College hosts election dialogue

The Allegheny College Gateway and Sustained Dialogues, a newly-formed student group, held two events in Pelletier Library  starting at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 9, to facilitate a community dialogue for students and faculty and create meaningful discussion to process the results of the 2016 presidential election.

The first event—an informal gathering—was on the first floor of the library. Provost and Dean of the College Ron Cole began by addressing the group and thanking everyone for attending. Sustained Dialogues President Melissa Mattwig, ’17, handed out a list of general questions and a guideline for group norms in order for the event to run smoothly and achieve  a better understanding among students.

These are the moments that Allegheny needs to be together, regardless of who you voted for.

— James Mullen

The group norms provided to participants prior to the informal discussion asked participants not to talk over anyone else in the group, and encouraged participants to be understanding of others’ perceptions and opinions.

Representatives from the college administration, the political science department and the Office of Residence Life joined students in the informal discussion groups, which broke out into three sections to discuss various personal concerns regarding the election.

Milton Guevara, ’18, is a resident advisor who brought together his residents the previous night in order to follow the election results.

“I am interested in community justice, and I like to bring what I learn to my residents,” said Guevara.

One group of 11 gathered around the Center for Political Participation Office to discuss personal concerns. Several professors in the group spoke about the difficulty of granting students a space to speak about the election, when often the coursework contradicted what was going on in the media.

Chair of Political Science and Professor of Political Science Shannan Mattiace mentioned that she specifically had difficulty teaching her students the textbook’s understanding of immigration while what was occurring in the media contradicted what was taught.

Other professors noted an increasing number of students who visited their offices to address their concerns following the election.

There was a pervasive sense of fear and insecurity regarding the students’ responses to the election. The uncertainty of whether friends and family of students would be deported was a common theme.

This result was especially off-putting for a number of international students who felt that their presence in the U.S. was being threatened. Other concerns regarding the deportation of immigrants and the future rights for LGBTQ students were also discussed in the informal sessions.

As students and faculty gathered in the Pelletier Collaboratory at 7:30 p.m., Mattwig and Elijah Prince, ’18, discussed the history of Sustained Dialogues, which they said started in the 1990s.

“Sustained Dialogues creates safe spaces where people can come together, and people can be affected deeply enough to understand,” said Mattwig.

Prince then asked Allegheny College President James Mullen to address the audience.

“These are the moments that Allegheny needs to be together, regardless of who you voted for,” said Mullen.

Upon Mullen’s remarks, the club’s moderators proceeded to break off into several different groups and disperse themselves around the library.

The moderators began by asking the students how they generally felt, given the outcome of the election. There were multiple narratives regarding the safety of persons of color and the LGBTQ community.

An overwhelming majority of participants stated that they were relieved that they fit the profile of “privileged folks.” Most of these students admitted that the thought of walking downtown into the City of Meadville post-election made them feel uneasy and that they would not feel comfortable revealing their gender and sexual identities.

The moderators then asked if they could pull anything positive out of the election. At this time, the participants pulled together and proposed a “march against fear” to combat prejudice they said arose from the election.

The event ended with a collective de-briefing of what conversations took place during separate group discussions. Participants shared ideas, and a sign-up sheet was passed around to recruit students who would be interested in future sit-ins and protests.