TO THE EDITOR:
To my colleagues, students, and friends at Miami University:
I have been spending the last several days trying to pick myself up off the proverbial — and literal — floor after Donald J. Trump was declared our President-elect.
As a Black woman, I have been deeply affected by the racist, misogynistic and xenophobic nature of the Trump campaign’s rhetoric. President Crawford swiftly addressed the university with a post-election email. In it, he promoted a discussion called Continuing to Pursue Change, moderated by Student Counseling Services and the Office of Community Engagement and Service. I went and found it to be a positive experience. Miami’s librarians showed up in full force to underscore their commitment to freedom of information and the education of an informed populace.
I know of some students who did not attend because they felt the post-election email was “too neutral” and did not fully address their pain. I had a conversation with a colleague in which we expressed a similar sentiment. The letter did not go far enough in acknowledging the deep pain our President-elect’s rhetoric inflicted on many within our community.
Out of curiosity, I asked friends from different universities to send me their administrations’ post-election emails. I wanted to know if and how other institutions addressed the pain felt by many in the wake of a Trump presidency. Some presidents sent no post-election message at all. So, even though President Crawford’s letter left me wanting more, I would like to acknowledge the time and effort he took to respond and thank him for doing so.
I received two messages from public institutions: James Madison University in Harrisonburg Virginia and The University of Washington in Seattle. Harrisonburg is a relatively conservative part of Virginia and Seattle — well, it’s Seattle. When I compared their post-election messages to ours, I found some striking similarities.
First, all three letters used language that was fairly neutral. When describing the emotional tenor of the campaign season, they used terms like difficult, contentious, intense and fervent. When addressing the reaction to Trump’s victory, the terms disappointed, division and discord were used.
Second, all the public institutions made a quick appeal for unity. Here they used words and phrases such as move forward, reach out, come together and heal.
Finally, the letters from the public universities upheld the stated values of their institutions, values such as excellence, equity, diversity and public service. The most pointed language came from the president of The University of Washington, Ana Mari Cauce, who talked about the aftermath of the election, appealed to her identity as “an immigrant Latina lesbian” and said she could understand why some people felt marginalized, threatened and afraid.
Four letters came from private institutions (in democratic states): The University of Rochester, Boston University, Emerson College and Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Like the messages from the public institutions, these letters made appeals for unity and reaffirmed their institutional values. However, the letters from these private institutions included more pointed language acknowledging the pain felt by those most deeply affected by Trump’s rhetoric
Robert Brown, President of Boston University, used words like corrosive and disrespectful while acknowledging that such statements specifically targeted women and various ethnic, religious and national identities. M. Lee Pelton, the African American President of Emerson College, mentioned the deep historical divisions within our nation, stating that we were “a nation at war with itself” and that these divisions are “as old as the nation itself.”
The letter from Rochester University used language such as intense pain and confusion to describe the emotions of many and acknowledged that, for some, the world feels like “a sadder and more lonely place.”
Wesleyan University used terms like alienation, vulnerability, pain and targeted groups, and acknowledged that the pain was real. In his appeal for unity, Wesleyan president Michael Roth labeled white supremacy, bigotry and fear as the enemies of unity. Meanwhile, students, faculty and workers from Yale University (a true ivy) have appealed to their president and provost to investigate whether their campus can “serve as a sanctuary for students, staff and their family members who face imminent deportation.”
As a Black woman, I will also need sanctuary in Trump’s America. Not from deportation, but from the unfettered rise of racism and misogyny in the wake of Trump’s campaign rhetoric.
I do not make these comparisons to suggest that President Crawford is unsympathetic to the pain experienced by so many here at Miami. I have met President Crawford. From what I have seen so far, I like him. I know that he is working to improve inclusion and diversity at Miami. I believe he is sincere in his efforts. I have seen him at events such as the “Every 28 Hours” play and the “Unity in the Community” effort, organized by Dr. Rodney Coates.
Yet, it is evident that President Crawford is walking a fine line as the leader of a public university, in the swing state of Ohio. In his role, he likely feels he has to be all things to all people. That can’t be easy. That tight-rope walk was clear in the delicate wording of his letter and his avoidance of stronger language, like that used in the letters from private institutions. This delicate balance betrays the fact that Miami is much more public than it is “ivy.”
It is easy to rise up strongly against white supremacy, bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, etc. when such views are espoused by rag-tag trouble makers from the outside, or by a handful of drunk (or sober) students on the inside. It is much costlier to the university to explicitly identify and denounce these malignancies when they are espoused by the leader of a political party that has strong regional support. Can we be honest about that and stop dancing around it? Yet, in the end, not denouncing these malignancies will cost each and every one of us.
Here lies the real dilemma facing this institution in its quest to be more diverse and inclusive. How does Miami truly respond to my and others’ fear, anxiety, dejection and dehumanization as a direct result of Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric, without offending the sensibilities of many conservative donors, alumni and Greek organizations that supported his campaign, and that also provide financial support to the university?
In the words attributed to the Apostle Paul, “You cannot serve two masters …” There is a real tension there, a tension many members of Miami’s community see right through. I believe this tension has limited — and will continue to limit — our full potential in creating a more diverse and inclusive climate. Perhaps I am wrong. Unfortunately, President-elect Trump’s proposed policies, if enacted, will provide many opportunities for Miami to prove me wrong over the next four years, if not longer.
Amber Desiree Franklin
Assistant Professor, Dept. of Speech Pathology and Audiology