With Donald Trump’s inauguration around the corner, the people of the United States are living in a state of anticipation. Both his supporters and opponents ponder: To what extent will the hate speech employed by Trump be limited to its use as an electoral tool? Or will they ultimately be translated into policies and laws? What alternative scenarios are on offer if the central tenet of pluralism that defines America is shaken? What will unite the American people then?
In the days that followed the elections, the words of Trump were interpreted by the bigoted fanatics among his supporters into attacks against immigrants, Muslims, homosexuals, African-Americans, and others.
Moreover, a wave of hostility and fear spread nationwide, making its way even into the hallowed halls of universities, which were previously presumed to be somewhat immune to the racist vitriol due to higher levels of awareness, and are governed by clear laws in support of diversity and renouncing bigotry as well as discrimination.
As the voices of intolerance rise, and as the media inadvertently rushes to become their mouthpiece, the political playing field has seemingly been cleared of voices renouncing hatred when they are needed the most.
As a response to Trump’s statements on illegal immigrants, a number of US cities and states have announced that they will remain to be a safe haven for their illegal residents. Furthermore, organizations, entities, and institutions from all specializations and fields renewed their call for openness and equality, and their respect for pluralism and individual freedoms.
As the start of the spring semester in universities across the US coincides with the preparations for Trump’s inauguration ceremony on January 20, a number of presidents, school deans, heads of departments, and other academics have issued statements all over the country that renew their commitment to their principles. They have firmly announced that they stand against hate speech and discrimination in all its forms and manifestations.
Moreover, the private educational institutions have affirmed their commitment to independent research in fields that are decisive for the future of humanity—fields that some of the country’s politicians, on top of whom is Trump, regard as sheer fabrication or propaganda. Among these subjects are the future of the environment, evolutionary theories, and any appeal to critique the status quo or prevalent stereotypes.
They have also announced their commitment to a liberal approch that encourages critical thinking is all its forms as the basis for scientific research and the foundation of academic inquiry.
Richard Brodhead, President of Duke University, affirmed, in a message to the members of the Duke community, that the university maintains its own principles that will not be shaken, and which boil down to respecting and protecting every individual.
“The university is intentionally diverse and inclusive because encounters with different perspectives, beliefs and ways of thinking lead to a more comprehensive understanding—in politics as in every domain,” Brodhead’s message reads. He concludes by asserting that the university remains committed to its principles, despite the political changes, and to its solid support for the values of every individual of its community.
As hate speech proliferates in Trump's America, these universities take a stand
Between fear and polarization, US academia wages a war on hate
Meanwhile, the students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) responded to the elections by wrapping six columns in one of the student lobbies, three of which read “Share Your Hopes”, while three others read, “Share Your Fears”. These columns were the subject of a message penned by Venezuelan-born MIT Professor, L. Rafael Reif.
His message states, “As a community and as a practical force for good, MIT is a quintessential expression of America at its best: Bold, optimistic and focused on inventing the future. Delighted and energized by our diversity, with a meritocratic openness to talent, culture and ideas from anywhere. Humble, pragmatic, crazy about science and insistent on seeking the facts. A place of rigor, ingenuity and real-world problem-solving, where generations of bright young minds have come from every corner of the Earth to make something of themselves and work together to make a better world.
“That is MIT. Nothing can change that. And nothing can change our commitment to tackling big, important problems for humanity – climate change, clean energy, cybersecurity, human health – with colleagues of every identity and background.”
The message concluded with an invitation for every individual to find ways to listen to one another—with sympathy, humility, decency, respect, and kindness.
Felicitas Opwis, the Chair of the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, one of the oldest departments for teaching Arabic in the US, published a Statement of Principles, declaring that the department “stands united in its commitment to upholding the fundamental equality and inherent dignity of all human beings.”
“These values transcend political affiliation and are fundamental to our mission as a department and as members of the Georgetown University community,” the statement continues.
“We affirm this shared commitment publicly because the values of equality and human dignity are increasingly under threat. Instances of racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, homophobic and anti-Semitic harassment, coupled with hate crimes and acts of racial terrorism, are on the rise nationally and have begun to occur as well as on the Georgetown University campus.
“The climate for these acts has been substantively shaped by a rhetoric of bigotry that has come to pervade current American political discourse, even at the highest levels of office.
“As linguists, language teachers, and humanist scholars, we know that words matter and that what we say informs what we do. As a department with a special relationship to Islam and the experience of immigration, we reject the targeting of Muslims and immigrants and affirm our shared commitment to justice for all victims of discrimination.
“For the department students especially, she sent a message with a promise that said, “To our students: we stand with you. We acknowledge your fears and affirm your right to pursue knowledge regardless of your identity or origin. Our task as educators is to encourage, challenge, and support all of you. We recommit to that task now more than ever.”
What will the new presidency hold for the country and the world? Will Trump continue his legacy of unorthodoxy by introducing unprecedented policies? One recalls that the Obama presidency was also an unprecedented surprise in American history, and some may even say the same about George W. Bush’s election.
The pressing question regarding this immanent change is, will the bigotry and hate speech continue? Or, are the electoral campaign slogans one thing, and leading the world’s most powerful country an entirely different matter?
The greatest fear is that the hate speech will continue and escalate among the different components of American society. This may herald the point of no return, the outcome of which no one can predict.