Community Responds to Presidential Election

Much of the country was glued to their screens Tuesday night as votes were counted in a tightly contested presidential election between the Republican incumbent, Donald J. Trump, and the Democratic challenger, Joseph R. Biden Jr.

As of 6 p.m. today, November 5, the winner of the presidential election is still unknown. Thousands of votes in crucial battleground states, such as Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Nevada, are still being counted. Yesterday, Biden won Wisconsin and Michigan, two states that Trump won in 2016. Meanwhile, Trump kept Texas, Florida, and Ohio, all states that were considered toss-ups. State election officials expect the ballot counting to be mostly completed by the weekend.  

In anticipation of the election, Felix Bao ’21, Ivy Bhandari ’21, and Max Grossman ’21, along with faculty members including Mr. Thomas Drake, director of the Center for Global Understanding and Independent Thinking, organized school-wide events centered on the Chicago Principles in order to foster an environment conducive to free and open discourse.

The Chicago Principles are a set of ideals drafted in 2014 by the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago to articulate the school’s commitment to freedom of expression. The principles emphasize that mutual respect should not prevent members of the community from expressing views that others may find disagreeable or offensive. This set of ideals originated from a 1902 statement made by William Rainey Harper, former president of the University of Chicago, in which he encouraged open inquiry and expression. Though the statement upholds open discourse, threats, harassment, defamation, and other language not protected by the First Amendment are not allowed. 

Bao, Bhandari, Grossman, Mr. Drake, and Dr. Rachel Myers, former dean of diversity and inclusion, attended the Freedom of Expression and Open Discourse in High School Conference at the University of Chicago in September last year. After returning, the participants worked to implement the principles before and after the presidential election. On October 26, the community watched The Social Dilemma, a documentary highlighting the dangerous impact of social media, and held advisory discussions. Mr. Drake said, “We’re committed to creating a space for open and free discourse. Over the past few months, the importance of the principles have only increased, as it has become more difficult to retain a position of open discourse and listening when it comes to sensitive political matters.”

 Yesterday, the day after the election, the school held a community-wide program concerning the presidential election. Mr. Drake invited Dr. Katie Fleishman, instructor in English, Charley Cooper ’90, chief communications officer at R3, and Adam Sharp ’96, president and CEO of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, as speakers at a panel on the election and civic engagement. The panel addressed the possible outcomes of the election, the influence of social media in politics, and opinions on the electoral college. After the discussion, students met in their advisory groups for further discussion of the panel and reflection on the election. 

Various clubs and affinity groups, such as the Hotchkiss Republicans, Democrats, Black and Hispanic Student Association (BaHSA), and Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) held meetings in the afternoon to give students a venue for discussing specific issues. Members of  Students for Environmental Action (SEA) debated the environment’s role in the election while the Asian American Association (Triple A) held a discussion about Asian-American voters’ preferences and the importance of civic engagement in the Asian-American community. Olivia Taylor ’22 said, “As a BIPOC identifying person, the election is really impactful for me and lots of other people. While we are in Connecticut, it doesn’t feel like it’s that big of a thing, but especially where I am from in Long Island, and New York in general, it is. Right now, my safety at the school is not threatened, but that could change depending on the election results.” 

Quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.