Commentary: Trump must denounce acts of violence and intimidation

By Taylor Hosking

In the wake of the Nov. 8 election, there has been an increase in the harassment of minorities on college campuses around the country - including at the University of Pennsylvania, the alma mater of President-elect Trump. These incidents have left communities reeling and they must be addressed in a more forceful way than the "Stop it" that Trump offered during his Nov. 13 interview on 60 Minutes.

On the Friday after the election, Penn's campus was still struggling to regain energy after days of half-full classrooms and delayed assignments. But that day many black students in the freshman class woke up to a virtual group chat that contained racial slurs, images of lynching, and the suggestions that daily lynchings would begin that day. The sender, now a former University of Oklahoma student, had access to students after being accepted at Penn and invited to join some social media groups.

As an African American senior at Penn, I felt the wave of shock that swept through the black community and the campus as a whole. I biked past news vans to an emergency town hall meeting with what must have been hundreds of students of color. Faculty, alumni, and, eventually, Penn President Amy Gutmann - all visibly shaken up and emotional - came out to show their support as well. The crowds became so big that Penn police had to usher us all to an alternate location. Some students ended the night with a rallying march, while others chose to gather with friends in various homes to digest recent events.

All of these efforts, of course, were not just to speak out against the incident, as important as that was. They were also about reassuring minorities of their post-election futures.

This targeting of black students at Penn and the anxiety surrounding it were part of a larger string of unsettling incidents in the Philadelphia area and on campuses across the country. Stories of vandalism started to appear, like the swastikas and Trump's name spray-painted on a city storefront, or the South Philly woman's car being keyed with a vulgar threat. At Villanova University, there was a report of a black female student being assaulted by a group of white men chanting "Trump, Trump, Trump."

Often these incidents of harassment and intimidation - presumably perpetrated by this "silent majority" who suprised everyone on Nov. 8 - are cloaked in a layer of anonymity, and that might be the most unnerving part. Obviously the perpetrators understand that their actions are unwelcome in the public sphere - and even illegal in some cases. They must also know that they are creating a feeling of uneasiness for minorities who fear that solidarity walks, giving out free food, and kind messages chalked onto buildings might not be enough to deter the threats they may face.

We've seen the tsunami of anxiety and outrage one determined person can cause. There's no telling how many of his determined followers surround us. Since hundreds of students of color could be targeted on a campus that is majority pro-Hillary Clinton in a pro-Clinton city, the landscape of safety has changed. Campuses are often more diverse than the segregated neighborhoods or high school environments students come from, and they tend to mirror, or even heighten, the tensions in society.

Trump and his fellow conservative political leaders must address these fears. They must speak out against the increasing harassment of minorities and women that has sprung up in the wake of his victory. Trump already has a poor track record for addressing such violence, as we saw with his reluctance to speak out against the brawls with protesters at his rallies. But now that he is president-elect, and it is time to bring the country together, it is up to him to reassure marginalized groups and quell the anger of his constituents.

There is no reason to think that the harassment and intimidation tactics against minorities will slow down. There was an increase in tensions in post-Brexit Britain, as well, and then-Prime Minister David Cameron spoke out against racially motivated threats and assaults. President-elect Trump must do the same.

If there is one thing I learned from the election, it's that people from across the political aisle barely speak to each other. In fact, they barely know anything about one another. So it's not enough for voices on the left to decry the harassment and intimidation of minorities. Conservative leaders must speak out as well. Ironically enough, it is their voices that might just be our best bet for effecting true change.

Taylor Hosking is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania and a former intern with the Inquirer Editorial Board. hoskingt@sas.upenn.edu