2016 Election Reflection Series: Students’ Thoughts, Feelings, and Plans for Action

Prior to the 2016 election, APSA’s Diversity and Inclusion Programs Office issued a call for scholarly reflections, original research notes, and classroom exercises that shed light upon diversity, political behavior, public opinion and the 2016 Campaign and Election. What resulted is an eight part series, 2016 Election Reflections, covering a range of election related topics and research methods.    


 “’We Have to Fight Back’: Students’ Thoughts, Feelings, and Plans for Action the Day after the 2016 Election”

by Clarissa Hayward, Washington University, St. Louis

  • Tell us about how you have incorporated themes relevant to diversity, inclusion, equity, or representation and the 2016 campaign and election into your political science teaching, research and/or service? 
  • What role can/does political science research play in helping to make sense of the 2016 Campaign an Election?

On Mondays and Wednesdays, I teach a small, upper-level political theory class on the social contract. Each evening before we meet, the students write a short response to a prompt I give them about the text we will be discussing the following day. Usually, this works well; the students come to class having already begun to articulate their thoughts about the reading. But when I woke up Wednesday morning, my email included messages students who wrote to say they were simply too emotionally distressed by the results of the presidential election to focus enough to complete the daily assignment.  I knew that, when we met that afternoon, we needed to do something different. I made a couple quick decisions: I would move the physical location of our meeting from our basement-level classroom to an outdoor garden that is a bit removed from the main part of campus. And I would bring food—something comforting. But I wasn’t sure how to structure the discussion, and so I crowdsourced it.

From a Facebook friend of a friend who teaches in Gender and Women’s Studies at another university, I got the idea to ask the students to write, anonymously, one thought and one feeling about the election. We made two piles, one for thoughts, and one for feelings. Then students took turns choosing one card from each pile and reading it aloud.

The anonymity enabled those who thought their views might be unpopular—mainly the conservatives in this class, which is made up mostly of politically progressive students—to express them to the group without fear of disapproval. For the first hour of class, we structured our conversation as responses to these pairs of “thoughts” and “feelings.”

From a colleague of mine in our School of Social Work, I got the idea to conclude the discussion by asking the students to write down one step they will take to make the communities they belong to more just, inclusive, and democratic. We ended with two students reading aloud these ideas.

Exit polls show a sharp divide in the 2016 presidential election, not only by race, gender, educational level, religious affiliation, and party identification, but also by age. What follows are the unedited thoughts, feelings, and plans for action of one group of millennials the day after they learned that Donald Trump was their President-elect:


  • “Clearly, a large percentage of this country is disillusioned by the establishment on the Hill. I empathize with that sentiment, truly. And I don’t want to dismiss it, because, clearly, ignoring those voices does no favors. But I also cannot believe the visceral anger has come to this: a racist, sexist, xenophobic demagogue for President.”
  • “I’m afraid to see what will happen to all the progress made on social equality in the past 8 years. There are so many issues on the line that I care deeply about, and now they’re all in jeopardy. Reproductive rights, marriage equality, access to healthcare, Supreme Court Justice appointments, immigration, criminal justice reform… I don’t feel safe.”
  • “Trump’s policies, especially with a conservative congress and politically conservative Supreme Court, could be disastrous, but as long as America’s constitutional system and most people’s faith in it remains intact, we’ll be ok.”
  • “We have to fight back. My mom is learning how to give abortions for when it becomes illegal. I don’t like how people are threatening to leave the country. We can’t give up on America. All the people Trump and the alt-right want to suppress have to stand up and fight for their rights and a better direction for America’s future. I cannot believe how many people would pick a misogynistic racist over an accomplished and qualified woman.”
  • “I did not vote for Trump. That being said, I hope the results serve as a lesson that you will not win hearts, minds, or obviously votes by screaming at people, calling them “racist, homophobic, xenophobic pieces of shit” who should “go die.” I think the level of vitriol displayed by both sides and the lack of even an attempt to engage with the other side speaks to the deeper brokenness of social and political institutions and of the state of civic dialogue.”
  • “The country is now run by non-college educated White Christians with implicit biases against everybody (that they aren’t even aware of) and they want to hold us all accountable to the backwards hypocrisy of this Holy Book, which is a book of parables.”
  • “The rural-urban split was huge. We really are living in two different countries right now—one where I and all my friends et. al. live, where liberal rules tend to be espoused and life is good for us, being college-educated, urban, or both; another that is full of white Christian men out of work in their rural home towns, men who feel frustrated with the direction this country is heading, because it is crushing them. I just wish that we could find a way to close the divide, just a bit.”
  • “I have never felt more divided. Not only [sic] terms of politics but also in my familial and social relationships as a result of the election.”
  • “America seems to really want change but has no idea what kind of change it wants. Trump says “Make America Great Again”; to me that invokes the 1950s—life is only good for a small slice of the population in that scenario.”
  • “With Brexit and now Trump’s election and the upcoming elections in France and Germany, in which similar sentiment is popular, it feels like globalization’s backlash is finally really happening. Driven by economic factors, there is a cultural and social reaction.”
  • “At the end of the day, the Democratic party didn’t listen to what the people wanted, and the GOP did. This was not an election for establishment politicians, and we ignored that.”
  • “Everything is going to be alright if we accept this decision and continue to fight for what we believe in.”
  • “Is it better or worse that Trump has become the President so unexpectedly?”


  • “I just feel sad right now. I haven’t fully processed the results, I think. But I’m sad that America looks like it’s not fully happy with itself. I’m sad that I see so much hatred.”
  • “Scared by the number of people who bought into Trump’s rhetoric.”
  • “Not look [sic] forward to a Republican House, Senate, and President and to the possible revision of socially progressive policies.”
  • “Fear, Shock.”
  • “I’m disappointed about a lot that happened over the election. Disappointed about misinformation in the polls, about the Electoral College, about third party voters, and very disappointed that the democratic primary didn’t go another way. But most of all, our disunity and complacency were most disappointing this election. Over the course of the last year, we didn’t engage in productive dialogue with those we didn’t agree with; rather, we isolated ourselves from our political adversaries, sharing toxic propaganda like Occupy Democrats and Breitbart, thereby solidifying the opposing beliefs. Additionally, we just naturally assumed Clinton would win the presidency, and maybe we would have been more motivated to vote if we didn’t take the security of this country for granted.”
  • “I have literally no idea what will happen in the next 4 years, and that’s scary.”
  • “A feeling: devastation.”
  • “I am worried because I am not sure how many of Trump’s supporters actually agree with his prejudices. I understand feeling hopeless about the current status of life in rural America, but I am worried that some people support him because he speaks to their prejudices and not because they just want something new.”
  • “Sadness for all who aren’t cis white non-Muslim males.”
  • “All your strength is in your union, All your danger is in discord; Therefore be at peace henceforward, And as brothers live together.”- Longfellow
  • “Resolve. This is reminiscent of the 1984 Reagan landslide in that Trump led the Republicans to victory all the way down the ballot. They can hurt a lot of people, but (nukes and global warming aside) it’s not the end of the world. If we’re really concerned for this country and the fate of its people, we all need to get down to work. We have a decades-long struggle for equality and opportunity ahead of us.”
  • “I’m feeling surprised, but not necessarily in a bad way.”
  • “I feel angry that I’m constantly called an Uncle Tom for supporting conservative values or limited government.”
  • “Apprehensive.”
  • “Cynical. Republicans control House, Senate, and Presidency. Not long before conservatives dominate Supreme Court. Is that what democracy looks like these days?”

A step I can take to make my community more just, inclusive, and democratic:

  • “I think all of us should be actively trying to find people we disagree with, on the right or the left, and having in-depth civil conversations with them. We will rarely convince them. But we might occasionally be convinced ourselves. And, regardless, both sides will come away less angry at the other.”
  • “Make conservative friends. When I find out that someone thinks differently than I do, don’t end the conversation—jump on it. Give both of us a better understanding of why the other side feels the way it does.”
  • “Engage myself with local and state politics by contacting my city council or my congressional representative.”
  • “Bring down the wall (no pun intended) of ignorance some of us tend to carry when it comes to our political views. Reach out to those who you normally wouldn’t and try to understand their political viewpoints. Whether we like it or not, Trump is president. Do not fuel hate, do not empower arrogance and inequality. Be more compassionate, be respectful, and be understanding.”
  • “I could seek out more conservatives and find the right questions to ask. I don’t think I know how to begin understanding, for example, the rural Trump supporters, but I really ought to make sure that I can understand them. They’re part of whatever community I’m in, and their voices deserve to be heard even when they’re the minority.”
  • “I will expand my volunteer work at Orchestrating Diversity and give free private lessons to Jane* (a refuge who came to America 22 months ago). I will also focus more on local politics and canvass for local elections.” (*name changed to protect identity of the individual)
  • “Drop the social rule: ‘Don’t talk religion or politics at the dinner table.’”
  • “To have conversations without trying to convince the other party and to put aside all of my personal opinions to avoid rejecting someone else’s ideas without really considering them.”
  • “Inform (in Spanish) unregistered Hispanic voters in Dallas, TX. Encourage them to register and vote.”
  • “I think one thing I could do is just to be honest about my beliefs and explain why it is that I have them. Going off of that—I want to open a dialogue with people who don’t agree with me, to understand where they are coming from and better understand how to improve / change my reasoning.”
  • “Donate to Planned Parenthood (I am personally pro-life but believe it should be the women’s [sic] choice to have a child) and write to my representatives.”
  • “I’ve previously scoffed at making cold calls or knocking on doors for a political campaign. The thought of trying to persuade a complete stranger seemed to be pretty absurd considering our political climate. But now I think that the real value of these activities isn’t necessarily persuasion or getting more voters, but coming to an understanding with your community. Now I see the value of having open dialogue when it is much more likely to have doors automatically slammed in your face.”
  • “Bring people of different political backgrounds together and make them sit down and talk. Simple one-on-one, to keep an open mind. In the same vein, make supporters of the same candidate talk to each other about why they voted for that candidate.”
  • “Write. I think Trump dismisses that sort of thing—“it’s just words, folks”—but words mean things, and I’m lucky to have plenty of space to write things that people will read. And I think writing flows almost seamlessly into speaking, having these conversations with people who hold different opinions from you. They’re little things, but it’s better than nothing.”

Clarissa Hayward is a political theorist at Washington University in St. Louis and a member of the APSA Committee on the Status of Blacks in the Profession. Her most recent book, How Americans Make Race (Cambridge University Press, 2013) was co-winner of APSA’S Dennis Judd prize for the best book in urban politics. 


The views expressed in this series are those of the authors and contributors alone and do not represent the views of the APSA.  To learn more, visit 2016 Election Reflections.