Liberal Column

SUNY-ESF administrators sufficient in addressing post-election social climate

/ The Daily Orange

Waking up Wednesday morning under the looming specter of a Donald Trump presidency, I was afraid for what the future held. But I soon realized as a heterosexual, white man from a middle-class family, I have not faced much in the way of discrimination in my life.

My own concerns are nothing compared to those who do not share their defining characteristics with the majority of Trump supporters nor myself — because they are not white, they are not men, they are not straight. Before and after Trump, my privilege is that I fit in. Unfortunately, many of my family and friends don’t have this same luck.

Over the past few days I have encountered this fear first-hand. I have heard from friends who have undocumented family members and are afraid their families will be torn apart. I have heard from minority students who fear for their own physical safety.

For this reason, it makes sense that colleges and universities across the United States are looking for ways to address the worries of students in a post-Trump world and the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry followed. And in this time of political upheaval, it’s important that college faculty, staff and administrators publicly show students that they have their back.

As a small school, SUNY-ESF prides itself on its sense of community between the students, faculty and staff. And as an SUNY-ESF student, I didn’t feel alone in the process of questioning my own privileges in light of the election results and trying to make sense of them. Despite the somber atmosphere on campus following the election, it was clear that the faculty and administration were plugged into the climate on campus.

SUNY-ESF President Quentin Wheeler and Vice Provost and Dean for Student Affairs Anne Lombard sent a joint email to the SUNY-ESF students the afternoon following Election Day. While the school cannot make an overtly political statement as a public college, the administration was smart in their call for unity while also telling students they should not be afraid to fight for what they believe in.

After acknowledging that community members may have been struggling to come to terms with election results, Wheeler and Lombard wrote, “This campaign season was among the most polarizing our nation has ever faced, and one anticipated consequence was that, regardless of the outcome after the votes were counted, a significant proportion of our community and our nation might feel disenfranchised and fearful.”

With SUNY-ESF’s inherent focus on environmental and climate issues, there is also concern for the future of the school and the field in “Trump’s America” — mainly because of the president-elect’s ignorance on climate change issues and disdain for environmental regulation. Research grants for faculty and students alike are up in the air.

Lombard forwarded an email from Eban Goodstein at Bard College, who is hosting a webinar with 350.org founder Bill McKibben to discuss what environmentally-focused schools such as SUNY-ESF can do to help the environment despite the anti-environmental rhetoric of a Trump presidency.

Even beyond messages from the administration, SUNY-ESF was quick to take action. The Undergraduate Student Association held open hours in its office Wednesday for any student who needed to talk. SUNY-ESF students themselves were some of the organizers of the candlelight vigil on Wednesday night outside of Hendricks Chapel.

By recognizing tension on campus, Wheeler and Lombard set the tone for the community to react positively and proactively. Not only did they point students toward resources such as SUNY-ESF’s Division of Student Affairs and Counseling Services, but they ultimately underscored the importance of respect on and off campus to help us find solutions.

“We must be united in our desire to move forward in a positive way,” the email read. “We must move onward and upward and work to find common ground, and that starts here at ESF with our classmates, professors, friends, staff members, and colleagues.”

Ben Taylor, president of the Undergraduate Student Association, echoed this sentiment and is confident that students can make their voices heard moving forward.

“We have to make sure that our elected representatives know that these issues are crucial and must be addressed,” said Taylor.

“We have to continue to listen and understand other points of view in order to inform our arguments and craft effective petitions, legislation, and speeches.”

With nationwide and local protests every day, it’s apparent that we live in times of ceaseless change — a rapidly shifting climate both environmentally and societally. As individuals, we are all grappling with different kinds of uncertainty for the next four years.

We may not have all the answers now, but I am thankful a community like SUNY-ESF does exist, where the focus of students on both science and society makes us acutely aware of the difficulties and necessity of progress.

Cole Jermyn is a sophomore environmental resource engineering major at SUNY-ESF. He can be reached at cdjermyn@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @Cjermyn8.

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