I remember what it was like to be in college when Donald Trump was elected president of the United States in 2016.
To be one of, if not the only black person in the classroom. It takes a toll on you when you’re sitting in class and professors, as well as other students, dare to stare at you and wait for a response whenever they say something about poverty or gang violence in low-income neighborhoods. Sometimes it got to the point where I wanted to walk back to my dorm room and wrap myself in an abundance of blankets. Like other students of color who left a city to go to school in a rural area, I was forced to be the voice of the community I represented. Going to college in Vermont wasn’t easy.
When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, my college campus experienced a haunting atmosphere of silence. Not only were people shocked about the outcome of the presidency, but it was a bruise in the soul to minorities everywhere.
College campuses in predominantly white states, rural areas, and heavily Republican grounds, replaced their masks with the red hat with white lettering that read, “Make America Great Again” and claimed territory on places we considered safe.
During the night of the election, I heard several students yell in excitement that Trump had won. While numerous students walked back to their dorms with gloomy expressions, some cried tears for us all who were affected by the results.
I was in a state of disbelief myself. It was hard to sleep that night knowing all the progress we have made regarding resistance was all for nothing. In the face of this new-found president and his followers, we were, “liberal snowflakes,” “too sensitive,” and “consumers of fake news.”
Not only was he the man who was the new-found leader of the free world, but he also gave a huge middle finger in the face of democracy, feminists, members of the LGBTQ community, Mexicans, women, and Black people living in this country.
Trump is a former reality television star. One who got on the podium at his rally and said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters”.
We have black fathers serving life sentences over minor drug crimes. Black children and teenagers who once had hopes of becoming something more significant in life than another statistic, found themselves set back at this moment. Black children were taught not to imitate playing with guns, not even to make them with their fingers because it could be easily mistaken for a real one.
However, the president can openly say he could shoot someone at one of the busiest places in New York City and not lose a voter? There are innocent black men, women, children, and non-binary people who lost their lives for merely just living in Trump’s America.
During my junior year of college, in the era of Trump’s America, I found myself in a fit of rage I never experienced before. I walked around with a balled-up fist together with a piece of my cheek clenched between my rows of teeth almost every day.
The increase of MAGA hats alongside the ignorance that minority groups on campus had to face continued to bother me. People were deeply affected by the Trump presidency on campus, and the only thing the school did was host a day off from classes and replaced it with a sit-in. During the sit-in, faculty members, students, and fellow community members came to discuss how they felt about Trump winning the election as well as what that meant for the communities that were affected. The majority of the students that showed their faces there cried and were comforted by the support that blanketed around them during this dystopic time.
Being that I was on the lacrosse team throughout my entire four years of college, I had several teammates who were Trump supporters. Only one wore the hat and claimed he wore it, “as a joke,” but there was no way he would wear it as a joke being that he heard the struggles as well as how uncomfortable it made me feel. Truthfully, it was a slap in the face to me.
However, it also wouldn’t be the first time where I addressed this concern to not only him but to several members of the team who heard me complain about the racism that I endured throughout each season.
Being that most of our games were in the states of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, it was incredibly easy for this specific player as well as my other teammates to hear the ignorance other teams would direct at me during away games. The majority of it was incredibly racist. A lot of it was monkey sounds and gestures of them scratching underneath their arms. Often, it was the constant usage of the n-word shouted at me not only by players on the opposing team but some of the fans that attended the games.
One of the most memorable games that I played back in college was when we traveled to Husson University during my junior year. Before every sports game, the announcer says, “The NCAA will not tolerate any harmful, racist, or bigoted comments directed at anyone.”
Well, throughout that Husson University game, I was consistently the target of racist comments by the fans who were in attendance. Usually, I can shut out the outside noise from the fans but, during that game, the fans were so close to the actual field of play, I heard their words the entire game. As I approached their sideline to scoop the ball or when I ran the ball down the sideline, I was consistently called, “nigger” by a group of ignorant fools. One of which wore the MAGA hat. He directed the most hate towards me.
As the game progressed, I wore the words he said like ink on paper. It began to soak into my skin, becoming permanent and affecting my thought process, and a new level of anger I never experienced took over me.
“What do I do?” I continued to ask myself during that game.
Like any sensible person in that situation, I told the referee that I was the target of these guys’ racist jokes. One referee looked directly in my face and told me, “Ignore them. Don’t worry about it.” The announcer who sat at the table looked through me, not at me, and sort of brushed me away. The levels of disrespect I felt that day made me feel inferior to those around me. My emotions weren’t cared for by the people who set the rules in place nor did they do anything to prevent me from hearing those comments from the same group. I was supposed to suck it up and continue playing.
Outside of sports and back on my college campus in Vermont, several minority groups addressed their frustration at the school regarding the safety of Black people, Mexicans, women, and members of the LGBTQ community. At my school, we had campus security who was useless unless someone came to unlock your dorm room building or to provide stimulating conversation when you were up late.
During the first year of Trump’s presidency, several students addressed the fear they felt on campus once Trump was elected. It was as if we were no longer living on the haven that we believed campus to be. We were living in the dystopia where our feelings weren’t cared for by the masses. Black students were getting told to, “Get out of Vermont” by people in town. Some black students even had racial slurs directed at them on campus and had jokes about their safety be laughed about by students on campus as well as by the townies who resided outside in their pick-up trucks on the side of the gas station parking lot. These disgusting men would blurt racist and sexist comments to fellow college students.
During my last semester, numerous students and I all ranging from diverse activist groups on campus sat down and spoke about things that happened to us. Although most of it was complaints about how we felt once we stepped foot off campus, a lot of it was stuff that campus security and the school could do a better job of in the future.
Some students were being racially targeted and followed throughout stores, accused of stealing grocery items at the local grocery store, and even getting asked ridiculous questions by townies. Many students explained how Trump’s comments about Mexicans derailed them severely that they felt uncomfortable shopping at the grocery store in town.
Being that Trump’s followers take most of the words he says and believe it to be true, Mexican students at my college had a hard time going to the grocery store. There was an instance where a student from my school was receiving bad looks from an entire family inside of the grocery store to the point where the family waited in the parking lot for her to continue intimidating her. This level of fear should not be something that anybody living in the United States must face.
Over this past year, there was a club on campus that was a safe space. We used it to tell our stories of hurt and to empathize with one another. Through the tears in which we all cried together due to the injustices and unfair treatment we all encountered, we wrapped ourselves in the blanket of resistance. We didn’t have to go through this pain alone when we had each other. All the racist comments we wore on our skin washed off when we cried tears together and spoke about the pain we felt. It was something that we as minorities felt was needed on our college campus.
This was the reality of where we were as a country. Students on college campuses across the country developed safe spaces on their college. For some, it was the only way where their voices could be heard. Hopefully by fellow students who could empathize with them rather than judge them on their experiences.
At my college, we raised the Black Lives Matter flag on the flagpole to wave slightly beneath the American flag. This was a significant achievement for not only students of color but for other marginalized groups that were fighting for liberation as well. Although we received backlash from a few students, we ignored the hate they gave because by us raising our flag other activist groups on campus began to increase their awareness on campus. The Black Lives Matter flag we hoisted up waves freely in small-town Vermont, letting it be known that black students on this campus will no longer be silenced.
Dominic Wright is a writer as well as a proud graduate of the English program at Green Mountain College. He lives in Queens, NY and is an advocate for black men seeking mental health treatment and deleting the stigma around it within the black community.