Harvard Grad Students Faced 'Existential' Crisis of Sadness, Despair After Election

Resistance school kicks off: 'We're all woke'

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April 7, 2017

Graduate students at Harvard University said Donald Trump's presidential victory pushed them into an "existential" crisis of sadness and despair.

The "deep feeling" of misery led students to start a "resistance school," which kicked off at Harvard, Wednesday evening. Timothy McCarthy, a lecturer at the Kennedy School, taught the first course.

The first lecture covered all the favorite topics of the campus left, including anticolonialism, white privilege, intersectionality, and "allyship." McCarthy described Trump as a "devil" and said America was founded on the "callous slaughter of indigenous people," and the subjugation of every minority group from "queer folks" to the disabled.

"Around four in the morning we peeled ourselves off the couch, some of us off the floor," said Jasmine, a graduate student who introduced the course. "We took a deep breath, and we decided to head home and try to get just a couple hours of sleep after what had been a very long day. But we couldn't sleep. Like so many of you, my friends and I woke up on Nov. 9 just devastated."

"We couldn't shake this deep feeling, almost existential feeling, of sadness, of bewilderment, and of anger," she said.

Jasmine said the emotional night of Hillary Clinton's election loss led her and other graduate students to start the free online course.

"And like so many of you we turned to each other for direction," she said. "We began to meet weekly, in what really felt like therapy, and as we talked more it became very clear that we were mourning something much bigger than the presidency. We were mourning the upheaval against our core progressive values, an upheaval that started far before this past election."

She said the group is "not new to politics," and the "school" is full of organizers, campaign staffers, journalists, and activists. Twenty thousand people viewed the course online, she said.

"Now this country is going to be transformed, but it will not be transformed by an act of God, but by you and me," she said. "In that spirit our goal here at the resistance school is to help turn the embers of discouragement and despair into blazing fires of courageous words and courageous actions."

The "practical training" began with a nearly hour-long lecture from McCarthy, a self-described "middle-aged queer professor."

McCarthy refused to refer to Trump by name and began by attacking the president as a "racist," "sexist," and "greedy."

"The origin of the resistance school lies in the election on November 8 of 2016 of the 45th president of the United States," McCarthy began. "Henceforth in my talk at least referred to by his clearly preferred gender pronouns he, him, his, or simply, 45."

The three key points for the lecture were: "We need to claim our history," "We need to communicate our values," and "We need to change our world."

McCarthy said the tips would help fight against Trump and the "devils of our nation."

"I want to discuss with you three aspects of what I think is the work before us so that we may help move from a mode of resistance, which is a necessary response to the worst devils of our nation, to a renaissance of what President Abraham Lincoln once referred to as the better angels of our nature," he said. "We need to grow and swell the rank and file of the angels in America, precisely because the devils are hard at work. Believe me."

Later during the lecture McCarthy stressed avoiding "going low instead of high," if the left wants to "become better and effective communicators of our values."

McCarthy said America was founded as a "protest nation" for democratic values, but also criticized its founding.

"But the birth and life of this nation has also been fueled, founded, on the colonial settlement of indigenous lands and the callous slaughter of indigenous people, the wholesale enslavement and pervasive segregation of black people, and the sustained subjugation of women, workers, immigrants, and queer folks, the disabled, and a stunningly diverse array of other others," he said.

McCarthy cited two documents during the session, including the Declaration of Independence, of which he "hoped" the graduate students had heard before, and a "brilliant" essay on "reciprocal solidarity" of Black and Palestinian queer people.

"They wrote a brilliant piece about reciprocal solidarity, not just a one-way allyship where I come from my position of privilege or power or nonprivilege and nonpower and come to your movement to help you out, and sometimes to speak for you, but to think about the ways that we can check our own power and privilege and think about those things," McCarthy said when discussing the essay, written by Sa’ed Atshan and Darnell L. Moore.

McCarthy argued that "raced people," "gendered people," and "sexual people" could be in different income brackets.

"And I think their idea of reciprocal solidarity helps us to get out of the tired debate about whether it should be identity politics, race, gender, sexuality, or class, and to think about how these things operate together," he said. "How raced people and gendered people and sexual people experience class, too, maybe in different ways. And how people who might be of a certain kind of power and privilege in terms of race or gender might also experience class and might have reasons to be angry, too, and alienated because the economy ain't working for most of us, let's be honest."

McCarthy then stressed the need to "bridge-build between groups of people," citing a conversation he had with one of his students.

"I had a really interesting conversation yesterday with one of my students, an African-American man who said, 'You know I get tired sometimes when I'm talking to white folks about race. I hear their frustration because they don't want to be called racists, they don't like the words "white supremacy." But I also get frustrated when Google is free, that you're so frustrated by race.'"

"I love that," McCarthy said. "When Google is free."

McCarthy acknowledged that "building bridges" with Trump supporters would not be easy. Later in the talk he said religious conservatives define freedom as "freedom from homosexuals."

"Some of us need to go into what they're calling, 'Trump country,' and understand the white-working class," he said. "But some of them need to come to our bubbles and understand why Black Lives Matter, and why my husband and I deserve the right to marry and can still be Christian. We need to build bridges and cross boundaries in both directions. It's not for everybody. That work is hard."

McCarthy ended his talk by telling the students to stay "woke."

"We’re not just living in a moment of despair and of fear and of loathing and anger and alienation and prejudice and all of that," he said. "We’re living in a moment where we're alive. We're all woke. More than we were a little while ago."

Published under: College Campuses