Michael Berube’s letter to Penn State’s President

Dear President Barron,
I am writing in response to your recent letter regarding the outcome of the presidential election. I applaud your reminder that we are “All In,” affirming “the value of a diverse and inclusive university.” We are, indeed, all in.

But I am alarmed by your characterization of the election’s outcome: “I know that many of you are disappointed and disheartened with the outcome, while others see this as an opportunity to strengthen our great nation.” No doubt many Trump voters see the election in this way, and as a member of the Penn State community, I will presume good faith on the part of everyone in that community, regardless of their political beliefs.

But insofar as one purpose of your letter is to “encourage our offices and departments to create supportive spaces for students, faculty and staff to discuss their reactions to the election,” I have to point out that there is no symmetry between people supporting and people opposing Donald Trump. Trump’s campaign was explicitly premised on a degree of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and homophobia previously unseen and unthinkable at the highest level of our nation’s politics. To point this out is not to say that Trump voters shared Trump’s beliefs; it is to say that today, Trump’s supporters are not vulnerable to the kinds of harassment and physical threats– ranging from personal violence to calls for deportation– that are already terrorizing women, gays and lesbians, Muslims, people with disabilities, and people of color.

Two years ago, you courageously stood in solidarity with Penn State students of color who, in the wake of Michael Brown’s murder, held a “die-in” on the steps of Old Main. You joined with them in the “hands up” gesture that has become synonymous with protests against police violence, and you were immediately pilloried for it by people who, shall we say, are not “all in” with the ideals of diversity and inclusivity.
In response to those critics, you affirmed your support for the protesting students, saying, “every single time we have students who feel unnecessarily vulnerable, I’m going to want to stand next to them.” That was the right thing to say then, and it is the right thing to say now.

President Barron, the students who feel unnecessarily vulnerable today are not the ones who think that the election of Donald Trump is an opportunity to strengthen our great nation. They are the ones who are disappointed and disheartened– and traumatized– by the outcome of the election because they fear, with good reason, that it will license a wave of intimidation and violence directed at precisely the groups Donald Trump targeted during his campaign. Indeed, they see evidence that such a wave is already here and building strength.

I urge you to stand once again with your most vulnerable students: to affirm strongly and publicly, as so many other universities have done, that Penn State will combat legal and political discrimination whenever it occurs on campus.

Sincerely yours,

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