Why I Postponed the Exam Following the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

Rashawn Ray, University of Maryland, @SociologistRay

Following the 2016 U.S. presidential election of Donald Trump, I decided to postpone the exam in my race course and alter the syllabus in my social psychology course after consulting with several colleagues. While some students were thrilled with the outcome (such as the one who wore a Make America Great Again hat to class or the one who yelled out MAGA the day of the election), I received emails from many students who felt “horrified” and “completely sick, exhausted, disheartened and afraid” about what a Trump administration may mean for their intersectional and marginalized identities. One student stated, “I don’t feel safe anymore, and I am legitimately scared for a lot of my friends whose identities have been attacked by Donald Trump. I’ve cried countless times, and I’ve felt sick ever since I heard the news.”

I quickly assembled a lecture about why most polls did not correctly predict the election, how exit polls provide important insights about the sociodemographics of who voted for whom, and what sociological concepts discussed in class best explain the election. I also had students write 250- to 500-word reflection statements (op-ed style) about why they think Trump won and Clinton lost, what theories and concepts best explain the election, and what they think a Trump America will mean for their daily lives and the communities they live in.

During class, I read several of their reflections. I then showed them three graphs. First, I showed findings from an exit poll documenting that Trump won a majority of White voters as well as voters making $50,000 a year or more. This graph showed that White women were more likely to vote for Trump than Clinton. Second, I showed a graph from a NBC News exit poll that for many subgroups of White women, including protestants, Conservatives, and 45-64 year-olds, Trump won a majority. Finally, I showed a map of all the political districts across the country that had a higher percentage of Republican voters in 2016 than in 2012.

Regarding why Clinton lost, we discussed the concept of “doing gender” and how Trump was rewarded for his alleged leadership prowess, while Clinton was disliked and penalized for hers. Students also noted other concepts rooted in prejudice and racism that may explain the voting patterns of Whites. We also discussed voter suppression due to poll closures and strict voter ID regulations. This approach seemed to effectively help students process the election.

Something Big Happened

By delaying the exam, my students expressed an appreciation for acknowledging that something big happened on November 8, 2016, that will forever affect our daily lives. For those of us with marginalized identities, our subjugation may become even more legalized and normalized.

As scholars, we have an obligation to help students cope through understanding sociological phenomena in order to circumvent the competing curriculum of false news. As educators, we have to let students know that when equity is being vehemently pursued, the most privileged perceive this pursuit as oppression. The election of Trump was a response to this perception. Yet, pursuing justice gets us closer to inalienable equity and we must forever pursue it.

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