Inevitably, bad things will continue to happen at colleges and universities -- and subsequently in our larger society -- if we fail to listen and then act with higher degrees of intentionality.
One final quote about the Trump victory from Conway’s postelection CNN interview: “I think the big lesson of yesterday is stop listening so much to each other and start listening to the people.” That was her advice to the news media and politicians. When it comes to matters of equity, inclusion and safety on campuses, I think that is the big lesson for higher education leaders, as well.
Shaun R. Harper is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and executive director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education. He is author of the forthcoming book Race Matters in College (Johns Hopkins University Press) and president of the Association for the Study of Higher Education.
Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, along with system chancellors, issued a statement on the election results Wednesday that did not mention Donald Trump by name but affirmed support for diversity.
"In light of yesterday's election results, we know there is understandable consternation and uncertainty among members of the University of California community," the statement said. "The University of California is proud of being a diverse and welcoming place for students, faculty and staff with a wide range of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. Diversity is central to our mission. We remain absolutely committed to supporting all members of our community and adhering to UC’s Principles Against Intolerance."
Some black students at Eastern Michigan University face possible expulsion for refusing to leave a sit-in, The Detroit Free Press reported. The students staged the sit-in to protest several recent incidents of racist statements written on university buildings and walls. The students note that the administration has said it supports them but is still punishing them for remaining at a sit-in location after hours. Administration officials said the rules should be enforced and that peaceful protest is possible without violating the rules.
Harvard University officials, already facing a scandal over the way members of the men's soccer team treated members of the women's team, are now investigating reports that the men's cross-country team engaged in similar conduct.
The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper that broke the story about the soccer team, reported that members of the men's cross-country team have come forward about a spreadsheet -- prepared in advance of dances held with the women's team members -- commenting on the female athletes' appearance, sometimes with "sexually explicit terms." The Crimson article said the male athletes came forward in part because Harvard, in suspending that team, cited the lack of honest answers by some men's soccer players.
Harvard released this statement from Bob Scalise, the athletics director: "Harvard Athletics does not tolerate this sort of demeaning and derogatory behavior, and we will address any credible information we receive."
The men's soccer team, meanwhile, has published an apology for team members' role in the "scouting report," a document that uses sexist and graphic descriptions to discuss members of the women's team. The Crimson, the student newspaper, last month revealed the existence of the document, quoting from a version several years old. Last week, after the university discovered that members of the current team were still participating in creating the report, the university called off the rest of the team's season.
The apology from the team was published Friday in the Crimson.
"On behalf of all of us at Harvard men’s soccer, we sincerely apologize for the harm our words and actions have caused women everywhere, and especially our close friends on the women’s soccer team," the apology says. "Our team has been blessed with the opportunity to know and learn from these incredible women, receive their unconditional support, and form with them some of the strongest friendships on this campus. In return, we hurt them with the things we said, in the form of the inappropriate scouting reports, and with the things we did not say, in the form of our dishonesty toward them, and for that we are very sorry."
The letter of apology went on to say, "When our current coaches took over the program in 2013, they sparked a massive culture change, one in which it is paramount to hold each other accountable for our actions. These scouting reports, an inexcusable manifestation of sexism and misogyny on our part, persisted in spite of this culture change, and we must now hold ourselves accountable for them."
Nancy Shurtz, a law professor at the University of Oregon, has issued an apology for a Halloween costume she wore featuring blackface. Shurtz has been placed on paid leave over the incident, which has led many at the university to call for her to resign. An image of her at the party (at right) has circulated widely on social media.
Her statement, in full: “During a Halloween party I hosted at my house, I wore a costume inspired by a book I highly admire, Dr. Damon Tweedy’s memoir, Black Man in a White Coat.I intended to provoke a thoughtful discussion on racism in our society, in our educational institutions and in our professions. As part of my costume, I applied black makeup to my face and wore a white coat and stethoscope. In retrospect, my decision to wear black makeup was wrong. It provoked a discussion of racism, but not as I intended. I am sorry for the resultant hurt and anger inspired by this event. It is cruelly ironic that this regrettable episode began with my admiration for a book that explores important aspects of race relations in our society, but ended up creating toxic feelings within our community. I intended to create a conversation about inequity, racism and our white blindness to them. Regrettably, I became an example of it. This has been a remarkable learning experience for me. I hope that all who are hurt or angered by my costume will accept my apology. I meant no harm to them or others. Out of respect for all involved, I will make no further comments to the media until the university’s investigation is completed.”
Delta State University, which has been the last public university in Mississippi to fly the state flag, announced Thursday that it would stop doing so. Students and faculty members at the university -- as has been the case at other public universities in the state -- have been urging the state to change the state flag, which featured a Confederate flag in one corner. As the state has not done so, the rest of the public universities stopped flying the state flag.
William N. LaForge, president of Delta State, issued a statement Thursday explaining the decision.
"The objectionable portion of the state flag -- the stars and bars -- presents a polarizing symbol that is a barrier to progress and improved understanding of our state, our university and our people," he said. "Delta State recently completed a visioning process, during which we set a course of excellence for the university’s future. Included in our visioning principles are a number of core values that we promote and embrace, including civility, respect for all, diversity, inclusion, fairness, hospitality and a welcoming environment that is conducive to the success of our students, faculty and staff. We believe that continuing to fly the state flag -- with its divisive symbol that sends a confusing message, at best, and that has increasingly become a distraction to our mission -- is contrary to our core values and to an accurate understanding of who we are and what we stand for as a university."