What college presidents told students after the election

Not all presidents agree on best way to address campus

Are presidents obligated to remain non-partisan in the wake of the presidential election? Writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Audrey June shares views from both sides.

Campuses have been in turmoil since last week's election. Protests have broken out against President-elect Donald Trump, as has violence against minorities.

Many school presidents responded by reaching out to students through letters and speeches. In writing the messages, many presidents say they aimed to strike a difficult balance between reassuring students and staying politically neutral.

At Central Washington University, for instance, President James Gaudino says he struggled to write a message to his campus that emphasized the institution's commitment to keeping the students safe without making his political views explicit.

"I tried to be as nonpartisan as possible... I really just tried to focus it on the process and the rhetoric," Gaudino says.

According to June, post-election messages from school presidents have focused on:

  • Promoting free speech;
  • Assuring campus safety;
  • Urging civility on campus;
  • Acknowledging students' fears;
  • Condemning acts of intolerance;
  • Acknowledging intense emotions; and
  • Restating commitments to diversity and inclusion.

Some messages have received backlash from pro-Trump students, who say their presidents' comments promote anti-Trump sentiments and hatred toward Trump supporters.

3 things you can do now to support students after the election

At one university, conservative students are criticizing a letter from the president and responding to it with their own letter titled "#NotMyCampus."

And while many presidents are striving to remain non-partisan, others are embracing their political views and sharing them with students.

Michael Roth, the president of Wesleyan University, for example, openly criticized Trump throughout the election and has continued to do so in the wake of the results.

"I do have a platform through which I make a case for the values that I believe are central to the mission of our institution," Roth says. "I think it's an obligation of university leaders to speak out on issues in which they have a stake" (June, Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/16).

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