fb-pixel Skip to main content

Some college students fear Trump presidency

<?EM-dummyText [Drophead goes here] ?>

Harvard student Nada Attia, a 17-year-old from North Dakota, said it’s important for students to begin a dialogue now before Donald Trump begins his presidency.
Harvard student Nada Attia, a 17-year-old from North Dakota, said it’s important for students to begin a dialogue now before Donald Trump begins his presidency.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Undocumented college students fear a president who has threatened to deport millions of illegal immigrants. University administrators worry about possible reductions in federal research money, particularly for climate change studies.

Others are concerned that painstaking efforts to curb campus sexual assault could be reversed and also predict that for-profit colleges will flourish.

Donald Trump's election has rattled colleges around the country. Interviews with Boston-area college students, professors, and administrators reflect unease about a president-elect who has so far offered vague or conflicting statements on his plans for higher education.

"The big challenge is that the Trump campaign didn't lay out an extensive agenda on higher education, so we're piecing together things that were said in debates and excerpts in speeches," said Michael Armini, Northeastern's senior vice president for external affairs.

Advertisement



Yet Trump has been more explicit about immigrants and minorities, whom he and his supporters have repeatedly disparaged. That has created palpable fear among foreign students, Muslims, blacks, and people who identify as LGBTQ.

Also cause for concern on campuses, Trump has called the Black Lives Matter movement divisive and offered support for "stop and frisk" police tactics.

"A lot of people kind of don't know how to feel or how to go forward," said Harvard College junior Emma Keteku, 20, who is African-American.

"The black community at Boston University in general is very scared," added Rachel Edwards, 18, a freshman at BU. "The next four years will be very hard. Everything is unpredictable."

A Muslim student said he is scared less by Trump's disparaging comments about Muslims — whom he has portrayed as security threats — and more because so many people voted for a person who said such things.

"It's solidified my belief that as a person, as an American, as a Muslim-American, that I need to make my mark," said Farhan Hoodbhoy, a BU freshman from Atlanta who said he wants to run for office one day.

Advertisement



Yet despite the uncertainty, many students want to get to know classmates who voted for Trump.

They wonder whether they unknowingly discouraged them from sharing their opinions before the election.

"It's important to create a dialogue now," said Nada Attia,17, a Harvard freshman from Fargo, N.D. She said students should be "starting conversations with those people, instead of sort of shutting them down."

Trump's impact on higher education could be greater in Boston because so many international students study here. Massachusetts ranks fourth among states in the number of foreign students, with 60,000. Most are from China.

Universities routinely welcome visiting scholars from abroad and pride themselves for attracting faculty from around the world.

A quarter of MIT professors are permanent US residents but not citizens, and 16 percent of assistant professors are international, according to university data.

Forty-three percent of MIT graduate students are from other countries.

Although those students and professors live here legally, Trump has reiterated his plan to toughen immigration laws, a step that could endanger the international flow of students and faculty.

Northeastern operates student internship programs in more than 100 countries including Cuba, where Trump could reverse President Obama's recent work to normalize relations. The university also has 11,700 international students on its Huntington Avenue campus.

Funding on climate change

Colleges in Boston, particularly MIT, lead the nation in climate change research.

Students wrote messages on paper posted to columns at MIT’s Lobby 7.
Students wrote messages on paper posted to columns at MIT’s Lobby 7.David L. Ryan

Kerry Emanuel, an MIT professor who studies atmospheric science, said congressional Republicans have already cut funding for this sector in recent years.

Advertisement



"I fear that that's just going to get worse now," he said last week in a phone interview.

Trump has called human-caused climate change a hoax and said he plans to quit an international agreement to fight global warming. He chose a man to lead his transition team on the environment who denies that climate change is happening.

"If there's a belief that climate change is a hoax, then there's a real concern that that funding could go down," said Armini, at Northeastern, which runs a center in Nahant that studies climate change and sustainability.

Emanuel said older scientists might retire early, students might rethink a career in the field, and researchers might get fewer federal grants.

Boston University undergraduate Erica Broderhausen spent the summer studying erosion in marshes and hopes to become an ecology researcher. She's listening closely to Trump.

"It's discouraging for somebody like me because that's something I want to go into," she said.

On the other hand, the new president's promises to fight terrorist groups like ISIS could lead to more money for cybersecurity research and other Department of Defense research, college officials said.

Concerns on sexual assault

Colleges' response to campus sexual assault is another matter that could change under Trump.

The Obama administration in particular strengthened campus sexual assault policies, said Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center, which works with schools to prevent and address sexual assault.

Advertisement



Schools have been forced to report sexual assault incidents with more transparency and bolster resources available to victims. Many have improved their policies for handling allegations, and students have become more confident filing complaints against schools that don't.

But with a president who has been accused of groping women without their consent, advocates say they are worried. The national Republican Party platform calls for law enforcement authorities, rather than colleges, to investigate allegations of sexual assault, which would mean a scaling-back of regulations that Obama officials worked to strengthen.

"This is a very uncertain time in the anti-sexual-assault world. There are obvious concerns and his comments are disturbing," said Anna Voremberg, managing director at End Rape on Campus, a national anti-sexual-assault organization.

“A lot of people kind of don’t know how to feel or how to go forward,” Harvard College junior Emma Keteku said.
“A lot of people kind of don’t know how to feel or how to go forward,” Harvard College junior Emma Keteku said.David L. Ryan
For-profit colleges

The Obama administration cracked down on for-profit schools, such as the Corinthian Colleges, accusing them of preying on low-income students and profiting off federal student loans. Trump, however, founded the for-profit Trump University, and experts worry the industry could surge again.

"We absolutely have concerns," said Abby Shafroth, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center in Boston, which helps victims of predatory for-profit schools.

A class-action fraud lawsuit was filed in 2013 against Trump University claiming it defrauded students out of $40 million in course fees. His lawyers have moved to settle the suit or delay it until after Trump's inauguration.

Trump has also talked about repealing the Dodd-Frank law that established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a government agency that helps students who are victims of for-profit colleges get relief, according to Shafroth.

Advertisement



On the other hand, she said, Republicans could decide to crack down further on the schools because they are heavily subsidized by tax dollars, in the form of federal student loans.

"That's a straight government subsidy issue," Shafroth said.

In the face of so much uncertainty, local college presidents sent out heartening messages of comfort.

"I saw fear, distress, and trepidation about our nation's future,'' David P. Nelson, president at MassArt in Boston, wrote in an e-mail to students last week. "This was so striking that I carved out time during the afternoon to walk the campus and check in on students, staff, and faculty."

Schools offered counselors, cookies, and mindfulness activities.

At MIT, students shared their hopes and fears on giant sheets of paper wrapped around the giant columns in Lobby 7. President L. Rafael Reif said that nearly every message expressed some kind of pain.

"MIT is a quintessential expression of America at its best," he wrote in an e-mail to students. "Bold, optimistic, and focused on inventing the future. Delighted and energized by our diversity, with a meritocratic openness to talent, culture, and ideas from anywhere."

Robert Onidi wrote a note on one of the posters placed on columns in MIT’s Lobby 7.
Robert Onidi wrote a note on one of the posters placed on columns in MIT’s Lobby 7.David L. Ryan

Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz