Friday, November 11, 2016

Open Letter to the Trump Supporter Who Contacted Me About My Star Tribune Article

November 11, 2016

Dear Mr. [redacted],

Thank you for reading my essay in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about the challenges of teaching during this election. I appreciate you taking the time to reach out and express your views. Most of your e-mail explained why you are supporting Donald Trump for President, and I don’t think it would be productive for me to respond to your opinions on that matter (though I respect your right to believe whatever you want and vote accordingly).

However, I do want to engage with your claim that you are “99% sure” that despite my efforts to maintain a politically neutral persona in the classroom, my students knew that I would be voting for Hillary Clinton. I think you may be right, and I want to explore why.

It can’t be because of my race or gender, given that 53% of white women supported Trump. And it can’t be because of where I grew up and where my family resides – I’m from Missouri and still have family there, as well as in Florida and Arizona, all of which are red states. So what could have given me away? Let’s get to the bottom of this.

Given that I teach at a university, my students could probably guess that I myself hold a college degree, and indeed, it was non-college-educated voters that accounted for much of Trump’s base. So that could have been a clue, that as someone who is not just a product of higher education but also is dedicating their career to it might not support a candidate who appeals to uneducated voters and is being sued for creating a fraudulent for-profit “university.” 

Could it have been that I repeatedly encouraged them to exercise their right to vote and provided them with information about how and where to register? That might have indicated my leanings, since the Democrats historically are the party that tries to enfranchise voters and not suppress them by doing things like gutting the Voting Rights Act (which a Supreme Court with a conservative majority did in 2013). And since millennial voters did overwhelmingly vote for Clinton, one could argue that I assumed encouraging my students to vote would translate to a victory for Democrats.

Or maybe it's that I require them to cite their sources and only rely on credible information in their papers, since Trump proved in all three debates and countless interviews to have little regard for facts. For instance, he said crime in inner cities is up; it’s actually way down. His comments about late-term abortions were fraught with dangerous misinformation. There are many more examples I could cite. I teach my students information literacy and how to back up their arguments with actual evidence – an approach that seems completely at odds with President-elect Trump.

But now that I think about it, I think maybe I showed my hand on the very first day of the semester, when I didn’t cordon off a section of the classroom for the students who were “other” (and by other, I mean not white/straight/Christian/able-bodied/cisgender) and disrespect their personhood. Maybe that was when a collective lightbulb went off and they all realized Professor Vagnino does not support Donald Trump. And every day since that I have endeavored to move through the world as an articulate, intelligent, compassionate human being who cares about the welfare of others and the planet-- perhaps that tipped them off. When my students disagree with me or each other, I don’t threaten to put them in jail or deport them. I don’t even threaten to flunk them. My classroom is a safe and tolerant space, and yes, there is a trigger warning in my syllabus since we cover some very sensitive topics that relate to our course theme of mental health.

So which of these things was the culprit? I guess we’ll never know. Maybe I just don't come across as a woman who would enjoy a non-consensual pussy grab. But I can see why you think it might have been apparent, my preference of one candidate over the other. And to that, I say: Guilty as charged.


Katie Vagnino


Steven Vagnino said...

This is why we are so damn proud of our daughter!

Anonymous said...

A wonder commentary! We were just "disowned" by a family member because they felt our support of Hillary was a direct affront to them and "disparaged" their family. Unbelievable.