Tuesday night’s election sent America into a tailspin and left voters overwhelmed with a range of emotions, as Donald Trump was choosen by millions of voters to become the 45th President of the United States over his highly-qualified, much more experienced opponent Secretary Hillary Clinton.
ESSENCE headed down to Atlanta to join the ladies of Spelman College for their third Election Night Lock In & Watch Party, where a host of fabulously woke young Black women came together to celebrate the historic night and tune in as the election results were announced throughout the night. Hosted by the University’s Student Government Association, the event included several addresses by prestigious alumni, university administrators and student leaders, as well as a live broadcast from Atanta’s V-103 radio station. Students also enjoyed refreshments and were gifted with customized election-night paraphernalia bearing the Spelman name.
We sat down with three of the university’s student leaders just before the event began and they opened up about their election day experiences on campus, expectations for the incoming president and much more.
Speaking on the Election Day environment at Spelman, SGA co-director of Leadership and Civic Engagement Ashley Reid says she was elated to help lead students to the polls at the top of the afternoon.”We started out the day having a march to the polls for students,” Ashley told ESSENCE.
“So, at noon, we gathered students, the president and a few others on campus and we marched to the Spelman polling location with about 75 students. It was great to walk through the other AUC campuses and see members of our community with their stickers; some people joined us…it was just really exciting. The lines weren’t too long, the students were excited and for many of them, it was their first time voting. Overall, it was just a great moment to see how happy they were to receive their “I Voted” stickers and to excercise their right to vote for the first time.”
First-time voter and National Action Network Youth Director Mary Pat Hector made her way to the polls early, but says the significance of the experiece was just the same.
“I voted early,” Mary Pat said. “My experience through the entire process was that I was just excited. I felt like I knew I was making a difference. I kind of felt like since I didn’t have a chance to make history with President Obama’s election because I wasn’t old enough to vote yet, I knew that this would be a time I could really make a difference.” Most of all, it gave the class of 2019 SGA leader the opportunity to bring the Spelman motto to life. “At Spelman, our motto is, “You made a choice to change the world.” Voting in this election, I felt like I made that choice and it just feels good,” she continued. “Either way this goes, no matter who is President, I know I did my part.”
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Graduating senior and Political Science major Modester Kamupinda wasn’t able to vote, but says the election season has still been an unforgettable one for her.
“I’m an International student on an F-1 Visa so, I’m not eligible to vote but, it has been a fun experience watching the atmosphere here on campus during this election season,” Modester says. “I’ve also been very involved in the discussions taking place within the international circles on campus among other students like myself. Many people are just anxious about things like potential changes in the immigration policies that are obviously going to affect our stay here. To obtain a Visa when you’re outside of the United States is already a very difficult process and with all of these extreme-right policies that Donald Trump is advocating for, we can only pray that they don’t come true because that means it’ll be even more difficult living in the U.S. and coming to the U.S. as immigrants.”
For Spelman students as a whole, the most pressing concerns ahead of the election were as expected.
“A lot of students are concerned with things like student loans, the cost of college and student debt,” Ashley said. “If you start off your career sattled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt, how productive are you really going to be for the rest of your career? Also, healthcare issues. Making sure that, as students, we’re able to have access to sufficient healthcare options.”
Age and student status aside, Ashley also shared that many students just want to be able to trust that the elected president will remain true to the campaign values that won the support of voters in the first place. “I think the main issue students have expressed is trust when it comes to these politicians. With the way some of them flip flop on certain issues, a lot of the students are unsure whether or not they can believe that they’ll actually do what they say they will do from one day to the next. A year from now, they may change their positions once in office. So, some students feel like, ‘What am I really voting for?'”
The lack of concern for issues facing African-American communities within the realm of the election was a focal point for many Black voters. So what did one of the nation’s most prestigious HBCU student bodies think of Secretary Clinton’s proposed HBCU investment plan?
“I think we’re, first, happy that HBCUs are a topic and that we’re not being ignored in the education discussion,” Ashely noted. “Students have also been concerned about the idea of free college. For example, if prospective college students have the opportunity to receive two years free at a community college, students here are questioning whether or not that would affect enrollment rates at HBCUs, being that some of those initiatives are targeting the same pool of people. Also, just making sure that the money promised is being invested in the right places and making sure it’s accessible. It’s one thing to say, “I want to invest $25 billion in HBCUs,” but it’s another to make sure that it’s going where it’s needed. You can invest in schools but, if students still can afford to pay for them, then what’s the point?”
Secretary Clinton receiving the nomination for President was a proud moment for so many women across the country and for the ladies of Spelman, the pride ran deep.
“I think [Hillary receiving the nomination] is an example of the idea that you can’t be something you don’t see,” Ashley said. “If you don’t see somebody doing something you want to do, then you may not even know to aspire to do it. So, previous generations, they witnessed Shirley Chislom running for President, which was historic. Now, with our generation, we can see Hillary running for President and think, ‘Wow, I could be a Black woman in a few years running for President.’ So, I think that in itself is beautiful and amazing.”
For Modester, one of the most unforgettable things about Secretary Clinton’s campaign was the subtle physical transformation she underwent during the process and the volumes it spoke about how far we have to go as a country, given the fact that women often feel they have to sacrifice parts of their femininity to be taken seriously.
“I think it has inspired a lot of women across all races,” she says. “Just being a woman and being able to stand equal grounds with men. What has been most striking to me has been her transformation during this election. Looking back at Secretary Clinton before she started running for President, she presented a more feminine stance. As soon as she started running for President, she cut other hair short and she started dressing differently and trying to put out this masculine image that wasn’t there before. It showed me that, if you are planning to be a woman in power, sometimes it seems as if you have to sacrifice part of your identity and your femininity as if it’s a negative thing. You have to adopt a masculine hora to be taken seriously.”
Nevertheless, like so many women who supported the Democratic nominee, the ladies also stressed how inspiring it was to see the pride Secretary Clinton took in being a mother, wife and grandmother, — a quality the students saw as nod to her femininity in the most priceless way possible and one of many ways she represented the idea that women can do it all.
In response to whether or not they witnessed or experienced any of the effects of the widespread GOP voter suppression efforts targeting Black communities and women, Mary Pat revealed that it was a reality that hit close to home for her on election day.
“In the state of Georgia and predominantly in the African-American communities here, a lot of people did not know to stand and fight by asking questions at the polls when they were told that they were at the wrong polling locations,” she said. “I even called my dad when he told me to say, ‘Hey, you need to fight for your vote.’ But, unfortunately, not everyone has someone to do that, so there were many people that genuinely didn’t know that it wasn’t OK.”
And what’s the one thing the ladies want the incoming President to keep in mind as they take office?
“All Black lives matter,” Mary Pat said. “When you think about Black lives matter, the woman is often unthought about. So, realizing that intersectionality is real when you’re addressing issues impacting Black people or Black and brown bodies. It’s not just Black and brown men. You also have to incorporate the issues that are impacting women of color.”
Elaborating further on the importance of intersectionality, Ashley concluded that the incoming president should make it a point to consider the effects of crucial decision making in its’ entirety.
“A lot of times, we think of things like climate change, the economy and healthcare as separate issues, when, in reality, everything impacts everything else,” she said. “So just understanding that, for many people, all of these issues are compounded, which can make it so much harder for them to attain the American Dream. The candidate that wins really needs to understand that the decisions you make impact other decisions and those decisions impact real people. I’m Black but I’m also a woman and a daughter and a student; hopefully one day I’ll be a mother. So, all of the issues impact me and so many others on many different levels rather than just one. Consider your citizens in their entirety when you make decisions.”