NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Among America’s demoralized Democrats, none were more stunned at Donald Trump’s electoral victory than those at the nation’s left-leaning college campuses who had expected to rejoice at the rise of the first female president.
Here at Yale University, a deep-blue bastion in a solid blue state, Hillary Clinton’s defeat led some mournful partisans to gather outdoors on election night for a primal scream. A funereal funk then settled over the Ivy League campus as many students expressed fear at what the coming Trump administration will mean for Muslims, Mexican immigrants and other groups subject to the Republican’s slashing campaign rhetoric.
“I don’t think I had really prepared myself for the abject, utter loss,” said Theo Torres, 23, a law student from Denton, Tex.
Timothy Pepler, 29, a divinity student from Windsor Locks, about an hour’s drive north of campus, called it “a level of despair I have never felt in my entire life.” Torres and Pepler joined several hundred students and others in a march through New Haven on Thursday night to show solidarity with immigrants and others who might feel threatened under Trump policies.
Their gloom was echoed at other colleges across the country where Democrats outnumber Republicans and where even some conservatives have voiced reservations about the president-elect and the direction he is taking the GOP. Spontaneous election-night protests on some campuses morphed into days of rallies and gatherings that included flag-burning, anti-Trump chants and tense confrontations between
epithet-hurling students on both sides.
Republican students here who openly backed Trump were few in number and discreet in their revelry. Emily Reinwald, 21, of Stafford, Va., co-president of Yale College Republicans, said she and another Trump supporter shook a bottle of champagne and popped the cork early Wednesday outside their campus residence. But they were careful not to gloat in front of housemates, most of whom had voted for Clinton. Reinwald acknowledged slightly mixed feelings. Her heart this year was with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a conservative Republican whom Trump defeated in the GOP primaries.
“I celebrated Hillary Clinton not winning,” she said. “Maybe more than I celebrated Trump winning.”
The Yale College Republicans offer a telling view on the tensions Trump’s candidacy generated among conservatives, especially in the climate of a largely liberal campus that has been through a year of discussion and debate about tolerance and inclusion. Although the group officially endorsed Trump this year — unlike its counterparts at Harvard — that decision divided its members. Some opposed to the Republican nominee fled to start what they call the Yale New Republicans.
“Trump hijacked our party,” said Benjamin Rasmussen, 20, a junior from Novato, Calif., who pushed for the breakaway group. “I personally don’t think Trump is fit to lead.” Rasmussen declined to say for whom he cast his ballot, but he said it was not for the Republican.
Josh Altman, 21, a senior from Armonk, N.Y., described himself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal. He is president of the Buckley Program at Yale, an organization named for the late conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. that promotes intellectual diversity on campus through forums and other events. Altman said he doesn’t know which party speaks for him, but he said he voted for Clinton. “I’d much rather be critiquing Hillary Clinton for four years than having to defend Donald Trump,” he said.
Yale, a 315-year-old school with 12,400 students and a world-class faculty, has deep connections to national politics. Despite its liberal leanings, Yale’s history also reflects a strong current of conservatism that produced generations of New England Republicans. Presidents William Howard Taft, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush graduated from its college, and President Gerald Ford from its law school.
Democratic President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, also are famous Yale law grads.
The latest presidential campaign occurred during an exhausting year for Yale. In fall 2015, racial tensions rose on campus after students claimed that a fraternity barred black women from a party and a university instructor issued an email critique of warnings against Halloween costumes deemed culturally insensitive. In February, the university expelled a former captain of the men’s basketball team, Jack Montague, after investigating an allegation against him of sexual misconduct. Montague denied wrongdoing and later sued the university, claiming a breach of contract.
In April, Yale President Peter Salovey announced that the university would not change the name of Calhoun College, a residential unit named for a 19th century U.S. vice president, John C. Calhoun, who was a staunch advocate of slavery. That decision provoked another uproar. In August, Salovey formed a committee to examine “principles on renaming” and indicated that he could be open to reconsidering the Calhoun name decision.
Now the presidential election outcome has left many students distraught.
On election night, some emailed an economics professor, Steven Berry, to ask if he could postpone a midterm exam scheduled the next morning. He agreed to make the exam optional — with additional stakes put onto the final exam for anyone who wanted to skip the midterm. Most ended up taking the test Wednesday.
University officials said academic work must go on. They said they would not issue exemptions, known as “dean’s excuses,” granting students a temporary reprieve from testing requirements because of postelection trauma.
“Dean’s excuses are not designed to respond to reactions, howsoever deeply felt or unsettling, to an event such as a national election,” the dean of academic affairs, Mark Schenker, told the Yale Daily News. Instead, Schenker said, students who need help could turn to the university’s mental health and counseling services.
Some found solace in other ways.
On Wednesday, they grabbed colored chalk and scrawled messages on a plaza in front of Sterling Memorial Library. One read: “#stillwithher and her and her and her and all the capable, powerful women OUT HERE.” Others papered bulletin boards anew with fliers declaring “Love Will Trump Hate,” and other slogans, as if in hope that the campaign could resume.
“A lot of my friends have been crying,” said Rita Wang, 19, a sophomore from Edison, N.J. But she has not shed any tears even though she went to the Democratic National Convention and spent hours phone-banking for Clinton. Describing her politics as “super left,” Wang said sometimes losing goes with the territory.
She is thinking ahead to how she will respond when Trump takes office in January.
“I’m really excited to build student power with my classmates to oppose his legislative decisions,” she said. If Trump and the Republican Congress repeal President Obama’s signature health-care law, the Affordable Care Act, Wang said, “then I’m probably going to cry.”
Maxwell Ulin, 21, a senior from Santa Monica, Calif., who is president of the Yale College Democrats, said Trump critics are talking about how to mobilize. “People are committed to doing something,” he said. “They aren’t just mourning, grieving, being sad.”
Some Clinton supporters here said the election exposed a blind spot at Yale. As an elite institution, they said, it is not sufficiently attuned to the concerns of the massive bloc of white, working-class voters in small towns and rural areas who powered Trump’s election.
“A lot of people here are out of touch with what’s going on in communities that don’t look like their communities,” said Isis Davis-Marks, 19, a sophomore from New York City.
“This election made me realize how much of a liberal bubble Yale students live in,” said Zachary Cohen, 20, a junior from New York City who edits a political journal here. That isolation left the campus largely unaware of anger and resentment elsewhere, he said. “I definitely had to come terms with the fact that there was this other half of America I had hardly seen.”
Graham Ambrose, a student journalist at Yale, contributed to this report.