A Brief and Deeply personal Timeline of being a Brown Female International Student in Trump’s America

I woke up on the 9th of November with the same realization that millions of people in America woke up to: in choosing the president they chose, this country has just told me that everything I am – a woman, a person of color, an immigrant – is unwelcome here. The sense of loss was palpable in the air of the university as we all struggled to find words to make sense of what has happened. I am still struggling, which is perhaps why it took me as long as write this down.

 The idea of a Sanctuary Campus perhaps was born out of this struggle of people like me to find the words – and the actions – that can help in times like this. Amidst a sea of hate crimes around the country, the #SanctuaryCampus movement emerged as one in which students, faculty, and staff at educational institutions come together to make their universities a safe space for resistance and for protection of the populations that are the most vulnerable in Trump’s America: undocumented immigrants, Muslims, people of color, queer folks, women[1]. I am proud to report that Rutgers was one of the first universities, along with Stanford and St. Mary’s, whose students called themselves a “sanctuary campus”[2] before the movement took the nation by storm.

Exactly a week from the day of the election results, a rally was organized at Rutgers University that brought together students, faculty, and staff, to declare themselves against the divisive politics that won the president-elect this election, and to demand that Rutgers President Robert Barchi declare the campus a sanctuary for all its students. Led my Movimiento Cosecha’s Rutgers chapter, which is a non-violent movement that works to win “permanent protection, dignity and respect for the 11 million undocumented people”[3] in the United States, the rally started off by criticizing Trump’s proposed revisions to immigration policies, including making Muslims register, deporting millions,  and building a wall to keep them out. More than a 1000 students[4] (by a conservative estimate) gathered at the university before marching down the main street of New Brunswick, slogan-ing proudly.

 I arrived in front of Voorhees Hall with a friend – another brown female international student with whom I already shared an alma mater with its own history of student protests[5]. The first thing that struck us was the substantially smaller group of Pro-Trump students gathered in the area. Since the elections, my friend (she is in the Political Science department no less) and I have spent a considerable amount of time talking about how, in light of the election results, it was now impossible for us to distinguish Trump supporters from those who are not. We would look around in class, in restaurants, in buses, in cafes, and wonder – who here voted Trump, who here thinks we don’t belong here, who here wants to put a wall between us and them. But seeing a group of students holding banners that say “Deportation, not Immigration” in one of the most diverse universities in the United States[6] is a disconcerting recognition of this truth that had till then, somehow, still been abstract to us. I was, however, thankful for the Trump Supporters’ presence, for it reminded all of us why we were there. We were there because it was important for us to resist what their presence suggested: that certain people wanted to establish regressive hierarchies in this country in the name of race, gender, religion, and sexual preferences.

 We were there because this was not our definition of greatness, and because we would never stop striving for the now-revolutionary vision of equality we proposed in its stead.

Since the day of the election results, there have been protests happening all around the United States because, after Donald Trump winning the electoral college with a lower number in terms of voter turnout than that which got Romney got in losing, Americans have perhaps recognized that voting is no longer an adequate way to participate or facilitate political change. This national condition is perhaps demonstrated by the now-famous meme of Jim Crocamo, the 39 year old librarian from Queens, NY, who walked in the New York Anti-Trump rally carrying a sign that says “NOT USUALLY A SIGN GUY BUT GEEZ”[7]. The speed and vehemence with which many of these rallies have come together speak about how, in the face of a seemingly unbelievable victory for a man whose entire campaign is a discourse on hateful rhetoric, Americans have chosen civil disruption as a means to have their voices come to fore. Protests are, as they have been in historical moments like this, become the space from which and within which citizens can take part in the democratic process.

The slogans that we gave that day included “We reject/ the president-elect”, “No hate, no fear/ immigrants are welcome here”, “Education/ not deportation”, “This is what democracy looks like!”, “Pussy fights back”, and the succinct but proud declaration: “Not my president” among others. A personal favorite was the rhythmic “Hey hey/ ho ho/ Donald Trump has gotta go”, which is a repurposing of the half a century old “Hey hey/ ho ho/ LBJ has got to go”[8]. In choosing that slogan, my fellow students at Rutgers and I located ourselves in a much longer tradition of revolution that has raised its head whenever the times have demanded its presence, and that has always, through sustained effort, found a way to make progress towards the change it envisions.

I write this today, a day after Rutgers President Robert Barchi has promised that Rutgers would be a safe haven for all undocumented students after a student takeover of a Board of Governors meeting[9], and students in universities across the country have either declared themselves a ‘sanctuary campus’ or are working their way towards it. Sure, President Barchi has not officially adopted the moniker, and neither have a number of universities – but like the presence of the Trump supporters at the Rutgers Anti-Trump Rally, they only embolden us to work harder. During the rally on November 16th, Carlos Decena, an associate professor and chair of the Latino Studies program at Rutgers, had said that “We need to find ways to disagree, to vigorously engage, without holding our nose up and being obnoxious”[10]. I suppose we will have to do that every day till our message against the hateful turn in America’s politics is heard loud and clear.

– Anonymous

It is nearly a month after after the day of the election results. I am still a liberal brown female student with an F1 visa in Trump’s America. But I now have hope*.

*But am realistic enough to not feel safe enough to use my name. Ask me again in another year.

[1] Definition from Movimiento Cosecha’s Website: http://www.lahuelga.com/sanctuarycampus/

[2] From the Wikipedia page on Sanctuary Campus: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanctuary_campus

The Wikipedia page, interestingly, carries a photo of the Anti-Trump Protest March at Rutgers on the November 16th.

[3] From Movimiento Cosecha’s official website: http://www.lahuelga.com

[4] http://www.app.com/story/news/local/communitychange/2016/11/16/rutgers-students-peacefully-join-nationwide-protest-trump/94000728/

[5] Look up #HokKolorob if you are not sure what I am speaking of

[6] http://www.fox5ny.com/news/32842925-story

[7] A report on and a conversation with him can be found in this NY Magazine article: http://nymag.com/selectall/2016/11/not-usually-a-sign-guy-but-geez-protester-becomes-meme.html

[8] Used half a century ago, in student protests against President Lyndon B. Johnson.

[9] http://www.nj.com/education/2016/12/protesters_disrupt_rutgers_meeting_with_demands_fo.html

[10] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/nov/16/rutgers-students-protest-against-trump-deportation/

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