Recently we witnessed the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States of America. Given that he has no prior political experience, his election was for a long time considered unthinkable. And since he built his election campaign on xenophobic, racist and sexist language, many dreaded such an outcome. Immediately, questions were also raised about what Trump’s election means for international relations and whether it will boost other populist movements worldwide.
Muslim immigration and undocumented immigration were among the main themes in the US elections campaign. Trump announced plans to reform immigration by building walls, deporting undocumented migrants and blocking Muslim immigration. With such plans and with the election campaign based on xenophobic, racist and sexist language, many Muslims, immigrants, and others who were targeted by this rhetoric feel fear and anxiety over what 2017 will bring for them.
Experiencing life on the campus of the University of Illinois, I was amazed by students’ active political life throughout the campaign and even more so after the results were announced. Groups of Black, Latino (or Latinx as called nowadays), Muslim and LGBT students responded by organizing protests. Different support centers opened call lines to support victimized students and most departments publicly condemned intolerance, intimidation and hate crimes. Students had the slogan “Not my president” written on banners, T-shirts or forehands as they took part in a protest organized by the Mexican Students Association days after the election.
General disappointment and disbelief was also present among faculty, giving a feeling that there were no Trump supporters among them – or at least no one dares to speak openly about it. Even though academic units cannot have positions on political issues such as election outcomes, the stance of public statements in the aftermath of elections and listing counseling resources for those upset by the election leave little doubt about the underlying message that the election results were taken with grief. Expressions of solidarity, humanity and decency are proposed as a necessary measure to counter violent expressions of bigotry and intolerance.
A group of professors started a petition to declare college campus as a sanctuary for undocumented migrants and also for other members of the community. The Latino Policy Forum from Chicago estimates there are around 1,500 undocumented college students in Illinois. The idea is to protect these students and employees by not releasing their records and not complying with any deportation actions. Since the University is a public institution, the proposed sanctuaries were found impossible to implement. Nevertheless, the University administration declared their full support to undocumented students within the legal boundaries. The University prides itself by being a leader in advocating for undocumented students.
Despite the supportive announcements from different parts of the campus community, fears of deportation and harassment are not going away. They are only growing with the date of inauguration coming closer. An incident against a Muslim student when she was yelled at and her headscarf pulled off was an alarm for many people that there is a need for action.
Could the same happen in Europe? Political analysts are wondering if the US elections will bolster the populist parties in Europe. Such an effect could be especially devastating because of its timing: several European countries will hold elections within one year. Whereas Austrian presidential elections did not perpetuate the seemingly emerging pattern of populist successes in the US and in the United Kingdom, there are other elections with strong populist candidates coming up in France, The Netherlands and Germany. In Switzerland, the anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party – which would in American terminology easily be accused of hate speech and racism – is already the largest political party. In their campaigns, the growing numbers of EU citizens in Switzerland, in addition to Third-Country Nationals, are seen as a cause for all kinds of social problems: from unemployment, criminality, crowded trains to higher housing prices. Trump’s victory could boost such debates about “national preferences” and give even more voice to anti-Islamic initiatives.
These tendencies must be taken at face value. Post-election reactions on campus make it clear that the threat is very serious for minorities, but they also reveal an instantaneous sense of community and a call to action that extends beyond the campus. We should follow, and not let the fear of global integration turn into a fight against Islam and immigration.
PostDoc, nccr – on the move, University of Basel
Metka is currently a visiting fellow at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, US