It’s no secret that this year’s presidential election sparked controversy across the country. Many female voters worry that their reproductive rights will be stripped away by the new administration, many immigrants fear for how much longer they will be able to stay in our country, and many minorities are confronted with the reality that the new administration may not fully represent their interests. These issues are serious. These issues are broad. And these issues are hard to grapple with as eighteen to twenty-two-year-old college students.
The morning after the election (and I will openly admit that I was not the proudest American on the morning of November 9th), one of my TAs took the class period to discuss the election. She had just gotten engaged, and she was talking about her recent decision to not have children. She basically said “I can’t imagine bringing a child into a world so full of hate.” Hate. That’s the theme that seems to have risen to the top from the boiling water of this past election. That’s the discourse onto which everyone has latched. And, honestly, that makes sense. When I’m having a bad day, at least, nothing is more therapeutic than putting other people down to make myself feel better. And, especially when those people have done something to wrong me, I don’t think that’s the worst thing I could do, but there are definitely more constructive ways for me to deal with the things that bother me.
When it comes to the political atmosphere that exists, there are two sides. First, there is the side of the government, what the government does. Second, there is the side of the people that the government is meant to represent. Neither of these groups can be designated the “active” or “reactionary” side, because our government, supposedly, is meant to exist as a power of the people and as a decision-maker for the people. Thus, both sides have different opportunities to be active or passive.
But, insofar as it matters to us as college students, I can’t emphasize how lucky we are to exist in system that we are both able to react to and make react to us. We are incredibly lucky that, of all times to witness such a controversial presidency, we are at college. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we are lucky to live, for at least eight months of the year, in an atmosphere surrounded by intellectuals waiting and ready to answer those questions that we have yet to face in our lives. Often, we take for granted that in living apart from our parents and families, we have an independence beyond what type of frozen dinner we will eat tonight. We are granted the independence to let go of our parents’, families’, or communities’ views, because we aren’t living the majority of our year there. Lastly, we are surrounded by a large group of people who are in the same boat as we are: wanting to find independence, wanting to be active participants in the world beyond Charlottesville while also still acing those three midterms this week, and wanting to find those same connections with other students in our community. As UVA students, we are surrounded by these resources, and more (just look at the International Rescue Committee in Charlottesville), that allow us to turn this election cycle from a discourse of hate to a discourse of opportunity.
We all have heard the Dr. King quote “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Well, let’s take charge of this hateful discourse that has materialized itself in police officers abusing their PA systems to yell campaign slogans at students, hateful graffiti in dorms and on apartment complexes, and even in this year’s student council campaign (which, I believe, stemmed from a culture of political activism and students’ wants to represent the larger American election without a regard for one of the candidates involved – but that’s a different story). In accepting the tumultuous time that is American politics today, let’s instead change the discourse from the things that we perceive as terrible and looming and turn them into opportunities to ask hard questions of our professors, opportunities to challenge our friends to help us find our place in the debates that face our nation, and opportunities for us to grow into independent political thinkers.
In no way do I believe that we need to be complicit, but, instead, I think that as a whole, we are presented with an abundance of resources as college students to make it clear that we “grab back,” that we don’t stand for hate, and that, most of all, we are capable of actively speaking out instead of passively hating in times of turmoil.