November 13, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Collecting Emotions and Ourselves

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To the Editor:

My politics, like those of many academics, are liberal. On Wednesday, though, unlike some professors, I held my classes. I did so without thinking much. I was too shaky to think much, too shaky to stay at home alone.

I started crying as I walked to my first class. I was losing it. I hadn’t slept since before the election. To pull myself together, I ducked into a women’s bathroom, was wiping my face and blowing my nose with paper towels when a young woman, a student I didn’t know, said to me, “It’s going to be okay.” Then she said, “Let me hug you,” and I did. I was, and am, deeply grateful.

Then, in my classes, I told my students that I was not prepared, was not thinking clearly and I invited them to talk. And they did: they spoke openly, generously, searchingly. One student said that to see me in such a state (I was so obviously unglued) was helpful; that before my class, she’d found it uncomfortable trying to pretend everything was normal. And another shared the information that her parents support Trump, and — bravely and thoughtfully — she helped me and others in the class understand where her parents are coming from.

After my classes had ended, later in the day, I wondered about those students here who support the President elect. The majority of students here at Cornell seems to have supported Hillary Clinton — obviously, however, there must be students here who supported and support Trump. Amid all this tension, I’m wondering if these students now feel supported by their fellow students, by their professors, and by this University as a whole. I hope that they can.

It can be deeply unsettling, frightening even, to be surrounded by emotionally agitated people. Strong emotions can cloud the thoughts. And when we’re in a group, irrational emotions can gather momentum and force. I hope that all of us remember, and this is a reminder to myself as much as anyone: whenever we’re in a majority (and no matter where, no matter about what) we can’t allow our emotions — our own, or those around us — to escalate. We need to keep each other cool. We can’t risk becoming an angry crowd. We can’t become a combined force that intimidates or threatens any who stands apart. If our shock, sorrow and anger threatens our collective humanity, we perpetuate our shock, sorrow and anger. And, I believe, we give Trump an additional victory.

On Wednesday, I felt alone and frightened, and on campus I was comforted. I hope that any individual here who feels alone may also be comforted and embraced.

Prof. Joanie Mackowski, English