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Election spurs political awareness in classrooms

The 2016 election in the United States made a historic impact on the country, especially to those who examine it closely.

Educators and students who study political science they knew from the start that this election would change things in the government; but most didn’t know was how much impact one person could have on the system.

Dr. Thomas Holyoke, a professor of political science believed the election would be just like any other.

“I thought the election of 2016 would unfold as many others have,” said Holyoke. “I never would have guessed that Donald Trump would have been the next American president.”

Along with Trump’s victory, Holyoke was surprised by the negative rhetoric between the candidates during the campaign. He saw efforts by Republicans to undermine the credibility of Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“In the end they [didn’t] turn up anything,” he said.

The way both candidates exchanged words with one another became hostile, but Holyoke was still surprised Trump pulled off a win.

During the election, his students began speaking about it more and more, due to what they saw in the media.

For most of last year Holyoke was accustomed to how the campaigns were running, but as the election neared, he started questioning the outcome. One moment where his students’ reactions surprised him was when the recording of Trump speaking negatively about women was leaked.

Holyoke said a lot of his students were unhappy with what Trump was saying, but there were some women who didn’t find it offensive.

“There were even women in the classroom that decided that this was bad, but it’s not going to decide [their] vote,” Holyoke said.

As Election Day drew closer, more students, conservative and liberal, began sharing their surprises.

“It consumed more class time getting into October and November,” Holyoke said, “Certainly after the election it consumed a lot of class time because it was astonishing and people wanted to talk about it.”

After Trump was elected, Holyoke knew that it was a shock to many, but it was also a learning experience for those studying politics.

“It was exciting in a odd sort of way,” Holyoke said. “Everyone was so astonished that you couldn’t go into a class on politics and not talk about this stuff.”

More of his class time was devoted to talking about the election results, which made a number of his students upset.

“What has happened teaches us a great deal on the American electorate and how surprising the electors can be,” Holyoke said. “Almost nobody saw this coming.”

The number of Democrats who had switched parties had grown and low voter turnout were large factors as to how the results were so unexpected.

“So I think how we teach about politics and the election may have to change a little bit,” Holyoke said. “We’re still trying to digest all of this.”

Moving forward, Holyoke sees the transition as something unlike anything he’s seen in the past. A lot has to do with how President Trump vocalizes what he believes without consideration from his staff.

“Whatever happens to wander into his head comes out of his finger through Twitter, and that’s a bit dangerous for the leader of the United States to be doing,” Holyoke said.

The way students study the presidency may have to change since Trump is doing a lot of things no other president has done, Holyoke said. There was also a shift when it comes to voter behavior.

He saw a large number of people stick with the same political candidate even after his past actions and future plans have been portrayed as very negative.

“I was surprised that so many voters could disassociate a man’s past history from the rhetoric he was going to do,” Holyoke said.

One problem he saw among the American people is the large divide between the left and the right.

“We can only succeed as a society when we have a lot of empathy and understanding of other people,” Holyoke said. “If we can’t determine what the common good even is, then you can’t make policies with the common good.”

Holyoke said, he believed that moving forward, the American people must try to have a better agreement on differences rather than becoming close-minded.

“As an educator, it’s not my job to just teach facts but to help people think, learn to listen and more critically understand the needs and concerns of other people,” Holyoke said.

Doug Hamilton, a senior political science major, grew up with an interest in politics. After studying for so many years, he believed the election was going to be “business as usual,” between two candidates with lots of political experience.

“Typically you spend years in politics before you elevate yourself to that position, and that was the expectation at that time,” Hamilton said.

He believes “philosophical” conversations could yield better election results.

“You didn’t know your fellow Americans as much as you thought the data told you,” Hamilton said.

That idea came when he was asked how he felt about the election being over.

“It was time to turn the the clock back,” Hamilton said. “It was shocking, but maybe it shouldn’t have been so shocking.”

Elizabeth Castillo, a junior political science major, holds a strong passion for civil rights. She hopes that her degree in political science can help her become an activist in communities she cares about.

“I want to be someone that knows and can help people understand our [political] process, so they can also fight,” Castillo said.

Throughout the election, it never came to her mind Trump would win the presidency.

“It was definitely made clear in our classes, in conversations amongst political science majors and non-[majors], wherever I talked about it, it was that Hillary Clinton will be our first woman president,” Castillo said.

After the election, Castillo felt upset that the election didn’t turn out the way she and her peers had anticipated.

“Everything was just thrown out the window,” Castillo said. “It didn’t make sense anymore.”

Although she was unhappy, she knew she had the right to stick up for her beliefs and for those she cares for. Castillo remembers fearing for her family members in the military after Trump was elected.

“It’s very scary to see someone that is a business man being in charge of our military,” Castillo said.

She will continue studying politics because she says that even though it’s constantly changing, it offers opportunities to gain more knowledge.

“Get involved. You have so much to fight for,” Castillo said. “This is the time to come together. All that negativity will divide us more.”