On November 9th, I woke up at 6 am to take a quick look at how the US Presidential Election was unfolding. I had gone to bed the night before feeling calm and reassured. Like many of my friends, I had closely followed the polls and campaigns of both candidates for the past two years, and I was confident that Hillary Clinton, a candidate I vigorously supported, would win the election by a landslide. However, as I scrolled through the map and noticed how most swing states had been called for Donald Trump, I felt disappointed and disoriented.
As a US citizen of Mexican and Muslim heritage who devotes his life to helping students (many of whom are Muslim) apply to American universities, I couldn’t have taken this election any more personally.
Over the past week, many of my students have had honest and necessary conversations with me about some of their own worries and fears, and I regret how this campaign cycle has affected their perception of American college life. But this time has given me some space to reflect on the election and its implications based on my experiences as an American student, and many of my concerns have slowly, but surely dissipated.
It is important to consider that a Trump victory does not translate into a Republican America. Hillary Clinton received a majority of the popular vote by a significant margin, and most swing states that look red on the map actually had incredibly tight races. Political pluralism is alive and well, and in most areas with the largest number of international college students (Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, and California, to name a few), Democratic voters significantly outnumber Republican ones. I encourage future students to read about how cities like L.A. and N.Y. have pledged to serve as sanctuaries that protect the rights of immigrants and minorities.
College campuses augment this reality even further, serving as unique, progressive bubbles where values of tolerance, respect, and equality are deeply ingrained into campus culture. The American college experience, one in which students discover their passions as they interact with people of different identities, has remained constant throughout both Republican and Democratic presidencies, and will continue to do so with Donald Trump. Students should expect to find campuses abuzz with diversity: cultural houses, international student events, political protests, STEM programs for minorities and women, inter-faith iftars…all of which marked my own college experience, will not be threatened by a change in political dynamics.
Reflecting on the campaign, we also need to look carefully at the difference between politics and policy. Trump’s controversial rhetoric was politically charged, and inflated excessively to fit his image of a Washington outsider, as reflected by his more restrained attitude as president-elect. Actually implementing many of the policies he suggested will most likely be impossible due to the system of checks and balances that form the basis of US governance: Republican Congress leaders, for example, have promised to block his much-promised deportation task-force. Trump himself has actually retracted from many of his campaign proposals—he will build a fence, instead of a wall, and rather than repealing Obamacare, he will keep some of its most popular provisions. And his stance on curtailing immigration from conflict-ridden regions actually resembles the current administration’s strict policies on providing visas to foreign citizens. Muslim students who reside in countries that are close allies to the US (such as the GCC and Turkey) will continue to receive visas with the same ease as before.
There are over one million international students studying in US universities, with Saudis comprising the fourth largest foreign student population in America. The number of foreign students in the US is only expected to grow, and international students currently make up as much as 22% of the student population at leading American universities such as Carnegie Mellon. Without international students, many state universities would become bankrupt, a fact that the US government recognizes. Over $30 billion USD is contributed to the American economy by international students, an enormous sum that no one can ignore – especially a President-Elect that prides himself on being a savvy businessman.
Beyond politics, I am confident that current social dynamics will continue to prevail, and minorities will continue to be protected and defended by citizens and lawmakers alike. The election has served as an opportunity for people to come together to reaffirm their support and encouragement for many of the minorities that were antagonized by Trump’s campaign. If anything, people are more vigilant than ever before, and more vocal about any forms of sexism, racism, or xenophobia that might harm others. Even my friends who voted for Trump supported him out of party principle and not because they agree with him as President; I suspect the same applies for many Republican voters across the country.
Most importantly, I invite my fellow minority students to see this as an opportunity to lead by example. Rather than sheltering away from engaging with people who disagree with our point of view, or even our culture, this is our chance to befriend those who haven’t had the chance to interact with minorities, and to show others that our differences are beautiful and powerful. Trump played on the fear of people who ignore the reality of our world. Let’s shine a light on that world, in order to replace fear with understanding.
Murat Dagli is an Educational Consultant at Hale Education Group and a graduate of Yale University.