Or Maybe I Woke Up on the Right Side of the Same Old Bed

The drive to campus this morning was blissful.

Last night, watching election results with colleagues, we compared our estimates of how many of our students voted. I extolled the virtues of my students, confident that at least 60 percent of them voted. And when I polled my first class, I happily found my guess was low. I gave them some praise - I didn't care who they voted for, I said, but I was proud of them for voting. Blissfully, I walked back to my office and prepared for the next class of the day.

Coming down the stairs on the way to my second class, I ran into my Dean who was beaming and asked, "Are you elated? I'm elated. I cried this morning when I listened to that speech again. I want to write all my professors who ever taught me any Civil Rights history. Aren't you elated?"

My Dean is effusive normally, but this was an entirely other level. This was Dean enthusiasm turned up to 11. And I was right there with her. I told her about my students voting, and that I felt like this is this generation's Kennedy moment. That I finally had an answer for a moment of history that I'd always remember that wasn't negative.

Then the conversation turned serious.

"It's a shame about what happened," she said.

Confused, I asked.

"About the graffiti," she said, with a sigh.

I didn't know about any graffiti, but it turns out someone on campus scrawled some ugly racial comments around campus. At least one piece of it was in an indelible form and required sand blasting to be removed, letting us know that Obama equals a racial slur. And in my second class, a student mentioned that there was evidently a Facebook stats flame war between Democrat and Republican student supporters.

A colleague reported later that a student in one of his classes said, "I'm tired of watching black people crying on TV just because a black man was elected President."

And another said a student told him of the graffiti, "It's just people expressing an opinion. What's the big deal?"

I've got some perspective on all this now, though for most of the evening, I and many of my colleagues were at wit's end. Evidently, we felt, we've failed in some truly fundamental way, not because of votes but because of a failure of empathy. It took me awhile to gain the perspective that my Dean had, able to keep that elation in the harsh light of our own campus events. Certainly, this election signaled that we've come a lot of metaphorical miles. But the morning after served as a reminder that we've got miles to go.

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4 Responses to “Or Maybe I Woke Up on the Right Side of the Same Old Bed”
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ash said...

damn, that is depressing.

trying to stay positive, i have to believe that an obama presidency will ultimately be a good thing for these students. part (though certainly not all) of the reason they lack empathy is because they have absolutely no experience with difference. i remember hearing a statistic that shocked me when i was there: the vast majority of the students came to the university from almost completely segregated schools; that is, the black students (you know, all six of them) came predominantly from all-black inner city schools, and most of the white students came from small towns where they went to mostly all-white schools. (that likely explains why, when surveyed, those same students consistently estimated that the percentage of black students at the university was 25% or more, instead of--what? like, 5% or less?)

i think the next 4-8 years is going to be a real eye-opener for them!

November 6, 2008 at 2:54 PM
Vienna said...

wow. that is depressing. i live in a red state and so have had this bizarre mix of overwhelming joy and depression at the same time. being surrounded by a population who not only voted the other direction but write/call in daily to explain how socialism has come to the states, how black people have nothing to justify their laziness since clearly "racism doesn't exist" and how "he isn't even really black" so people should stop their reverence.

sick sick sick. living in a university bubble doesn't quite buffer this reality. having kids brings it all home as well.

November 6, 2008 at 6:56 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

I held off on posting this, actually, because I didn't want to be the one who posted the first bring-down post following the election.

Ash, thanks for the reminder about demographics. Part of why it is distressing is that I feel like the university is starting to make its first inroads at getting more diverse.

I spent part of classtime today registering my disappointment with them today, particularly as one of my very bright students was engaging in some of the sniping. They at least seem to realize that they'd been petty, though I do still wish more could be done about the racism.

November 6, 2008 at 7:09 PM
bitternsweet said...

Oh goddamn. Too sad. I haven't yet had any experiences like that -- still walking on cloud 9 and feeling like maybe the future will be all rainbows and puppies. Your post reminds me why I DIDN'T ask my students about their voting -- because I didn't want to be told that they didn't vote, didn't care, etc. Let them keep those views to themselves and I can remain in my warm bubble of happiness a little bit longer.

November 6, 2008 at 8:41 PM