This week saw the conclusion of a long and divisive election. The polls led many to believe Hillary Clinton would win. So, when America elected Donald Trump, it left many in a state of shock. For some, it was joy. For others, it was anxiety and reflection.
On MIT’s campus, students have created a space for their community to come together.
Just inside the university’s iconic Building 7 on Massachusetts Ave, there is a large atrium where six great columns stretch up to a large domed ceiling. After Donald Trump’s improbable victory, students wrapped those columns in huge sheets of paper.
On three columns, they wrote: 'Share Your Hopes.' And on the other three, they wrote: 'Share Your Fears.' And then, they left a box of markers.
It wasn’t long before the sheets were filled with notes scribbled in many different languages. There were famous quotes and personal confessions. There were pleas for understanding and calls for action.
In thick red marker one statement read: “Don’t wallow in the regrets of WHAT IF. Drown in the potential of WHAT NOW?”
Another said, “I hope this moves us.”
Yet another: “I hope that amidst the pain we can all remain unbreakable and keep love stronger than anything else.”
“Who is the real Trump?”
“Marry me for Chinese citizenship.”
“We shall overcome. Again.”
People congregate around the columns, reading the passages and squeezing their notes into whatever space is left.
“I hope that I will still be able to pursue my goals and dreams and continue to feel welcome in this country,” wrote Walaa Alkhanaizi. She signed the note “Middle Eastern.”
Alkhanaizi is an international student in her second year as an undergraduate at MIT. She says she’s “had conversations with my friends, but I wanted to know what the general community felt. So, I came here to read.”
Alkhanaizi says she's fearful and that being surrounded by a community is reassuring.
“Americans are scared of not being accepted in America. Non-Americans are scared of not being accepted in America. People are worried about factions,” her voice trails off. “There’s just a lot of fear, and it’s very disheartening.”
But she says she finds it heartening that scribbled on these columns are lots of different opinions.
Rachel Kurchin, a PhD candidate in materials science, has also noticed the variety of perspectives.
"I am glad that it’s not only people who are upset who are writing,” Kurchin says. “One of the biggest things that we have to do is figure out how to talk to each other again.”
Standing by a ‘Share Your Fears’ column, she says she decided to share something personal that the election has evoked in her.
She wrote: “I’ve actually taken a self-esteem hit because so many of my friends have been cat-called or even worse. And I never have been.”
For Kurchin, the columns have been a reminder that people on both sides of the presidential election are hurting and that universities – which can often feel like liberal bastions – need to live up to their ideals of open discourse.
Before her, on a column labeled ‘Share Your Hopes’ is a statement written in bold blue marker: Trump will be a great president.
“People who have more conservative or right-leaning views often feel stifled on these campuses. And so, I am glad that - at least in these somewhat anonymous forums - they felt that they could come forward. And hopefully it will become less anonymous eventually,” said Kurchin.
Lauren Bustamante, a masters’ student, is standing nearby. She says she’s been wondering how to remain a proud American in a country that’s so divided.
But in this atrium, Bustamante says these big pieces of paper have helped her answer that question.
“It’s stuff like this that makes me proud.”