Colleges are a unique and essential facet not only of higher education but of a country’s social structure. Having a wide range of ethnicities, backgrounds, religions and political views represented together allows for unique conversations to take place. Unfortunately, diversity by nature is susceptible to clashing ideals, and in the worst of situations this can brew into conflict and outright violence. After the 2016 presidential election and the victory of President Trump, students across the nation felt the undercurrent of a deteriorating political discourse come to the surface. The moment was a time of great joy for some, as well as a catalyst for anxiety and worry in others. During the vote-counting process, there was great concern that such stark division could again lead to discord within the student body at Hope College. After the Associated Press announced Biden to be the winner of the election on Saturday, Nov. 7, Student Congress organized a Unity Zoom call to be held at 3 p.m. on the same day, co-sponsored by Vox Populi, Hope Democrats and Hope Republicans.
The event lasted approximately 45 minutes and was primarily a platform “to foster discussion and answer questions about the election process.” Participants were able to share their feelings anonymously, and many students declined to use their cameras, preferring just to listen. Ellen Awad supervised the event, but most of the discussion was led by students sharing their feelings. A requirement asked of each person was to remember Hope’s Virtues of Public Discourse: humility to listen, hospitality to welcome other points of view, patience to understand, courage to challenge and honesty to speak the truth in love.
The general feeling was one of relief over the Biden victory and optimism about the prospects for the next four years. These were not remarks of self-congratulation or braggery that any individual’s party was successful, but rather symptoms of having a new president who largely represents a group that has not felt represented by President Trump. This is not to say that outward hostility was aimed at Trump supporters or Republicans in general; one participant remarked “recounts are fine” but insisted that an honest victory be honored. An important lesson shared by a participant was that communicating with those you disagree with is important, as it allows you to recognize the personhood of your political opponent. The event was closed with a reading from Acts 2, which describes Pentecost. This was tied into President Scogin’s definition of “hope,” which is a feeling of expectation and desire that something good is coming.
I asked Mary K.H., Co-Director of Vox Populi, if she would share some thoughts about the event in her own words. Below is what she had to say regarding the event:
“On Saturday October 7, Student Congress, Vox Populi, Hope Democrats and Hope Republicans hosted a virtual Unity Circle centered on the U.S. Presidential election cycle. The purpose of the event was to give students a chance to talk about the difficulties and stresses of a divisive election cycle and its impact on Hope’s campus and students.
Hope College Republicans President Reed Rosado (’23) discussed how he and Hope Democrats President Martha Beattie (’21), initially got in contact through [herself], the co-director of Vox Populi. Together we produced a short video to foster unity and encourage people to vote. The groups agreed they had some mutual goals, such as encouraging students to be civically engaged and wanting the nation to be the best place it could be.
The Virtual Unity Circle, or “Unity Zoom” as Beattie coined it, was originally scheduled to take place in person on the Wednesday after the election. Due to rising COVID cases and a delayed election result, it was rescheduled for Saturday, which just so happened to be the day many news outlets began calling the presidential race in favor of Joe Biden.
Our groups believed this event was important because of the divisive tone the country has faced the past few months, with two candidates who have very different goals and ways of communicating to the American people. Students reflected on dealing with people who held different beliefs than them, talked about concerns for the future and shared where they got their news from.
The key takeaway from the event was that we all have issues that are important to us, and we rate these issues with different levels of importance. It is important to communicate and be ready to listen with the goal of understanding, not just retorting. Our groups would like to thank Student Life for presenting the idea of a Unity Circle. This small gathering meant much to the people who attended, and we hope that the positive impact it had ripples across the campus as we navigate coming together after a trying time in America.”
As from 2016-2020, the following four years will be a time of excitement and celebration for some, and some level of disappointment and dissatisfaction for others. It is important that with the turning of this new chapter, Hope students remain responsible and informed about civic life and mutually support each other during this extraordinary time.