Last month, in response to President Trump’s executive order barring immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US, thousands of Americans from across the country took to the streets to protest against the order. The New School took part in this movement, as a number of students joined rallies at Union Square and Washington Square Park to not only express their disagreement with the ban, but to also create community and solidarity among those who are dissatisfied with President Trump and his views and plans for America.
However, protesting is not the only tool being used on campus to cope with the current political and social climate. A number of students found solace in what they saw as another form of activism: their religious faiths.
“Personally, I view faith as the gap between the world [as] you believe it can be and the reality of the world that is,” says Bentzion Goldman, a Parsons sophomore and practicing Jew. Goldman said his faith in the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, has taught him empathy and acceptance, traits that he said are what is needed most during this time.
“I think people need people. At a time where there can be divisiveness, people need to build relationships or dialogue,” he said.
For many students of faith like Goldman, religion has helped them find encouragement in dealing with the debates and public dissatisfaction over policy changes looming after the election of President Trump.
Samantha Roy, a Literary Studies senior and practicing Catholic at Lang, recalled her emotional and mental state the night of the election. She stayed in her room, far away from the television, as the results gave way to a Republican win. The next day she felt a tug inside.
“It was this very deep feeling of ‘I’m sad and I don’t really know what to do with it.’ It was like a weight sitting in the middle of my chest,” she said.
She decided to go to St. Francis Xavier Church. After sitting for a few minutes, she left with a feeling that she likes to label as “home.”
Roy feels that being at church brings both positive and negative emotions for her. “But that’s what things at home do sometimes,” she said. “Something about the creaky pews and the incense smell, even if it’s the musty church feeling smell… it’s like ‘Okay, I’m back. I’m 5 years old again and I’m in mass on Friday.’ It has that connotation of being comfortable and being familiar, more than anything.”
Roy said her presence in a church allowed her to feel safe and hopeful. “I sat there and felt a little okay in that I felt stilled. I went in there and knew I could be fine.”
Roy is not the only one who found shelter from the post-election climate through her faith. Kathryn McCauley, a Psychology major and senior at Lang, practices Nichiren Buddhism. Through Buddhism, she learned chants to a scripture known as the Gohonzon, that teaches followers to spread world peace through one’s own happiness. It also taught McCauley how to never give up.
“When I found out that Trump won the election in November, I felt really fucked up,” she said. “I was so angry and scared and I didn’t feel like I could ever chant again. I took a break.”
But after talking to friends within her Buddhist community, MaCauley felt the support she needed to try again. She said the continued practice gave her a common, structured goal that helped her see everything in a hopeful way.
“We believe in the inherent goodness of everyone, and that’s been really hard,” she added. “The [Buddhist] practice is that you can’t give up and it’s important for self-care. I need a way to rejuvenate, especially after protests. [Without Buddhism] I’d be burned out.”
Students of faith reiterated that, through religion, they have found hope and understanding. Faith also helps create community.
Dalia Elhassan, a Literary Studies major at Lang and a practicing Muslim, says community is what people need most during this time.
“If you do things as a community, the benefits and the rewards are so much more than if you decided to pray or fast by yourself,” she said. Elhassan emphasized that hope derived from her faith has played a large role in how she has coped with the last two weeks, since Trump’s travel ban was implemented.
“Regardless of how this ban affects me, it hasn’t taken away my faith,” she said. “This is nothing new. My faith isn’t the only one that has experienced this. We’ve been through this and we will get through this. It’s okay to feel vulnerable.”
Several students who voiced strong opposition to the travel ban also voiced discomfort with the fact that the ban gives explicit priority to Christians.
Some Christian students worry that the ban allows others to unfairly associate Christians with conservative Trump supporters, regardless of whether or not Christian individuals voted for or support Trump.
Leah (whose name has been changed to respect her request for anonymity), is Christian and a Fashion Design major at Parsons. She said that as a Christian, many of her political beliefs derive from that identity, but this election had her feeling stuck.
The morals and values of the Christian faith are often associated with the views of the Republican Party, but not all Christians are Republicans or agree with their politics, Leah said, noting that Christians are able to “feel different sides” of the political spectrum.
“It’s hard when I choose to believe in something that may make me look like I’m a Trump supporter. It’s a weird time for all of us no matter what your faith is,” she said, highlighting that her religious faith does not necessarily mirror her politics.
Students of faith expressed that, regardless of the current political and social climate, they have held onto their beliefs. Rather than turning away, their faith feels strengthened.
“The executive order also affects me in the sense that I’m a Sudanese Muslim who was born abroad but raised here my whole life so I’m unapologetically Muslim, Black, Arab, and an immigrant,” Elhassan added. “My presence in and consciousness of this country, as well as my joy, are acts of resistance.”
Illo: Alex Gilbeaux