Responding to Donald Trump’s shocking presidential victory, several Cornell professors across departments cancelled class Wednesday, citing personal distress and concern for students’ emotional well-being.
Prof. Jane-Marie Law, Asian, Near Eastern and religious studies, said she cancelled her “Introduction to Japan and Religion” lecture, because she was “so upset and worried I would break down, thinking about how dangerous the move the American electorate — half of them — made last night is.”
Law said she was also concerned that the content of her lecture that day would not be appropriate following the outcome of the hateful rhetoric this election cycle.
“I was due to lecture on the collapse of master narratives and how in their place there are often radical ideologies, often spurred on and shaped by hate and xenophobia,” she said. “I just felt that I was not going to be able to present that material … in a way that was not heavily colored by the hatred, bigotry and xenophobia unleashed on our country last night and … in a way that would be calm.”
Law added that she invited students from her “Environmental Sustainability” class to meet at the Neville Center at the Cornell Botanic Gardens to “outsource caring for each other and ourselves to the beauty of our herb gardens, winter garden and wildflower garden.”
Prof. Mukoma Wa Ngugi, English, also cancelled his second class of the day, “Africa in Hollywood,” after recognizing that students in his first class were clearly distracted by the election results.
“We tried to discuss the day’s assignment but after a few minutes it occurred to me that they were feeling what I was feeling as well, that a seismic shift had happened in U.S. domestic and international politics — an earthquake was happening and there was no use carrying on as if it was business as usual,” he said.
Ngugi added that he did not want his class to prevent students from watching Hillary Clinton’s concession speech or Obama’s statement about the importance of a peaceful transition of power.
“I wanted for my students what I wanted for myself — to watch history that will adversely affect me and my family in real time; to be a witness,” he said.
Moving forward, this election will have a long-term effect on the learning environment in classrooms, according to Law.
“I think when you finally realize that people who support these kinds of violent and oppressive ideologies are amongst us, you feel that you have to move to a different register of language,” she said. “We are suddenly speaking a new form of language, with social cues and erasure and inclusion and exclusion being a nuanced and half conscious dance.”
Ngugi said he hopes the outcome of the election will create an opportunity to engage in more critical discourse with students.
“Ultimately we have to learn from each other,” he said. “I actually hope to have to more critical disagreement in class, because things matter and have consequences.”