In the wake of the presidential election, many University students have shared collective confusion, anxiety and fear over whether Donald Trump’s presidency will halt or even reverse their perceived increase in societal inclusion and progression made in the United States in the past decade.
“I remember it was almost dreamlike watching him walk up to the microphone to do his [acceptance] speech,” second-year College student Hannah Borja said. “I was just horrified. I was with a couple of my friends who are immigrants, and they were crying.”
Others expressed similar stress and dissatisfaction with the results of the election.
Second-year College student Alex Smith-Scales said her immediate reaction was “definitely that of fear, not necessarily of Trump himself, but a certain vocal minority of supporters which would use his hateful, racist rhetoric and misogynist rhetoric as a way to validate their own hateful actions.” First-year Engineering student Jill Dane said she felt “outraged” and “afraid” for minorities who may suffer from the election outcome.
Nicole Ruzek, associate director for counseling services at CAPS, said this large scale of anxiety is common in uncertain and controversial situations like election cycles.
“Elections bring conflict and change — conflict in terms of different value systems being debated and change in terms of selecting new leadership,” Ruzek said in an email statement. “Conflict and change are inherently stressful, so elections are stress-filled times.”
However, to many students, the 2016 presidential election has been far from campaigns of the past.
“[The Democratic Party] has lost elections before,” Borja said. “It’s that there’s something very unique about this election in that people are genuinely afraid.”
First-year College student Jessica Harris said she worries Trump’s win “may cause sexual assault on women to become more tolerable.” Second-year College student Johnny Nguyen said that although he supported Trump, he still felt “a slight sense of fear, being a minority and a a conservative.”
Psychology Prof. Bethany Teachman said Trump’s contradictory statements and divisive language during the campaign will only fuel more uncertainty and fear post-election. In return, a feeling of uncontrollability on high-stakes issues will induce anxiety.
“The increase in hate speech and attacks on minority racial, ethnic and religious groups, immigrant populations and sexual minority groups including non-binary gender, among other targets, has led many segments of the American population to feel unsafe,” Teachman said in an email statement. “There will be anxiety when environments seem to condone harassment and intimidation and encourage acts of bigotry.”
Despite animosity surrounding the outcome of the election, many students say they have received lessons and motivation from their initial anxieties.
“I intern at a legal aid justice center, and when I was talking to the lawyers there, they told us the work that we do now is more important than ever,” Borja said. “I feel like I had a sense of purpose before, and this is a reminder of that.”
Third-year College student Weston Gobar said he wishes to further his education and encourage political engagement in millennials, all while warning against normalizing Trump’s presidency.
Moreover, students utilized a multitude of coping methods to reduce feelings of post-election anxiety and stress.
“There’s been such an outpouring of love, unification and support from so many different groups of people,” Smith-Scales said. “Speaking at the vigil last Wednesday night really helped me because people were there to listen, support and lean on each other.”
Nguyen said he felt secure for the next four years after looking into Trump’s newly proposed policies, which have become more moderately conservative, diverging from his initially radical standings prior to the election.
To those still feeling stress, Teachman and Ruzek offered supplementary advice and stress-management methods.
“It is very reasonable to feel anxiety during this time but the challenge is to not feel paralyzed by the fear and uncertainty,” Teachman said. “This means seeking out friends and family that can provide support, taking care of oneself and also finding ways to take actions that assert the values you hold.”
Additionally, Ruzek suggests limiting media exposure and contacting CAPS for students who feel they need the extra support.
Looking to the future, Smith-Scales argues the most important means by which to cope with anxiety and improve is being around people who support you.
“We really need to sit down and have an honest, genuine conversation with each other, where we try to learn from each other, try to listen to each other, try to come up with solutions,” Scales-Smith said. “I feel like, just judging by the hopeful tone of the school, there is a possibility that we can make a change.”