By Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado and Daniel Gligich
The inauguration of the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20 spurred millions to the streets in protest the following day.
For Fresno State history graduate student Zacarias Gonzalez, the move to action happened in the months leading up to Donald Trump’s presidency.
Gonzalez said the inauguration was just another reminder of a campaign filled with hatred from the start.
“Personally, I don’t feel the inauguration had any more significance than just his general campaign and just after he was actually elected on election night,” Gonzalez said on Saturday. “We are just ready to try and get students involved.”
Gonzalez is currently serving as the recruitment chair for the Chicano Latin American Studies Student Association (CLASSA). With Trump as the new president and who some view as unfriendly to ethnic groups, Gonzalez is reminded of an issue the ethnic studies program is seeing: low enrollment. Events organized by CLASSA also see little attendance, he said, adding there is a correlation between the new administration and the mood on campus.
“Apathy is our biggest opponent, it’s our biggest obstacle on campus and the community as well,” Gonzalez said. “The same apathy that allowed [Trump] to be elected president kind of runs rampant on our campus.”
Trump’s early controversies included using harsh language to describe some Mexican immigrants and Muslim Americans.
“He really set the tone when he first announced his campaign, vilifying not only Chicanos and Latinos, but undocumented people in this country,” Gonzalez said. “That is as personal as it gets for us because we all have family and friends and peers on campus who are undocumented and we saw the fear.”
Trump brushed off every critic with loyal supporters in tow, some calling themselves “the silent majority.”
“We are more determined than ever before,” Gonzalez said. “The fact that [Trump] is elected president and now that he’s been inaugurated, we feel like we have a fire under us.”
Gonzalez said the Trump Administration should not be taken lightly, saying “it would be ignorant to underestimate what he can actually do.”
Gonzalez cited the republican-controlled Congress and the anticipation of Trump appointing multiple Supreme Court justices. He believes those powers could derail progress made by previous administrations. Gonzalez added that control in the new government is coming from “not just conservatives, but at the moment there is a very small right-wing conservative movement that has come to power.”
The new challenge student leaders like Gonzalez now face is to resist decisions by the new government that “could really turn back the clock on the progress that we’ve made.”
Gabriela Encinas works with undocumented students as the coordinator of the Dream Success Center. The students she works with, who qualify for educational resources under the state’s Dream Act legislation, and who are also eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), currently have mixed feelings under Trump.
Some students are hopeful, optimistic and ready to move forward. Others are fearful and do not know what to expect. But overall, many are just confused, Encinas said.
Encinas said she was personally scared for the students she works with immediately after Trump was elected. She felt she needed to be prepared.
“I don’t want to cause any panic,” Encinas said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen and what to expect, so I feel that this is a time to be resilient, this is a time to be hopeful.”
Encinas said that the political rhetoric has mentioned nothing about the students’ future, which leaves them in a waiting game. However, she feels cautiously optimistic.
“The not knowing is what really has our students really scared and concerned,” Encinas said. “I wouldn’t say that we’ve eased up in our feelings, our fear – it’s just there, we’re in suspense right now, literally. If I could say anything, it’s we’re in suspense right now.”
Students like those who belong to the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender groups are also experiencing similar fears and confusion.
“Yes, there is [notable] fear, or nervousness across the campus,” Jessica Adams, coordinator of gender programs at Fresno State’s Cross Cultural and Gender Center said. “I’ve had a lot of interaction with the LGBT community, they have come to me with the most concerns.”
Adams said regardless of who is president, fears among different student groups are always there. But a slight uptick was noticed in the summer, when Trump was officially nominated as the GOP presidential candidate. Adams said most students fear for their personal safety after Trump promised during his campaign to create a registry for Muslims and deport undocumented immigrants. She added that the fears grow when racist people become more brave in public.
“We’re not starting from [square one], so that’s a good thing,” Adams said. “(Students) have to trust that we are going to be there and protect them. I will protect the students who are here when Trump is talking about deportations, when he’s talking about sexual harassment.”
Adams said the language used by the new president makes her angry. In her focus with women’s issues in a center that provides resources for about seven different student groups on campus, Adams said the topic of sexual assault on campus is something she feels is under a cloud of uncertainty after Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, couldn’t commit to continuing to fund resources for victims of campus sexual assault. The center currently employs a sexual assault victim advocate.
“The potential of losing our victim advocate on campus and losing Title IX funding have such a negative impact on campus for all victims,” Adams said. She added that while Fresno State may not experience extreme cases of sexual assault, they may still occur and the only thing that is uncertain is how the college addresses it.
Adams wishes the new administration was friendlier and would support all communities equally.
“If we want to represent what America is supposed to be, ‘home of the free’, then everybody needs to be treated equally,” Adams said. “If white folks are not willing to address their own privilege, even when they are president of the United States, nothing is going to change.”