Facilitating Dialogue: 8 Steps to Supporting People in a Post-Trump Era

Do you understand what this country has done in electing Donald Trump as President of the United States of America?

I do.

Donald Trump employed divisive fear mongering tactics to engage millions of people who are not happy with their lives by scapegoating minorities – women, people of color (especially Black and Latinx folks), people with disabilities, queer folks and trans folks (LGBTQ+), undocumented people, immigrants, Muslims, Jews…the list goes on.

So naturally in the aftermath of the election college students (and many folks overall) are scared for the safety and civil rights.

Fox News and other media outlets (and humans I know – SIGH) have made a mockery of how universities have worked to support students after the election results & in general mocked the “whining of liberals”. This is rude and unnecessary – they lack compassion.

This blog post is focused on talking to people one-on-one and in groups who feel upset and fearful by Trump’s victory and his looming presidency.

For those of you working in Higher Education/Student Affairs and wondering how best to support your students, here’s my recommendations. I spent all day Wednesday, November 9th meeting in small groups or facilitating large group discussions with students + colleagues and have engaged in dialogue since then – and I am sure will continue to do so for quite some time. These are my observations and hopefully they are helpful in aiding discussion.

1. Don’t Assume

Remember that long list of demographic groups I listed in the opening statement? Don’t assume people from these groups are against Trump. Out of the people who voted, exit polls say that 52% of White women voted for Trump. About 19% of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) and Latinx folks voted for Trump. Some (in much smaller numbers) Black folks voted for Trump too. No numbers for other groups, but I am sure some voted for Trump.

Likewise, people who don’t seem at risk for losing their civil liberties and/or the majority of the demographic voted Trump (rural folks, cis-men, straight people, white people), didn’t all vote for Trump and also disapprove of the election outcome.

Therefore, don’t assume anything when discussing the election.

2. Listen

This should go without saying but not necessarily a natural trait for some people. Even if you have the same/similar identities as the person talking, you may not have the same fears/hopes/experiences that they hold. If you hold privilege in an area that they speak of (i.e., a disabled person speaking to a non-disabled person), be very careful of how much “space” you take up. I have seen people with privilege taking up space in these post-election conversation; the more privilege they have the more they tend to talk. This is a time where we need to let marginalized folk say what is on their mind because they may not have other spaces where they can speak about these things. (follow-up with Everyday Feminism Article “The Importance of Listening as a Privileged Person Fighting for Justice” by Jamie Utt)

3. Allow People to Discuss Their Fears

Fear is natural in this situation. This is not a normal election. It has been a long time since a candidate for the top office in a country has been outspoken against multiple minority groups and made heinous statements. This goes not just for Donald Trump and all the slurs and harassing statements he’s made but also for his VP Mike Pence. Throughout his political career, Pence was intensely anti-LGBTQ and pushes for conversion therapy and the right of people to refuse service to queer folks.

International students are afraid their VISAs will be revoked and they’ll have to leave the country before finishing their education. Women and survivors of sexual assault know that Title IX protection is in danger with a president with a long history of sexual harassment and alleged assault. Undocumented Undocumented Undocumented students and recent immigrants fear being deported and/or losing family members to deportation. Black students wonder how much less their lives will matter with a president who has made many racist statements. Muslims fear being placed on a registry. Jewish folks know what a leader with these sorts of attitudes can do and recognize from history & present-day events that they are targets (and have been grieving at synagogues this week). Disabled folks/people with disabilities know their health is at risk with a president who wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act; without their medication they will be in pain and may even die. All these groups of people knew there was discrimination in this country and now know that millions of American citizens voted for a man with racist, sexist, xenophobic, ableist, transphobic, homophobic, Anti-Semitic views….so how honestly can they expect to be safe here?

Not to mention – in the three days since the election over 200 hate crimes and acts of harassment and intimidation have been reported to the Southern Poverty Law Center (very similar to the aftermath of Brexit in the United Kingdom). People of color, LGBTQ folks, and women have been impacted the most – from elementary school children to adults. Bigots have been emboldened by Trump – a bigot who made it to the highest office in the land.

So yes. People’s fears are real. Acknowledge them. Validate them. Let them talk about them.

4. Beware the Oppression Olympics

This has not occurred in any discussions I’ve hosted yet but I have seen a lot of it on social media.

Many groups of people have been targeted by Trump’s rhetoric and his supporters. Many are in fear of his stated policies that will eradicate their civil rights.

Not every group will be equally affected and that should be understood. Intersectionality of identity is critical to understanding how we will be affected. A lower-middle class & disabled cis-white woman in a relationship with a man will experience the Trump Administration differently than a middle-class & able-bodied cis-Latino man married to another cis-man.

It’s like Mad Libs – you can insert all these different identities and the story is the same: the majority of the American populace will be affected. The only demographic unaffected will be those who hold all the majority identities (a very small number of Americans). And of course, then there are the folks who have marginalized identities but still support the Trump Administration and do not expect to be affected.

Either way, cut this shit out – STOP erasing marginalized groups from the conversation on who will feel the impact of the Trump Administration. If it comes up in discussion, guide the conversation out of this loop of Oppression Olympics.

5. Don’t Be Optimistic/Try to Lighten the Mood (Without Reading the Room)

Some people are uncomfortable with conflict, negative energy, and sad/angering news (especially when they feel helpless to change the situation and/or don’t think they can change the situation). Their coping strategy is to “look on the bright side” and may make statements that they hope are meaningful and inspirational but actually are meaningless in practice at that moment. Sometimes, you just have to let people grieve. False platitudes don’t protect someone from being attacked for wearing a hijab, someone losing their Driver’s License when Trump revokes DACA, or when a disabled person’s monthly medication increases from $45 monthly to $1,000.

Of course – it depends on the relationships you have with the person/people talking, number of folks in the room, how the conversation has been going, and so on. This takes some finesse, so please be observant of what that space needs in that time.

6. Bring Hope into the Conversation

I know – I just lectured on how we don’t need to thrust optimism into every conversation.

What I asked my students was: “Do you feel hopeless? Or do you feel hope? And if so, what does hope look like for you?” – or some variation of this.

It’s important to note that not everyone feels hope right now and that’s okay – so bring up that hopelessness is an option. Yes, we want people to move through that feeling to find hope but this is when you need to “ meet students where they are” and just let them be humans for a second.

But this question is critical and should come after everyone has discussed their fears. Hope is instrumental in overcoming whatever policies and laws that may come at us as a nation in Trump’s presidency.

And there is a LOT to give us hope: Many people are beginning to mobilize and vow to do the work to protect the most vulnerable of us. And Tuesday night may have elected someone who openly boasts of harassing women, but also gave us the first Somali Muslim woman in the House, first Latina senator, first openly queer governor (also a woman), and so much more. Overall, many women of color won Congressional seats!

One of my favorite proverbs has been shared by many of my Latinx friends this week and it feels appropriate in this period of fear and hope for the future:

“They tried to bury us; they did not know we were seeds”. (Mexican proverb, attributed to the Zapatistas but it’s hard to find an exact source).

7. Move into an Action-Oriented Phase

A smaller number of the electorate (eligible voters) cast ballots this year than the last two presidential elections. According to Five Thirty Eight about 1.4 million more Americans voted in 2016 than 2012 but the number of eligible voters had grown, diminishing this appearance of victory. Around 45.4% of eligible voters did not show up.

WE NEED TO SHOW UP.

So after discussing fears and then hope – ask folks what changes they will take in their life to become more civically engaged. This includes daily acts of radical self-care and caring for others – and it also includes engaging in community-based organizations. The only way we can progress the civil liberties of this country is to get organized. Have the group discuss ideas and work together to create a list.

Plus – making a plan of action is often helpful when managing fear and anger in the wake of the election.

8. Self Care

Black lesbian womanist writer and activist Audre Lorde (February 18, 1932-November 17, 1992) said “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” I recognize this is said from her perspective as a black queer woman and I know this quote recognizes the unique stress experienced by black queer woman. I am not sure if Audre Lorde intended this quote to be colonized by people outside of her identities as she was the daughter of Caribbean immigrants from Barbados and Carriacou who focused on the intersectionality of black women and lesbian identity. However, I will say that Audre Lorde inspires me to care for myself and has inspired many others who do not share her identities.

Therefore, please take care of yourself. You yourself may be experiencing the same/similar fears as your students and here you are listening to them speaking their truths. Even if you hold many privileged identities, you may fear for your students and other people in your life. This can be taxing. Take breaks when you need to, refer students to others when you need to, and do what you need to relax and replenish your soul.

For me, Wednesday night I cuddled with a cat, ate ice cream, and watched one of my favorite light-hearted shows “Jane the Virgin”. It helped – and then a solid 8 hours of sleep helped even further.

The “Other Side”

While this blog post is dedicated to supporting the folks who feel fear in seeing Trump elected by the U.S., I know that many people are happy and many are indifferent. These aren’t necessarily bad people (note: people who are committing hate crimes are bad people imo, but redemption is a possibility) and as a nation we need to work with these folks together. That doesn’t mean you specifically have to, but overall we do as a society. I would never ask someone who feels under attack in this period to work with their oppressors – so if you have privilege in an area, work with the people who hold that same privilege.

Conclusion

Take care of yourselves and each other.

 

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