No matter what side of the political divide you’re on, most would agree that 2017 has been a roller coaster ride of a year so far. Every week – even every day – it seems there’s another shake-up in Washington, executive order issued, divisive bill proposed, or news story of discrimination and hate crime from around the country. Even though proFmagazine launched in mid-February – just over a month ago! – it seems a lot has already changed.
When we launched proF, one of our goals was to give voice to women in higher education, not just through proFiles and guest posts on our blog, but by sending out the occasional survey regarding topics in higher ed or the world at large. Our first survey, sent out in late January, was a simple one. “As we finish up our first month of 2017, we are not only adjusting to a new calendar year, but a new academic semester and a new US administration. What are you thinking about 2017 so far?” we asked. “How are you feeling? What are you struggling with? What is it you need?” These questions seemed especially pertinent at a time when many have admitted to being emotionally impacted by the outcome of the presidential election and fearful for the future.
Overall, we had 18 total responses to our first survey – not huge, but enough to get a general sense of where the readers of our fledgling publication might stand. (A few respondents’ answers are not included here, as they requested their answers not be shared.) All respondents focused their answers squarely on the country’s political climate, with a vast majority expressing feelings of worry or concern – about the direction of the country, the impact of the Trump administration on higher education, and about students’ wellbeing. Additionally, some offered ideas for ways to navigate these rough waters.
Feelings of Anxiety and Worry
Most of our survey respondents expressed some degree of worry related to the new presidential administration and its policies. “How am I feeling? Extremely nervous and anxious about the tone coming out of the White House,” one respondent stated, adding, “It's a frightening situation. I hope that all lawmakers will question and examine every move [Trump] makes, every change he wants to institute. To let him know that people are watching.” Another respondent, an administrator from Illinois, agreed. “I am greatly concerned about the actions of the new Trump administration and I feel, when taking into account history, if we are not careful, we could lose our democracy,” she said.
Others noted a sense of uncertainty, not knowing what to do amidst the changing atmosphere of the country. “There are so many damaging policies that may be enacted, and the feeling of lacking any real options to prevent many can be overpowering,” stated a faculty member from California. Another respondent agreed: “I am having a particularly hard time with understanding friends and co-workers who voted for Trump and are silent in regards to the Executive Orders that Trump has signed in the last week,” she said. “I hear and understand that we need to come together as a nation, but I don't know how…I would love to know how I should talk to these individuals without making a larger divide.”
Impact on Higher Education
A number of responses also expressed concerns about the impact of the new administration on higher education, as well as the emotional toll the election and subsequent policies have taken on students. An administrator in Oklahoma responded that she was worried about “impacts of [the] new administration on trends for grant and contract funding for higher education research and programs. Feeling anxious. Important programs being cut.” She also suggested that universities “need a forum to discuss issues,” particularly “negative impacts to women and minority populations.”
Another respondent, a faculty member also from Oklahoma, noted the detrimental effects of “hyper-partisanship” and “lack of knowledge in the electorate,” explaining, “I am struggling with the lack of civic knowledge and practice in the electorate and my students particularly. I believe lack of knowledge of the process has eroded trust and belief, and I am unsure, other than supplying information, working through critical thinking, and aiding students in recognizing valid sources, how to combat this anarchic sentiment.”
Other respondents also spoke of working with students during this difficult time. “I am concerned for my students,” wrote the administrator from Illinois. “There is growing panic among them. I am listening to their anxiety and having conversations about what can be done daily. They have only known Obama as president.” Like the previous respondent, she admitted that it’s difficult to know how to help students in this climate. “Some days I feel in a panic myself, and I can remember Richard Nixon!” she said.
Some of our readers focused on what they’re currently doing to combat these feelings, and what they’d like to see happen in this rocky year. A second respondent from Illinois wrote positively of her work with students. “I'm doing a lot of support work with students, helping them to find a balance between school, work, and social justice activism,” she said. “It's making me think hard, in turn, about boundaries, time management, and mentoring, and finding my own balance there.” Another respondent spoke with similar reflectiveness about avoiding distractions, writing, “I’m thinking about emotional baiting and the joy of resisting it. I’m thinking I can still focus on being driven, effective, and weird.”
Other readers focused on what they saw as a larger-scale fight. “What do I need? I need to see legislators stand up to him, to not make it easy for Trump to just steamroll ahead on this path he's taking,” one reader said. “I need to see change instituted with care and thought. I need to see my government take care of our seniors, our veterans, and our children. They are our past, present, and future. Without them, we would not be the country we are, the country we could be.”
How do we obtain this? One respondent saw hope in the recent protests around the country. “I think people actively getting out and fighting to keep that democracy will be a good exercise for us all,” she said. “Democracy is not a given.”
We like to extend a big thank you to all of our eloquent readers who participated in this first “proFasks” initiative. We’re planning on more survey questions in the future, from the serious and probing to the more lighthearted, and we hope you’ll be interested in participating! We will always keep your name anonymous, and it is optional to provide your location. In the meantime, we’d love to know what topics you’d like to see explored on proFasks. If you have an idea, please let us know in the comments!