Post election recap: Campus Reacts

Suzanne Ciechalski and Isabella Bruni

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One month after the presidential election, students and faculty at St. John’s have been vocal about their thoughts and concerns regarding the result.

There have been organized discussions about student concerns, a controversy surrounding Trump flags in dorm window, a petition to make the school a ‘sanctuary campus’ and a constant flow of emails from administration. The aftermath of the election has dominated campus discussion since Nov. 9.

So, what’s happened in the past month since the election?

Trump Windows

The day following Election Day, a suite on the first floor of Century Hall hung three flags in support of President-elect Donald Trump, sparking much attention from other Century residents as well as faculty.

One month later, three more suites in Century Hall have done the same.

On the first floor, one suite hangs a Trump-Pence flag alongside a Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity flag and a Trump “Make America Great Again” flag.

A second-floor suite hangs a Trump-Pence flag next to a U.S. flag and a Trump “Make America Great Again” flag.

And a third-floor suite follows with a Trump-Pence flag, a U.S. flag with a thin blue line in the middle – representing support against violence geared towards law enforcement – and a Trump “Make America Great Again” flag.

Sophomore and homeland security major Joseph Leuthner of the second-floor suite and sophomore and also a homeland security major George Mattheos of the third-floor suite told the Torch that they both put up their flags about one week after Election Day. They said the first suite to put up Trump flags influenced their decision to hang them.

Leuthner stated that everyone living in the second floor suite is either a supporter of Trump or is neutral regarding the results of the election. Whereas a month ago the first pro-Trump room received lots of complaints, the only backlash he is aware that his suite has received is verbal. He said a few anti-Trump friends have said things such as “I can’t believe you have those flags” and people passing by he heard say “Now there are four rooms with those flags these people are disgusting” and “I can’t believe people would put up the flags of such a racist pig in their window, what is wrong with this world?”

Leuthner feels that despite political beliefs, no one should hope Trump fails as a president.

To the people upset about his flags, he said, “I do have the freedom to hang flags in my window. It is my own personal beliefs, I am not angry about seeing Obama pictures in numerous windows or things such as ‘love trumps hate’ in windows. It is freedom of speech, something our constitution grants us the rights to.”

To have people understand exactly what this mean he describes it as, “[It] is like saying anyone from out of state should not be allowed to wear sports gear from teams outside of New York because [they] do not like those teams.”

The view from the third floor is very similar to the second’s. According to Mattheos, six of the seven residents in his suite supports Trump, with the exception of one who he claimed “has not expressed his political opinion to us.” He stated that the suite has not received any backlash.

Mattheos hopes that people will respect his suite’s right to hang their flags and said, “In the end, we hope to see cohesiveness and bipartisanship re-established within the United States so we can all work together for the betterment of our great country.”

The Torch reached out to the suite on the first floor but they did not want to speak on the record.

SJU Sanctuary Petition

Sanctuary campuses have turned into a national movement following the presidential election.

From the east coast to the west coast, and at schools in between, students are calling on their college campuses to pledge support for immigrant students; specifically those protected under the Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrivals (DACA) legislation.

At St. John’s, this movement began roughly one month ago, with an online petition called “SJU Sanctuary Petition.” The petition, sparked by faculty, asks the University to take certain steps to protect students who may be affected by the president-elect’s proposed policies concerning immigration.

The petition, which has already been delivered to the Office of the President, had garnered 460 signatures as of Tuesday evening at 8 p.m.

Not all students agree with the petition’s requests.

“I definitely agree that the school should help the poor and vulnerable and that St. John’s University has the right to protect the privacy of [its] students, whether documented or not,” said Rumman Rafsan. “The thing is, there is only so much St. John’s can do.”

Rafsan said that some of the petition’s requests, like counseling for students protected by DACA and “investing in faculty and staff training to support undocumented students” would be a waste of resources when he believes that money can go toward other things.

“I feel as if the people who signed the petition are also the same people who were outraged by students putting up flags supporting the President-elect on their dorm windows,” he said. “They want to support diversity but not political diversity and I believe that is hypocritical.”

Adam Sackowitz, a first year graduate student, shared similar feelings. He said it’s interesting that when discussing deportation, students don’t discuss President Barack Obama’s administration’s stance on immigration.

According to PolitiFact, by combining data from fiscal years 2009 to 2014, there have been more than 2.4 million removals.

“What’s interesting is, we don’t hear students at St. John’s,  or the professors that signed the petition, that mention that President Obama has already been doing this, because that’s what the Justice Department and Customs and Border Patrol has been doing for years and that’s been U.S. policy,” Sackowitz said. “So, people are talking about a change in policy? Well Donald Trump is just continuing what Barack Obama has been doing for eight years.”

Sackowitz said he believes the petition is calling on the University to put illegal immigrants before citizens.

“I guess that’s not the intention,” he said. “But, to me, and I think a lot of other students, that’s the case.”

But according to some students who supported the petition, its purpose is a necessity.  

“We need the confirmation that St. John’s not only supports undocumented citizens living in, and contributing to, our community, but will protect them as a bona fide Sanctuary Campus,” junior Obaid Zia said.

Imani Fox, a member of Students of Consciousness, said “a lot of damage has been done to a remarkable amount of people” during the election cycle.

“It is more crucial than ever that the university, one built for immigrants, one that prides itself on social justice and Vincentian service, embody those same ideals and missions,” she said.

Fox said that she thinks the petition is necessary because it shifts responsibility toward the University president and the administration.

“The fact that students and faculty even need to create a petition to ensure that administration will ‘do right’ by these students is really disheartening,” she said.

Administration reaction

In the weeks following the election, students have received multiple emails from St. John’s, specifically the Division of Student Affairs, pertaining to students’ concerns.

Most notably, St. John’s sent an university-wide email Nov. 28 that detailed three key points of its “current practices concerning immigration” in an effort to calm deportation concerns sparked by Trump’s proposed immigration policies.

  • The University does not track a student’s immigration status.
  • The University does not factor immigration status into housing, registration or other university processes.
  • Public safety officers “are not law enforcement officers and are not directed by immigration or other enforcement agencies.”

Most recently, Dr. Kathryn Hutchinson, the vice-president of Student Affairs, announced the date of a panel discussion featuring immigration experts. The panel will be held in the D’Angelo Center, Room 128 on Monday, Dec. 12. All St. John’s students, faculty and administrators are welcome to join the panel.

The panel, according to Hutchinson’s email, will address the following:

  • Obtaining good legal representation,
  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA),
  • Undocumented status,
  • Student employment and work visas,
  • Safety planning,
  • Fear of persecution
  • Special issues for children.

Some students have been pleased by the response.

“As a private university, St. John’s has the right and obligation to protect the privacy of their students,” Rafsan said of the email. “I believe the University has good intentions to reassure the community that they are there to support them.”

But Fox voiced disappointment with the school’s email. Although she thinks it’s important to know that SJU doesn’t track the immigration status of its students, she felt the email served “as more of a deflection tactic than a way to ensure the safety of these students.”

“There is more that the University can do than what they can not,” Fox said. “This is the school’s opportunity to show that they care by their actions and concern.”

President Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw expressed support to students covered by DACA by signing two separate statements along with other college presidents nationwide. One of the statements urges business, religious, non-profit and civic leaders to come together to support students who are protected by DACA. The other “expresses hope that the students in our communities who have qualified for DACA are able to continue their studies without interruption and that many more students in their situation will be welcome to contribute their talents to our campuses.”

Students are pleased that he’s gone public with his concerns.

“President Gempesaw certainly does seem to share interests and goals with those of the sanctuary campus petition,” Zia said. “I haven’t read these letters, however it seems that he’s actually saying that he’s urging people in the community to not discriminate against undocumented citizens and hoping that a situation won’t come where DACA students’ lives will be disrupted or effectively ruined.”

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