• GradHacker

    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online


Surviving the Trump Presidency as a Graduate Student of Color

Advice for self-care.

March 21, 2017

Juan M. Gerardo is a Doctoral Candidate in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His interest is working with pre-service mathematics teachers and supporting their efforts to teach for equity and social justice. You can follow him on Twitter @mrg9605.


“When Mexico sends it people, they're not sending their best….They’re sending people that have lots of problems… They’re bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists” - (Donald J. Trump, Presidential Announcement Speech, June 16, 2015)


As a Mexican/Chicano who was undocumented as a young adult, I couldn’t believe how Donald J. Trump’s framed his bid to seek the Republican presidential candidacy. He obliterated any dog-whistle politics regarding immigrants, Muslims, and Mexicans. Somehow, he became the Republican candidate for the presidency. Surely, Hillary Clinton would win the presidential election, right?


“I will build a great wall -- and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me” - (Donald J. Trump, Presidential Announcement Speech, June 16, 2015)


The anti-Mexican sentiments continued into Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign. The “Wall” became a presidential promise and rallying cry throughout his campaign. My dismay only deepened. Unfortunately, these sentiments were not isolated to Trump rallies. Here at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, pro-Trump graffiti appeared that included “Build the Wall” and “Trump’s Deportation Force.” I am a believer in our First Amendment right for free expression, but these phrases were not only in support of a candidate, but targeted students and community members of a certain nationality. Again, this would “end” on election night, right?


Shockingly, Donald J. Trump won the election.


What now? What next? What could possibly cure my obsession for devouring the latest of Donald J. Trump statements that impact friends, family, and the immigrant community? After all, I have a dissertation to write, and with my goal to become an activist-scholar, the current political climate feels so unhealthy. I offer some strategies that I attempt in my effort to remain emotionally and mentally balanced as I pursue pursue my academic work.


1. Don’t do this alone!

This piece of advice parallels advice by another GradHacker blogger to graduate students of color. When I entered the College of Education the morning after the election, it felt gloomy and full of despair. I asked anyone I met, “How are you doing?” We commiserated together. Our research team checked in with each other and I reached out to the many [email protected] youth I know in Los Angeles. Emotions were clearly raw and people were eager to engage. We need to check in with each other and talk.


2. Embrace campus and community support!

I appreciated the swift response by the interim dean of the College of Education. Soon after the election an email was sent to provide historical context for the election results. Additionally, he and other faculty members organized a panel to help the College of Education community make “collective” sense of the election. Graduate students were unofficially checking in with each other, but it’s appreciated and needed when there is institutional support.


A rally took place in Champaign, IL and campus organizations and community centers provided spaces to support communities that feel under siege. If rallies aren’t your thing, perhaps attending panels and listening to political discussions may suffice. Social media may also be a place to seek solidarity with others. Just as another GradHacker blogger suggested, social media can help connect you with other faculty and other graduate students of color. There are a variety of ways to make sense of the current political climate together with others.


3. Manage your social media intake of presidential updates!

Perhaps, in addition to mediation and exercise as previously advised, I suggest turning off your social media alerts for some additional peace of mind. Reward yourself with social media updates upon coding a transcript and writing that section of your results. I will admit that I have not successfully weaned myself from social media presidential updates. But I will turn my wifi off, quitting all of my social media apps on my laptop and phone, and check social media accounts at night.


4. Bridge-building.

For my final thought I leave you with a personal challenge, related to bridge-building from Anzaldua and Keating from This Bridge We Call Home:


“To bridge means loosening our borders, not closing off to others. Bridging is the work of opening the gate to the stranger, within and without…. To bridge is to attempt community, and for that we must risk being open to personal, political and spiritual intimacy… ”

(Anzaldúa & Keating, 2002, p. 3)


I have engaged in conversations with other students of color who bemoan the roles we know all too well: a “voice” for our community, the “lone” dissenter in a debate, the one “responsible” for “bridging.” The mental, emotional, and spiritual labor involved when we do this is exhausting. As a start, it may behoove us “to bridge” among us “within” communities that feel threatened as a result of the actions by the current presidential administration. “Bridging” may help us heal and feel at peace and whole. And then, if we are willing and able to endure the “labor” of “bridging,” perhaps we could “open the gate to the stranger… [and] risk being open to personal, political, and spiritual intimacy.” If our current president “builds walls,” who will begin “to bridge?”


What are ways that you balance your desire/need to be politically aware/active and yet maintain your focus as a graduate student?

[Image courtesy of Flickr user Jonathan McIntosh and used under the Creative Commons license.]


Be the first to know.
Get our free daily newsletter.


Back to Top