Blog Post

Crying in Front of My Class for the First Time Ever

As The Chronicle of Higher Education writes, Donald J. Trump’s surprise victory truly sends a shock through higher education. The Chronicle’s focus is more on the uncertainty of what Trump’s victory will mean for higher education broadly.

But for those of us who teach—today is a rough day in the classroom.

I started off my morning thinking, "I should be strong. Objective. I cannot forget that there may be Trump supporters in my classroom." But I couldn't.

I couldn't, as David O’Connell of Dickinson College expresses it, stay "neutral and objective” about the result of this election. For me, real lives and real people's existence is at stake—not just mine but many, many others as well.

I am so lucky to have brave and honest students. But I was still confronted by the tough question: How do I talk to them about this election?

We sat down in a circle in the classroom, and opened the cookies that I had brought to the room. I asked, "How are you feeling?" One of all my brilliant students asked me back: "How are YOU feeling?" I told them that I couldn't be a leader for them today but that I could speak about my experience and my thoughts. I talked about my fears as an international student, here on a student visa. I came out to them as queer and as someone who is well invested in my community, and told them about recent developments around gay marriage because of a vote in the Supreme Court; a court that will likely change for the worse in the next four years. And then I started crying.

They talked about feelings of fear on the subway as a young Asian man; fear of walking down the street as a young woman of Indian heritage. We used the words that were given to us, and the ones we thought we would be able to forget after this election—the language of the bully.

The students were quiet for long periods of our conversation—perhaps processing what happened last night, perhaps just feeling tired of it all, perhaps disagreeing. All emotions were appropriate in this space. Then we talked about closeted racism and hidden power structures that may have existed.

Our conversation led us to "What do we do now?" "You have to be the voice," one young woman of color said. "They won't listen to us. We're young, students, people of color. This is it. No one will listen to us if we raise our voices.”

My heart broke.

We just need to get through today, I said, thinking about my therapist’s words: You don’t need to accept power structures, just survive them.

We talked about social media, and the need for some of us to avoid triggers. Perhaps we need to stay off social media. Or, perhaps, they suggested, we can fill it with cute pictures of puppies. Our conversation took a different turn. We staged a puppy-off where the three students who had new puppies showed their pictures to the class, and we all got to relish in the cuteness of newly born dogs.

We took a communal deep breath together and left the classroom.

When one of the students left the classroom, she said: Do you want a hug? I hugged her.

When leaving the building, I ran into one of my former students. Without exchanging a word, she hugged me and tried to say something. But her voice broke down and she left me, once again heartbroken.

We have a hard day in front of us, but we will get through it. Let’s take a deep breath, and then—let our big feminist and anti-racist work begin.

This is from my Facebook page:

I just cried for the first time in front of my students. I love my friends who are brilliant teachers, listeners, and learners who have helped me come up with six things you can do in your classroom today that I have picked up from my friends and loved ones:

(1) Talk to your students and, most importantly, listen. "Just hold the space and let it be filled. No need to worry about bringing content.” (Hilarie Ashton) "Gather everyone in the space. Start with people saying what's on their minds. Tell them this is their space and invite them to lead the conversation. At this point it's probably mostly just a sharing of experiences/fears/feelings.” (Kate Bredeson) "I think you should listen. Listening is important.” (Jessica Cauttero)

(2) Create an art project — a video, a map out. "Artistry is crucial now.” (Bill Crouch)

(3) Jordan Cohen will have his students write a letter to their future child/niece/nephew: "What do you want them to know about what happened in the election of 2016? What do you hope the future will look like for them?"

(4) Write a quote on the board and have "having a conversation leading to the fundamental necessity of art as we forge the darkness and the peril together.” (Sean Fredric) — a good quote is this one from Bertolt Brecht: "In the dark times will there be singing? Yes. There will be singing about the dark times." (h/t Sean) + Erin Kaplan may have more Brecht quotes to add!

(5) Have a critical conversation: "What is the true meaning of "dialogue”? And how has the media ABANDONED this concept?” (Naraelle Hohensee and Jay Gipson-King) How did racist and (hetero)sexist structures play into the result of this election: How is it "shoring up THE establishment - straight, white, cis, male, etc.”? (Janet Werther)

(6) Have your students write their own concession speeches: "to instill hope, love and unity, and that the fight continues, now in our everyday actions to friends and foes.” (Vivianne Gillman and Chris Friend)

Talk with other teachers on social media (Twitter is good for this); a Teaching and Learning Center at your university may be organizing an event…

If you have more ideas — feel free to add them here! Take care, be as safe as you can, and please reach out to me if there’s anything I can do.


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