The Riverdale Community Reacts to the 2016 Election
On November 8th, Donald J. Trump won the 2016 presidential election. He will become the 45th President of the United States. However, a significant majority, 83.1% of the 142 students and faculty who participated in a Riverdale Review poll on November 9th, are supporters of Hillary Clinton. On the other hand, the meager 4.9% minority of the community supported Donald Trump. On the day after the election results were announced, there were many opportunities for particular classes to engage in discussions on the matter. Students and faculty filled the theater for a forum organized by the SFC in which they could voice their opinions and discuss the results of the election. I cannot summarize the atmosphere of each classroom discussion, but the forum was entirely dominated by Hillary supporters. In contrast, no Trump supporter spoke or contributed to the conversation. The impassioned majority of the Riverdale Community reacted to the news of Trump’s election with great surprise, anger, and fear about the future, while Riverdale’s political minority are optimistic about the changes that he will make.
According to our sources, a 4.9% political minority of the Riverdale community are indeed excited about Trump, but feel ostracized by the community for speaking out about this unpopular view. According to one source, Trump supporters at Riverdale feel that because Hillary supporters are so vehement about this topic, it is difficult for them to consider the validity of Trump supporters’ arguments. According to this source, Trump supporters are assumed racist. This preconception ostracizes Trump supporters socially regardless of their reasoning for choosing to support the candidate. One students who chose not to share who he supported in the election rejected the idea that Trump support aligns with racism. As senior Christian Maloney explained, “We need to try to understand why American voters and some in our community chose Trump over Clinton and avoid ostracizing those who validly support the president elect.” Looking toward the future, senior Christian Maloney added that “We need to talk about the positive possibilities that can come out of a Trump presidency despite the disappointment of many in the Riverdale community.” According to the Riverdale Review’s anonymous online survey, one Trump supporter says that ultimately “we need to come together as a nation and stop all the hate.”
However, the majority of the Riverdale community was very surprised and upset and by the election results. During the SFC forum on November 9th, the most prevalent concern was how Donald Trump’s opinions and rhetoric could suppress the rights of minorities in the U.S., whether they be the rights of a religion, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Moreover, these minority groups expressed their fear that Trump’s rhetoric could have serious, adverse affects on how they are treated in this country. To open the forum, Luis Perez, one of the presidents of the SFC, spoke about his experience as a Latino man in the United States:
In this video, Luis Perez explains how he feels oppressed because of his ethnicity and that for him and his community the recent election reminds them of the “ugliness” that is embedded within our nation. He said that he was reminded of “what it is like to be a minority in this country last night.” Perez fears that Trump’s words could awaken an antipathy toward minorities living in the United States. Another student, junior Sugeidy Ferreira, also shared her reflection of the news of the 2017 Trump presidency:
....Trump is terrible because he not only oppresses one group, he oppresses many. Many of these people, including myself, can be targeted by more than one identity… [He] also mocks the whole existence of women. He is terrible because he believes that anyone that isn't an exact replica of himself shouldn't be allowed to live in this country. Someone who calls a lady "Miss Piggy" because she doesn't live up to his standards and "Miss Housekeeper" because she is a latina is not my representation of someone who is ‘great.’ I am upset at people who support this because I cannot understand how someone can agree with the idea that there can only exist one type of person valuable of being considered great. I used to aspire to become someone who other people called great. Now, I feel disgusted to even say it in a sentence of his connection to the word.…It scares me to continue to try to live in a country full of people who believe that someone is unworthy of being considered a human being if they are not a male white, straight, racist, misogynistic person….I am scared about the future of this country, especially after seeing the sacrifices my parents have to go through every day just so that I can have the best resources to be successful. I am scared to think that those sacrifices have been for nothing. I am scared for my fellow peers that go through this same struggle. I am scared for those that have no government protection. I am scared for the children of this generation. I am scared of those around me. I am scared to walk alone at night. I am scared to be myself. I. Am. Terrified. No one deserves to have this much power over my inner emotions and that is why I am angry at Trump and his supporters….
Thus, according to Sugeidy Ferreira, supporting Trump means one ultimately supports what he says and believes. Supporting him devalues the importance of people who identify in minority groups. As this personal account indicates, some Riverdale students are upset with Trump supporters and America as a whole because they believe that aligning with Trump is itself accepting racist, homophobic, and xenophobic rhetoric. This minority student feels personally threatened because she identifies with the groups that she feels are attacked by Trump and his supporters. Ms. Schorr-Lesnick, the Upper School Director of Service Learning and a member of the Community Engagement Team, said that “A lot of people are scared. People who are Muslim, people who are immigrants, people who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, women, [ and others] are scared about what policies and actions might deny [them] of [their] humanity. On our campus, there are questions about what this will mean for support of our community members who might specifically be targeted by the incoming [presidential] administration.” The Southern Poverty Law Center, an American nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights and public interest litigation, published that 437 reports of hateful harassment and intimidation have been filed to their group between the election and November 14th. In the forum students said that they had already noticed the recent spike in racism, sexism, etc., highlighted by social media, and were worried that this was a preview of Donald Trump’s presidency.
While our impact on the national stage is negligible, as the individuals who make up the Riverdale community, our actions and beliefs can have a serious impact on the culture on campus and on the people who are a part of our community. As said by senior Claire Lazerwitz, one of the editors-in-chief of the Riverdale Review, “Even if the nation changes, Riverdale won’t. This will be a safe space. This will be a place to find solace in the coming years….” Administrators agree that we must respect each others’ opinions intellectually and continue to be a respectful community of thinkers. When asked if the school or administration would condone the rhetoric used in the election, Mr. Randolph, said, “No.” He said that the rhetoric in this election was “homophobic, chauvinistic, [and generally discriminatory],” and are “things that we would actually have real problems with.” At the SFC forum, Dr. Nicholson-Flynn, the Head of the Upper School, read Riverdale’s anti-discrimination policy. Despite the tone of the national climate, the school’s policy explicitly states:
The Riverdale Country School community intends to protect all of its members from any sort of bullying or harassment (including race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, age, ability, religion, sexual orientation, or gender expression). Harassment is defined as physical or verbal conduct that is threatening, humiliating, physically injurious, demeaning, or offensive. It is important to note that harassment can occur in person or through any type of electronic media.
Harassment includes both easily identified acts of verbal, written or physical abuse and more subtle (but equally damaging) forms of harassment such as stereotyped remarks, inappropriate pictures and gestures, or actions intended to be humorous but that are demeaning and injurious to other members of the community. Repetition of such acts always constitutes harassment. Any student who believes he or she is a victim of such conduct should report it to the division head or the appropriate dean. The School will do its best to keep reports in strict confidence while addressing the situation through our disciplinary procedures, if appropriate….
Although this may not be well known among students, this policy applies both on and off campus, including all digital forms of communication.
The Internet is by its very nature a public forum. The school will consider cruel or disparaging or hurtful communications or postings about other community members online, including on social websites, in the same way it would if the comments were made in public. hether harassment takes place on campus or off, on a school bus, in person or via telephone, text, IM, Snapchat, Instagram, or any other form of communication, the School’s attitude and responses remain the same. Any person who retaliates toward someone making a complaint will be subject to disciplinary sanctions.
In speaking with the community engagement team about how we as a community should proceed going forward, Ms. Shorr-Lesnick responded “This is a great question. I think it's a lot of listening, and making space to listen to oneself and to one another. I think supporting those who want to learn more about direct action is an important step, which I know the administration is thinking through at the moment.” Similarly, Mr. Vidale said we should “engage in honest dialogue with each other,” and though these “conversations will be difficult...because there is so much emotion that is involved in it…,” they are a necessary “step going forward.”
In light of the election, it is particularly important that as an academic institution, Riverdale supports freedom of diverse and even sometimes unpopular opinions. In an interview with Riverdale’s Head of School, Dominic Randolph, he acknowledged that our community is “predominantly...Democrat,” but he emphasized that as a community anyone within “should be able to express [their] point of view. [They] should be able to consider this place ... [one in which] people are going to be willing to listen to your ideas even if they may not agree with them.” Mr. Randolph endorses support for students and faculty to develop and express their views, regardless of whether they supported Trump or Clinton.
The Riverdale Review wrote in our Election issue staff editorial that we “oppose the destructive language used by Donald Trump to address different racial, cultural, and religious groups….” We also worried about “alienat[ing] those who hold opposing political views from writing for the Riverdale Review, as we want to represent all of our community’s perspectives and concerns.” Although the election has unearthed divisiveness previously unseen by many in the Riverdale community, students can hold on to Riverdale’s mission as a school, but more importantly our mission as a community. According to the school’s official mission statement, “Riverdale Country School is committed to empowering lifelong learners by shaping minds, building character, and developing community in order to change our local and global world for the good.” No matter what happens from here on out, the thing that students, faculty, and administrators will always remember is not whether we agreed or disagreed over any specific issue, but rather how we continue to support our peers and members of the community.