In the wise words of my dear friend, Ashley: If you are comparing 2016 to a regular election cycle and calling for others to be good sports, to calmly accept the results and move forward, please take a moment to listen and understand why this is traumatic for so many.
On Tuesday afternoon, I sat on a corner in New Orleans in broad daylight, sipping an IPA and writing a hopeful facebook post about the beauty of diversity and excitement for positive progress on the horizon. Moments after pressing “post” a man came up, grabbed me (by the arm, not the pussy thank goodness), and made disturbing comments until I yelled at him to let me go and other people took note. He responded by crossing the street and watching me (pretend to) work and ignore him for the next 20 minutes. Once he was out of sight, I walked back to my hotel as quickly as I could, constantly looking behind my back to make sure he wasn’t following me. Keys clenched in my fist, ready to fight. Sadly, this wasn’t anything new or unfamiliar to me or any other woman: My experiences dealing with unwanted encounters with men could fill pages and pages. A few hours after this frightening interaction, our country nominated a known misogynist, openly racist, accused rapist to be our next president.
Tuesday evening, I was at a gay bar watching the election unfold with LGBTQ folks and allies. We cried together as it became clear that hate was winning. Marriages, families, love, SAFETY, and rights at risk. Dreams shattered in a way that, as a straight cis-gendered woman, I couldn’t even fully comprehend. Still, my heart ached and I feared for my friends and the uncertain future they face simply because of who they love.
Wednesday morning the mood at the NAFSA conference was grim. Over 900 international educators who embrace cultural differences, work with people from around the world, and strive to promote peace everyday, walked around the cold conference center like zombies; drinking shitty coffee and trying to process the reality of the situation. Fluorescent lights flickered and anxiety ran high as we tried to process together and figure out how to best support and advocate for our students, friends, and loved ones – both legally and emotionally. Whispers of needing to expedite visas, comfort those too scared to leave their homes, immigration laws, and concern for the future of international education as a whole permeated the halls like a thick fog and weighed heavy on us all.
That night, the conference-wide reception was held at The Presbytère Museum in the heart of the French Quarter. There, we walked through the Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond exhibit. It is haunting tribute to one of one of the worst disasters in U.S. history and a heavy reminder of the marginalization that black people in this country experienced long before this election. This feeling of fear is nothing new to people of color, but it is sure to run deeper now that half of the country has voted in a man who has many supporters who no longer even attempt to hide their hatred and racism.
Despite my being a woman, I hold many privileges. As a result, I walk through life differently and with less difficulty than people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ folks, or the disabled. More than ever before, I am motivated to use that privilege to speak up for these populations, continue to advocate for women and survivors of sexual assault, and to encourage empathy among everyone I meet. To all of my students, loved ones, and strangers who are feeling that deep fear right now, please know that I see you, I ache for you, and I will keep working for progress.
I am scared. I am sad. But I am with you: Figurative keys clenched in my fist, ready to fight.