Students reflect on presidential election, share new perspectives

Students discuss their reactions to the recent presidential election in one-on-one setting

Alexandra Cline

On Jan. 19, a day before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Washington and Lee students had the opportunity to come together and reflect on the consequential election.

At a student-organized event, Coming to the Table, students shared their reactions to the current political environment–leaving out as much emotion as possible.

Bethany Reitsma, ‘20, signed up to attend the event.

“I didn’t vote because I was too young, but I had some great conversation about it since my table was split about half and half by candidate,” Reitsma said.

In helping facilitate the decisions, the Coming to the Table Steering Committee paired students by table based not only on their voting preferences, but also on the reason behind their choice.

Mason Grist, ‘18, is a member of the Steering Committee.

“We’ve heard a lot of discourse about the election, but I think the civil part has been left out of that,” Grist said. “We really tried to sit down and think about how we would match students together in a way that would create a conversation.”

To make the discussions as productive as possible, students were prompted to consider certain topics and to keep conversations close to them. The committee’s choice to structure the event in such a way was based largely on the central goal of putting policies–instead of passion–at the forefront.

“It wasn’t about changing people’s minds, but really starting a discussion,” Hailey Glick, ‘19, said. “It was interesting to cross the aisle a bit and speak to people who think differently.”

Glick felt the timing of the event was particularly suited to prevent emotions from hindering those discussions, even as protests over the election continue on a national scale.

Grist said that through this approach, students also would be less inclined to speak negatively about opposing groups when in such a personal setting.

“I saw a lot of people consumed by the election,” Grist said. “It was impassioned on both sides, and I think many felt as though they could say anything when supported by a big group. It was great to talk without the emotion here in what was in many ways a historic election.”

Grist said he was particularly pleased with what he considered to be personal reflection and a questioning of preconceived beliefs.

“There were a lot of pauses when everyone was talking,” Grist said. “People were asking ‘Why?’ a lot more, and I thought that was really great.”