Tuesday, November 8, 2016, saw the election of a new president for the United States: Donald J. Trump. Normally a hub for diversity and inclusion, UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus was plagued with frustration and confusion over the direction of the country. Students around campus seemed desperate to get their stories out. These are their voices, unfiltered, recalling the day after the election.
Emily Montes: Senior
Every Wednesday and Friday, UNC-Chapel Hill senior Emily Montes gets into her gray 2009 Jetta and heads to work at 8:30 am. Her assignment on Wednesday, November 9th, came directly from her boss at World Relief, a refugee resettlement agency in Durham, North Carolina: Pick up a Muslim Iraqi family and take them to enroll in a work program.
Most days, Montes loves going to work. But this morning she felt sick with anxiety. She didn’t know how much longer her job would even exist, and more pressing was the fact that the fates of refugees she loved seemed desperately bleaker this morning.
She woke up this morning without enemies. But the family she was picking up woke up to realize that over 60 million people agree with someone who doesn’t want them in this country. A country they didn’t even necessarily want to come to. A country they already feel out of place in. A country that will never be home.
But the new president-elect proposed a pause in all legal immigration and paid special attention to immigrants coming from Muslim countries that he believes show signs of “sponsorship of terrorism.”
That includes people like the immigrants Montes works with.
“It’s not likely that the people already here would be deported, but it could stop others like them from being able to enter the country,” Montes said.
Montes and her coworkers’ jobs depend on immigration and support from the federal government, as World Relief is a government-funded agency.
But even if World Relief is forced to shut down, Montes and her coworkers will get other jobs. They all have college degrees and are American citizens.
However, the lives of refugees wanting to flee to the United States literally depend on Trump.
Most aspects of government operate on a system of checks and balances. However, the president of the United States has full power over the number of refugees that can enter the country, as well as which countries they are allowed to come from. He has advisers who will counsel him, but Trump makes the call. Trump writes the number.
Montes said Trump has made his points clear: Immigration is bad. Muslims are bad.
Montes tried to imagine what this family would ask her—an American, an intermediary they have come to trust—when she picked them up. She rehearsed answers to every possible scenario in her head. But nothing sounded right. Nothing made things OK.
How could she give them answers she didn’t even know? Yes, she’s part Hispanic, but she doesn’t look it. She’s an American citizen. She will never feel the sting of exclusion they do. She will never know.
Montes wanted to tell them it was going to be OK. But she wasn’t sure.
That has been the hardest part. She is going to be fine, but they likely aren’t. They are going to face opposition at every turn. And she had to face this that morning from the driver’s seat of her Jetta.
Montes pulled up to the apartment complex where many refugee families live. As the family piled into the car, she somberly awaited the worst.
She braced herself as they started down the road, waiting for them to bring up the election.
But they didn’t ask questions. They didn’t act angry or scared or offended, which Montes felt would’ve been completely justified.
They mostly just spoke of being surprised.
They were coming to a red light as the father turned to Montes to speak.
“You just have to have an open mind,” he said.
A chill swept Montes’ body.
This man who Trump categorized as someone to be feared was advocating for tolerance for a man who was intolerant of him. Instead, he opted for mercy—mercy for a man who didn’t want him here.
As they pulled away from the light, Montes learned once again why this election seemed to hurt so many hearts.
The man in her front seat, who her new president-elect flagged as a threat to the nation, had more compassion than she knew possible.
“That’s why I tell these stories to anyone who will listen,” Montes said. “This man’s ability to opt for mercy as opposed to judgment [is] a necessary attitude if we desire to move forward and be justice to a hurting world.”
Rand Khasawneh: Senior
What was supposed to be a birthday celebration, a celebration of life and beginnings, quickly turned into a wake.
UNC-Chapel Hill senior Rand Khasawneh and some of her friends had gathered just before midnight so they could surprise their friend at her apartment for her birthday. But when they opened the door, they found their friend in tears.
The friend, a Muslim like Khasawneh, had been tracking news of the election, and it was clear who was going to win. The realization that Donald Trump was going to be the new president of the United States was a concept that stunned and petrified her.
They all sat in the living room for hours, talking, crying, trying to comfort one another.
They eventually went to bed, preparing to face a new day and a new reality.
On February 10, 2015, three Muslim students from UNC-Chapel Hill were gunned down in their own home. A hate crime, it was called, in which a white man took the innocent lives of three of his Muslim neighbors.
“For me personally, and for a few other people that I talked to, the day after the election kind of felt similar to the day after the Chapel Hill shooting. It just felt very heavy,” Khasawneh said.
But like with the shooting, this election was fueled by a lot of hatred and lack of understanding. Both of these events, though, prompted acts of love in response to so much hatred.
“I think people in general were just nicer to each other and just kind of went out of their way to say like, ‘hey, you know, we’re all together,’” Khasawneh said. “I kind of thought people might be obnoxious, and I guess it does kind of come with being at UNC, but I actually felt the opposite.”
People across campus were reaching out to each other, in person, on social media, in group chats.
“It was very bittersweet. [The election] brought out a lot of good, and it brought out a lot of bad,” Khasawneh said.
Because she’s in Chapel Hill, which she sees as a “political bubble,” Khasawneh felt like she experienced more good than bad on that day. But one glimpse at Facebook reminded her that there were people all around her that supported Trump’s policies and ideals.
Khasawneh plans to apply to dental school after graduation, but this election has made her stop and consider where she’s going to apply.
Now she has to look at the location of a school as much as the school itself before deciding to apply. Her options are going to be limited.
“I don’t really know that that wasn’t already an issue before the election, but I think the election just kind of emphasized it,” Khasawneh said.
Low minority areas are simply not an option anymore.
“I’m not going to take that risk,” Khasawneh said. “I’m just not going to do it.”
Khasawneh believes that much of the reason she feels as safe as she does is because she lives in a place like Chapel Hill, with higher numbers of minorities and an overall more liberal population.
It’s hard for Khasawneh not to take the 60 million plus votes for Trump personally. Especially the percentage of those votes that were placed by people she knows and has interacted with.
“It’s insulting. It’s definitely offensive. It’s like, ‘Are you just that easily throwing me and whoever else under the bus?’” Khasawneh said. “Because [Trump] didn’t just insult Muslims. He insulted a whole slew of people. And actually it’s not even just insulting. It’s action.”
But Khasawneh can comprehend why some people would vote for Trump. A past high school teacher of hers, for example, voted for him because she has strong feelings about Hillary Clinton’s role in Benghazi because her son is in the military.
“I totally sympathize with that. It’s her son’s life,” Khasawneh said. “But everyone who voted for Trump can’t say something like that.”
And it’s those others that she worries about alongside Trump. It’s the people he’s appointing. It’s the fact that a Muslim registry would even be a topic of conversation.
Khasawneh uses the word “minuscule” to describe her personal troubles from facing occasional harassment for her religion. But the fears she has about what it may be like moving forward in post-election life are far from minuscule.
“Just because you don’t believe in a movement or you don’t believe in something that’s happening right now doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It just means either you don’t know enough about it or you don’t have to experience it,” Khasawneh said.
Devin Simpson: Senior
UNC-Chapel Hill senior Devin Simpson woke up at 5 am, unprompted by an alarm. She had tossed and turned all night and woke up nearly every hour.
She rolled over and looked at her phone.
“Hillary conceded,” a text on her phone from a friend told her.
Simpson was overcome with anger. She immediately got on Twitter, searching for explanations, for news, for anything that could help her understand.
She couldn’t go back to sleep. She stayed up all morning until it was time for her class in the business school, and then she got on the bus feeling utterly drained. She was numb.
But Simpson felt like everyone around her on campus felt the same way.
“You are surrounded by people who are feeling the repercussions of the results,” Simpson said. “Most people felt very weighted down. It wasn’t even just like, ‘oh, my candidate lost.’ People were very much confused and upset with the direction this country could be going.”
For Simpson, Chapel Hill is a safe space, and she doesn’t experience oppression as an African American woman nearly as often as she knows she could elsewhere.
But that’s the reason Simpson was crushed by the outcome of this election. Because her black brothers and sisters in other parts of the country will feel the fallout of this election even when she doesn’t.
Simpson has never worn sweatpants to class.
“I think when some people do it, it’s really fine, but I think when black students do it, you know there’s already the idea that black people are lazy,” Simpson said. “So I make sure I’m always dressed right before I go to class so the professors can’t think of me a certain way and so that I show I actually care about being there. It’s small, but as I get older, I pick up on those things.”
Simpson feels like this election forced her to vote for how she likes her racism: institutional or blatant.
“At the end of the day, do I think every president we’ve had has had great thoughts about black people or Muslims? No. I know they haven’t, right?” Simpson said. “But I think it’s the fact that I can confidently say that no other president would get on TV and make statements like Trump does.”
At least with other presidents and candidates, Simpson never felt like they were out to get certain groups of people. With Trump, she feels like that’s exactly what he’s doing.
“How can I be sure in the worst moments that he’ll actually fight for what’s right for me?” Simpson said.
Simpson realizes that Trump didn’t create racism in the United States.
“I think racism is very much like a disease in this country that spawns people like Donald Trump,” Simpson said. “But you don’t blame your sneezing for your cold, that doesn’t make sense. That division was already there.”
But the way Trump emboldens racists to speak and act out is what worries and bothers her.
“He reflects the general tone of America: racism, bigotry and hate,” Simpson said. “Everything he said is what people think, and I think he just gave it a platform. He gave it a voice and a figurehead.”
But Simpson’s not done fighting for what she believes is right.
“I don’t think that just because he won I have to accept it,” Simpson said. “I can still be angry. I can still be frustrated, and I don’t have to like it.”
Simpson doesn’t feel like there’s anything major she can do where she is right now. But she plans to start small, by speaking out and working to change stereotypes, one outfit at a time.
A huge thank you to Emily, Rand + Devin for being a part of this series.