By Noah Rosenberg
Special to the Mount Desert Islander
BAR HARBOR — It should come as no surprise that many of the progressive students, faculty and staff members that make up College of the Atlantic, one of the most politically-liberal bastions in Maine, were dumbfounded the morning after the 2016 presidential election.
Conservative Republican Donald Trump, who becomes the nation’s 45th president this Friday, won. Republican majorities were elected to both houses of Congress.
That electoral reversal from Democratic control of the White House, however, has not dampened the enthusiasm of folks at COA for the political challenges ahead.
“Post-election, I have been impressed how students overcame a heartbreaking defeat to continue to press on with their desire to change the world for the better,” said Jay Friedlander, professor of environmental and social sustainable business. “Since the election, I have worked with students in finding solutions to problems ranging from lack of awareness about Lyme disease to improving the income for subsistence farmers.”
Junior Hakim Mishkind recalls those first days after the election. He sensed a rededication to finding answers to humanity’s problems. “The ultimate question is the role that each of us is going to play in the healing of the nation and the healing of our communities,” he said.
“What was most important to me was actually what I saw after the election, our response has ultimately been a response of love, and that’s what gives me hope for this community, because we actually do act with more love instead of more hate.” Although some people in the campus community have reacted with anger or fear, the students, faculty and staff members who shared their feelings with the Islander ultimately had messages of hope and ambition, seeing and internalizing this moment in history as a call to action.
Few issues out of the hundreds that COA’s community continues to spotlight have been settled without controversy. Senior, Ursa Beckford said, “the more important conversations to be had are the ones where you’re met with opposition.”
“It’s important to talk about the issues in a way that’s inclusive to everyone. I want to talk about are the real issues … the Maine legislature is talking about whether or not to allow hedgehogs as pets. I think we should be talking about poverty.”
The election results have inspired students like freshman Mayah Murchison to try and build a more “well rooted community” between COA and the rest of MDI. Murchison and three other students run an action group that was formed after the election. The group received a lot of emails in response to their formation and was ultimately connected with Bar Harbor resident Milja Brecher-DeMuro.
Now, they are involved in the local effort to participate in the Women’s March on D.C. “It was so cool to see all these older people who were interested and engaged and excited about this. It was great to know that exists here.”
On the evening of Nov. 8, approximately 100 COA students gathered on the floors, tables and mezzanine level of the Thomas S. Gates Jr. Community Center to watch a live broadcasting of the election returns. “It was the most COA students I’d ever seen in a room together,” said Murchison. The event was put together by Professor Jamie Mckown, who at the time was teaching a political persuasion course.
Individual candidates aside, COA students saw their values and ideals at stake in this election. There was no shortage of powerful emotional reactions as it started to become clear which candidate was going to win. “There was a lot of crying, especially from people who felt more directly threatened. But what was most important to me is that some people were able to express that in the context of hope, they didn’t feel like it was just the end,” said Mishkind.
Some students just wanted to understand what persuaded people to vote the way they did. Among those was Beckford. “The overriding thought I was having was that there was something I didn’t understand about how people are feeling in this country and what can I do to make sure I don’t continue to make that mistake.”
The next morning, as students were just waking up and checking the election results, dining staff members Jennifer Czifrik, Lise Desrochers and Heather Halliday stood in the empty dining hall of Take-a-Break in tears. The three consoled one another, sharing an emotional moment between friends that they would soon see repeated by students many times that day.
“I couldn’t sleep that night so I was here pretty early,” Czifrik said.
McKown was impressed by the positive energy. “There were students who immediately began to pick up the pieces and organize meetings, listening sessions, support groups, activist training, etc,” he said.
“They worked to mobilize students to support each other and also to plan for ‘what’s next’ politically speaking. That process is still going on.”
Similar sentiment was shared by chemistry Lab Manager Cristy Benson. “It has been really great to see this community so energized in coming together,” she said.
Benson was energized by the election and has been regularly calling Sen. Susan Collins’ office to voice her opinions on the issues. “We need to keep letting them know that we care and we’re watching,” she said.
For some members of the community here at COA, the question of what to do now is still unclear, but their values and ambitions haven’t waivered. Sophomore Hannah Lafferty summed up her feelings in a sentiment the themes of which touch upon the foundation of beliefs at the college. “Increasing understanding and being kind to one another and just making a healthy and sustainable life possible for more people is more important now, more than ever.”