On Nov. 9, over 500 demonstrators marched through the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus and gathered outside the Wilbur Cross building to protest Donald Trump’s victory. It was the local climax of a divisive election season and foreshadowed a year of political demonstrations to come.
“This is my declaration… I hope this is our declaration to the country and the university that Trump is not my president. Can you repeat that after me?” undocumented student activist and junior secondary-math-education major Eric Cruz López called out to the crowd, to a strong response. Cruz López said he had stayed up late the night before: scared, angered and spurred to plan what he called the “Rally for the People” on short notice.
Months before, as the fall semester began, UConn President Susan Herbst sent an email to the community asking them to keep up “thoughtful, healthy dialogue and debate” during what she acknowledged to be a divisive election season:
“We are in the midst of a presidential campaign that is unlike any other in recent memory,” Herbst wrote. “It continues to generate strong feelings throughout our highly polarized electorate in every community, including on this campus.”
At almost the same time, the spirit rock between Buckley and Shippee Halls was painted with the phrases “Make America Great Again,” “Blue Lives Matter,” “Hillary for Prison” and “Trump 2016.”
On the first day of fall classes, the UConn College Republicans leadership put out a statement that called Trump “mentally unstable,” said he spread “outright bigoted rhetoric” and made clear that they would not endorse the Republican nominee for president.
“Someone who employs divisive, outright bigoted rhetoric, and who pits Americans against each other in an effort to scare voters into embracing his candidacy is not worthy of our support,” the CR executive board’s statement read. “Based on his rhetoric and his stances on public policy, he would guide the United States in a direction astray from constitutional, limited government and toward a direction defined by ugly nationalism and authoritarianism.”
The statement drew controversy the following day, at the group’s first meeting of the year.
“If you don’t vote for Donald Trump, if you vote for anyone else or not all, then you’re working against the Republican cause, you’re working against the cause of the people that call themselves Republican and you’re working against the ability to get any of the things that you want, without being able to make any kind of compromise in between,” CR member Michael Grischuk said.
As the election continued, students gathered to watch the presidential debates at events hosted by the College Republicans, College Democrats, UConnPIRG and the Cultural Centers.
Journalism professor Mike Stanton held a mock town hall-style debate for his Newswriting class. Grischuk stood in for Trump, and Marissa Piccolo (a College Democrat and Daily Campus associate opinion editor) played the part of Hillary Clinton. The debaters exchanged a few jabs, but attendants noted that the two were noticeably more respectful to one another than the actual candidates.
Up to election day, student groups tabled and held voter drives. Mansfield voted Democrat overwhelming and Clinton won the town by a 4 - 1 margin. But the nation voted differently, and Trump surprised the world with a victory in the Electoral College.
Protestors around the U.S. took to the streets, and at UConn undocumented student activist Eric Cruz López stayed up into the early morning organizing his rally in response.
Cruz López urged the attendees to protest peacefully in the tradition of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement. Standing in front of UConn’s administrative building, he demanded the university declared itself a sanctuary city and released a statement in support of undocumented students, people of color, LGBTQ people and other groups he said would be threatened by the new president. He promised a sit-in at Wilbur Cross if the demands weren’t met.
But UConn responded within a week, and after continued pressure from student activists, Herbst explained that, while UConn could not call itself a “sanctuary city” in name, the university did follow many of “the essential elements of the sanctuary policies that have been adopted in several large U.S. cities.”
Herbst’s letter continued: “Those elements include: law enforcement policies that do not question the immigration status of those who seek police assistance, law enforcement not detaining individuals based on civil immigration holds, confidentiality of records that include immigration status, and the issuance of photographic identification to facilitate access to services.”
Also in response to the election, students from E.O. Smith High School in Storrs held their own “Love Trumps Hate” rally. And UConn College Republicans president Paul DaSilva resigned, saying that he had trouble identifying with the party after it was “hijacked” by Trump.
DaSilva said he received backlash from Trump supporters for not supporting Trump after the election. Trump supporters on campus said they were feeling a “social cost” for their politics. Grischuk said he’d been called a “cockroach.”
“People’s bios (on Tinder) say ‘swipe left if you like Donald Trump,’” Grischuk said. “People say ‘if you don’t agree with me I don’t even want to consider getting to know you.’”
On Inauguration Day, UConn students and faculty appeared at a march supporting immigrants’ rights in Willimantic (whose town council had voted just before to make the city Windham a sanctuary), and on the following day they participated in the Women’s March on Washington and a sister march in Hartford.
President Trump’s executive order (which was later barred by federal judges) to temporarily suspend refugee admissions and bar citizens from seven-majority Muslim countries also sparked protest at UConn.
In a letter to the UConn community, Herbst and Interim Provost Jeremy Teitelbaum called the ban ““an unjust hardship for thousands of scholars and students.” While no UConn community members were barred from reentering the country, the pair advised those from the seven countries not to travel abroad.
“This is among the most disturbing and dispiriting pieces of advice we have had to provide in our professional lives,” Herbst and Teitelbaum wrote.
Hundreds of students rallied near the UConn Storrs campus Student Union Quad on Feb. 1 to challenge that order, as well as Trump’s call for a border wall, in what the students called the “Rally to resisTrump.”
On April 29, Trump’s presidency reached the 100-day mark. Regardless of their politics or positions, UConn students (and the nation as a whole) will remember this past election as a historic event.
Christopher McDermott is the news editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.