Shortly before the election results started to roll in Tuesday, the Pitzer College Student Senate promoted Pitzer Activities’ election night party on Facebook by proclaiming that there would be “a legendary balloon drop to celebrate the election of our next President!”
A few hours later, it was all over. The balloon drop never happened.
Earlier in the day, people filed quietly into Pomona College’s Edmunds Ballroom and came out wearing “I Voted” stickers. The Claremont chapter of the Young Progressive Democrats of America handed out voting guides on ballot measures, and the Red Cross held a blood drive. Facebook feeds were filled with posts urging people to fulfill a civic responsibility to vote and the occasional pantsuit selfie.
Few saw it coming.
“We all assumed Hillary would win so we thought it would be fun party, we’d just be drinking and watching the election,” said Gretchen Alexander SC ’19, who attended a watch party at a friend’s off-campus house.
It didn’t turn out that way.
“I don’t think I fully processed it until the next morning when I woke up and saw The New York Times, CNN, and then it was like, shit. This really happened. This isn’t just a joke anymore,” she said.
The initial exit polls appeared to verify the predictions of major poll aggregators who had given Clinton a probability of victory ranging from 71 percent (at FiveThirtyEight) to 98 percent (at the Huffington Post). However, the mood became tense as the early returns in several midwestern swing states were revealed to be closer than expected, and it transitioned to shock and despair as Trump pulled ahead.
Many students at the watching party in Pomona’s Doms Lounge hugged each other and cried, but John King continued crunching the numbers on CNN’s Magic Wall, and the numbers continued getting worse for Clinton. Some buried their faces in their hands. By the time CNN declared Trump the winner to grandiose music at 11:48pm, the room was nearly empty.
Grief turned into anger as students gathered on Pomona’s Marston Quad around midnight. Chants of “Fuck Trump!” broke out periodically, as did communal screams.
A surprise appearance of the sprinklers forced students onto the concrete in front of Bridges Auditorium, where a few set a large cutout of Trump’s face on fire near a bowl of Skittles, before a Campus Safety golf cart drove up with its horn blaring and extinguished the flames. One student performed Zoe Leonard’s poem “I Want a President” before collapsing on the steps in tears.
Alexandra D’Costa PO ‘20, who identifies as out of status, felt disheartened.
“You hold onto the American dream as long as you can, but after a while, it starts to get less and less tangible and you start to get a feeling of detachment,” she said.
Cam Bacca PO ‘19 woke up from nap around 8:30 “hoping that Hillary Clinton would pretty much be elected.”
“And I remember, I looked at my phone, and states were turning red. [I was] watching the map bleed,” Bacca said.
As a resident advisor, he emphasized the obligation he felt to support his residents.
“My door is open for any student who wants to come into my room to talk,” he said.
He also expressed relief to be in Claremont.
“I cannot imagine being that one queer boy sitting in Oklahoma right now, who just watched his state go red [in support of] a president who is so homophobic. …That just to me sounds so scarring.”
Some of the few Trump supporters on campus were pleased with the results.
Steven Glick PO ‘17, who wore a Fox News Campus Associate t-shirt on election night, said that he was “excited about some of the possibilities” of a Trump presidency, such as lower taxes and the potential for energy independence.
“For the next four years it’s going to be a slight change of direction,” he added.
“For many Trump supporters, myself included, his election represented the ultimate rejection of radical liberalism,” Glick wrote in a message to TSL.
Faculty also reacted.
“A majority of voters did not vote for Trump. A majority of young voters did not vote for Trump. The future does not belong to Trump. But we can’t wait for the future,” Pomona politics professor John Seery wrote in an email to TSL.
Students circulated a letter to Pomona Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum asking that classes be cancelled, but Dean of the College Audrey Bilger denied this request through an email to students the next morning. However, Feldblum wrote in an email to students that she sent a message to the faculty “asking them to consider the need for accommodations and flexibility,” and Associate Dean of Students Jan Collins-Eaglin offered to provide formal academic accommodations.
Some students also circulated a petition asking Pomona President David Oxtoby to declare the college a sanctuary center of higher education “committed to protecting the members of its community from unfair deportation, investigation, or other intimidation.”
Many classes on Wednesday had reduced attendance, and many student organizations cancelled previously scheduled events. Some professors chose to open up their classes as spaces for processing the results.
During one such session, hosted in history chair and professor Tomás F. Summer Sandoval Jr’s Chicano History course, students and faculty gave heartfelt impromptu speeches sharing their thoughts. Common themes included hurt and anger, but some students also expressed gratitude for the support that the community has provided them, including small acts such as a communal tissue box that one student brought. A small dog wandered between chairs, and an infant gurgled during the periods of silence in between speeches; both were unaware of the results.
Sandoval ended the session by advising people to “be with each other” and led the Chicano Unity Clap.
Administrators at all five colleges sent emails to their respective communities on Wednesday addressing the election results and the availability of resources for support.
“Many may be feeling particularly vulnerable and unsafe,” Harvey Mudd College President Maria Klawe wrote in an email to the school community. “Please reach out and support each other as we work through this challenging time.”
Scripps College President Lara Tiedens wrote a campus-wide email addressing the combination of “fear, anger, sadness, confusion, anxiety, hope, happiness, and many other emotions” that community members might experience and the importance of “focus[ing] on the community to which we belong, our shared values, and our caring for one another.”
Oxtoby sent an email to students, urging people to come together in support of each other. “On a day like this, the personal and the political cannot be separated,” he wrote.
Oxtoby and other Pomona administrators also put together an all-campus gathering on Marston Quad at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, during which Oxtoby gave a speech in which he said that he was “very disturbed by last night’s results” but that he was committed to supporting LGBTQ individuals, Muslims, persons of color, and undocumented/DACAmented students.
“I want all of our Dreamers to know: We support you, we believe in you, and we stand with you,” he said.
Oxtoby said that his actions were about supporting students, not about politics. “I don’t consider it taking a political stand. It’s taking a human stand,” he said in an interview with TSL.
Pitzer President Melvin Oliver urged students to channel their energy into activism in a speech he gave at a Pitzer community healing event on Wednesday in the Gold Student Center multipurpose room.
“Another time will come where we stop mourning, and figure out what we’re going to do,” he said. “We have to organize. We have to make the issues of opportunity, of equity, of equality resonate with people in their lived experience. We do that the Pitzer way, right? Dialogue, community, inquiry, action. We do that. We have to do that.”
Jorg Chisam-Majid PZ ‘20 spoke at the same event and gestured to the suspended balloons behind him.
“Don’t lose hope,” Chisam-Majid said. “Have hope so that, I don’t know, we can drop those balloons because I think that something even as small as that, it’s huge. So please, just don’t lose hope.”
Julia Thomas and Gabe Magee contributed reporting.