Respectability politics necessary for progress

Two weeks have gone by since Election Day and it doesn’t take a sharp eye to see that Americans are still processing the fact that Donald Trump will be their next president. College campuses have become a stage for debates between Trump’s supporters and detractors that are beginning to take shape. At St. Olaf, multiple rallies were held to support those who are fearful and uncertain about how a Trump presidency will affect their lives. The St. Olaf administration sent out an email to students the day after the election, calling for respect for every student on campus, including the 10.33 percent who voted for Trump.

This action reflects the general opinion that fostering a sense of antipathy towards Trump supporters will only serve to deepen existing divisions. One could argue that the college administration was trying to establish a “middle ground” environment to facilitate discussion between these two sides in order to strengthen our flimsy sense of unity.

As an international student, I tried to understand the possible reasons that could have led over 10 percent of St. Olaf students to support Trump. Perhaps they were holding steadfastly to party lines. Maybe they felt disappointed by the policies passed under the Obama administration. Or maybe students who simply aren’t as progressive as the majority of the student body felt ostracized. The possibilities are endless, and there is no definitive answer.

I have already felt the repercussions of this election to some degree. There have been incidents of harassment of international students on campus, leading me to feel unsafe on the Hill for the very first time. The Trump administration also announced that they will be increasing scrutiny and placing quotas on people visiting the United States who are from predominantly Muslim countries. If these policies are implemented as he claims they will be, my parents could have a difficult time attending my graduation ceremony next year.

One could argue that these two examples are feeble, if not irrelevant. Nevertheless, since the examples affected me on a deeply personal level, I find it hard to show respect to any Trump supporters for the decision they made several weeks ago. It is already challenging enough for me as an international student to face issues of cultural appropriation on this campus, but now I am asked to show additional understanding and restraint to peers who voted for Trump. It is as if I have two different crosses on each of my shoulders.

But if I’m going to say that I still have a shred of basic human decency after this election, then the very least I can do is lend a hand to everyone on this campus, even to students with whom I deeply disagree. It is one thing to oppose the logic and rationale of these people, it is another to completely demonize them. Still, there is a lot of work to be done in order to bridge this division and earn genuine respect from students who are hurting.

I, for one, and many others as well, am tired of constantly having to take the helm and steer this community in the right direction. So I say to you, the 10 percent: Come forth and take this helm too, because it isn’t going to do us any good if your contributions are merely sticking Trump banners on your dorm room walls, ranting on social media or adding to already existing wounds.

Sam Pattinasarane ’17 ( is from Jakarta, Indonesia. He majors in Asian studies and political science.