America’s Silent Majority Skips out on Wednesday’s U.S. Presidential Election Forum

By Katie Trojano, Co-Editor-in-Chief

 Photo by Sam Acuna. 

Photo by Sam Acuna. 

On Tuesday November 9, President Kuncl sent out a school-wide email informing UoR students, faculty and alumni of an Open Forum that was to be held that night at 7:30 in Orton Center. President Kuncl entitled the Forum “The U.S. Presidential Election,” writing: “The results of last night’s elections were not predicted and have shocked and upset roughly half of the electorate, while the other half is jubilant. Emotions are high, and I would assert that none of us, no matter which end of the spectrum we occupy, can say we feel certain about what will happen next.” He urged the community to “Bring (your) questions, (your) feelings, and (your) willingness to listen to and respect others’ viewpoints.” But what was obviously lacking at the Forum was exactly that—a variance of viewpoints.

“Looking around, I’m like huh, our school is pretty diverse,” says UoR Junior Sirai Tirado. She laughs a little as she adds, “but it’s probably because only the people who care are here.” As people start filing into Orton Center, faces lend like blank canvases to expressions of fear and sadness. Despite the somber atmosphere that seems to permeate, students, alumni and faculty lean on each other’s presence, conversing and comforting each other. Provost Kathy Ogren and University Chaplain John Walsh open the discussion by urging both sides to speak and share ideas, with Ogren saying, “We must stand together and fight for peace.”

UoR senior Johnnie Aldrige stands up and says, “I would like to ask those who voted for Trump, what does it mean to make America great again? We are standing on stolen ground,” to which the crowd breaks out in applause. Aldridge adds, “Several weeks ago I was called a wetback. What do you think is going to happen to your country when you lose your diversity, when there’s no one left for you to hate?” More applause. However, there is no direct response to Aldrige’s passionate and hard-hitting questions—there is nothing even close to a rebuttal for the rest of the night. If there are any Republicans or Trump supporters in the room, that perspective is largely lacking from the conversation.

Joe Richardson, UoR alum from class of 1993, says, “first of all, welcome to the struggle. I want to challenge you to look at each other and say, ‘Are you good? Do I trust you?’” Richardson seems to be urging students to find the good in people who may be on the other side of the argument, and talk things out in order to come to a solution. He says, "I had to do the work to get to the heart of the issue and find the decent people. If the heart and the attention is there, now we can do something.” While Richardson’s sentiment is clearly heartfelt and encouraging, it lacked the effect it might have had if both sides of the argument had been present.

About halfway through the forum, Kathy pauses and reminds the crowd that, “We are all here to think about the ways we can help you be resources to each other and how we can be resources to you.” Leela MadhavaRau, Associate Dean of Community Diversity and Inclusion on campus, says, “I do the work I do because I believe that there is hope for the U.S., although with the results of this election I feel that I wasn’t doing enough.” She continues, “We need safe spaces and brave spaces where people will listen and engage in conversation, but I’m not sure this is a brave space. I haven’t heard enough voices and I would like to know why. The fact that I haven’t heard those other voices tonight is painful to me.”

Kathy closes the forum by saying, “As I understood, this was a place to process what has happened.” She urges students to make the next steps, suggesting future forums and other settings that would promote dialogue. Kathy comforts students with the assurance that faculty and administration are available for support and guidance, saying, “I hope you all will follow up.”