Posted: December 5, 2016 at 9:50 pm
By Hannah Goetz, Clarissa Cottrill, Courtney Kramer
It’s been nearly a month since Donald J. Trump was elected President of the United States and minority leaders at West Virginia University are speaking out about what the future holds.
In the days following the election, President E. Gordon Gee released a statement calling for unity and tolerance, leaders from all corners of campus gathered for a unity circle and it seemed like progress could be made.
But as the candles went out, the transition to Trump’s White House became more real as the President-elect made cabinet picks that for some, reinforced the racial, religious tension that was spawned during campaign season.
Bonnie Brown, coordinator of the Native American studies program at WVU, has a long history as an advocate for Native people. She is a non-voting member of the National Congress of American Indians and says that the rights of Native people may be at risk.
“I’m keenly interested in protecting the rights of Native people,” she said. “I can only speak for myself and I would have to say based on his own public statements, I think this President-elect spells potential disaster for Native American rights.”
According to Brown, Trump was outspoken in his opposition to Native American gaming rights because he felt it was competition for his own businesses and economic gain. Brown says a major misconception about Native Americans and reservations is that there’s an abundance of casino money essentially giving Native people a free advantage.
“Let’s blow apart that stereotype that all tribes are rich and they all have big casinos and so on that’s not true,” she said. “Fewer than half [of tribes] have gaming enterprises and not all of those are profitable.”
Feeding the stigma against Native American gaming is just part of the potential danger that comes with a Trump presidency, Brown said.
“Because of the multiple bigoted, racist, ignorant, insensitive, sexist remarks that he has made on a public platform, there is nothing about this person’s public persona that leads me to think he will be respectful and fair and just in dealing with Native American tribes.
Sara Berzingi, the president of the WVU Muslim Students Association, says that persona has followed her and the local Muslim community since campaigning began.
“This entire election has had a significant impact on myself as well as the Muslim community here at WVU,” Berzingi said. “I think political commentators have described it best as one of the post decisive in our political history.”
The rhetoric throughout the campaign painted over minorities with a broad brush, and Muslims have been particularly affected, Berzingi said.
“It really exacerbated an anti-Muslim sentiment that has been prevalent since 9/11,” she said. “We’re seeing that play out in the aftermath of this election with an increase in hate crimes across the nation as well as on our campus.”
Perhaps what has been most unsettling to many minorities, including Berzingi, is what public precedent could come from the divisive comments and ideologies on which the Trump platform was built.
“I think that Donald Trump has unleashed a hatred that was dormant in our population for some time and seeing someone rise to power through being very openly hateful, I think that many others will be inspired to do the same,” she said.
A little a month is left until the controversial President-elect is sworn into office, and while the nation may be divided on his appeal, it is clear that minority leaders on WVU’s campus and beyond have real concerns about safety, representation and progress. According to Berzingi, moving forward could rely on collaboration and breaking through political and ideological divisions that have come out during this election.
“I think we have a lot to offer when we work together,” she said. “It’s incumbent upon us as the next generation of voters to really go out of our way to learn more about each other so that we don’t repeat some of the mistakes we’ve seen in 2016.”