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The Whitworthian

The Student News Site of Whitworth University

The Whitworthian

The Student News Site of Whitworth University

The Whitworthian

Leonard Oakland leads students in unity gathering after election

After the election results declaring Donald Trump the president-elect came out Nov. 9, many students were left feeling marginalized and defeated at best;  threatened and scared at worst.

Junior Ryan Karpenko had coffee with English professor Leonard Oakland after the election, and the discussion turned to activism. Karpenko and Oakland were inspired to organize the “Affirmation of Inclusive Community” event on Nov. 15 at noon outside the HUB.

“Ryan spoke as someone who spoke for a lot of people who suddenly felt threatened, whether it’s the threat of being deported, or the threat of equal rights going away, voting rights going away,” Oakland said. “He spoke in a way that made me realize there are a lot of people on campus who felt marginalized and like something bad might happen.”

Karpenko estimated that more than 200 people attended for part or all of the gathering.

“Going out there and seeing the giant crowd coming down the Hello Walk with a bunch of professors already holding their own signs that they made, and seeing professors with students leaving their classrooms together to come join us was just so breathtaking,” senior Camina Hirota said.

At the “Affirmation of Inclusive Community,” attendees stood in a circle holding signs and sang a call-and-response version of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Hirota said that while the event was great, she has heard some express that they wished there were more “fire.”

“I almost wish there was a little more anger,” Hirota said. “I talked with students who are marginalized who were there. They felt supported but also were like, ‘Why aren’t people fired up?’ Where’s the fire behind it? It was all great, but some people did wish there was more.”

Hirota, Oakland and Karpenko emphasized that the event was not a protest and not political.

A variety of staff and students attended, including members of the conservative group “Young Republicans” on campus. When the planned portion of the event was over and attendees were encouraged to mingle and meet someone new. Karpenko immediately went to talk to them, he said. He was initially unsure about the intentions of students wearing “Make America Great Again” clothes.

“I think there’s a disconnect in people who support Trump and that some don’t understand what the slogans mean to other people,” Karpenko said. “There’s a disconnect there in the same way the Confederate flag means something to people in the South. I think if people saw the hat there, they might feel uncomfortable in a place people were supposed to feel safe. At the same time, he has a right to represent who he is.”

Karpenko said the conversation he had with the students was civil and that their intentions were good. He said he appreciated that the group was there.

“They said, ‘We want to show that we are not hateful,’” Karpenko said. “That’s what they said they wanted to demonstrate.”

Sophomore Tanner Stepp was part of that group of conservative students, although he didn’t speak to Karpenko. Stepp said his initial reasoning for attending was to see how people reacted to seeing conservatives there, but also appreciated the chance to defend his beliefs and see the inclusivity efforts.

“Every person’s right to life and that their lives matter, whether you’re white, black, female, male, your life does matter,” Stepp said. “Being able to go and see the affirmation of inclusivity, and being involved in that, and being able to share that just because I’m a conservative doesn’t mean I hate people… it’s a necessary conversation to have.”

Oakland said that he thought the event was great for Whitworth and allowed, even for a half hour, for people to show commitment to action in the future as it is necessary.

“This event was really a turning point for me from being in a grieving state into a state of action and asking what can I do to help,” Karpenko said.

When asked whether Oakland had participated in organizing events like this one in his long tenure at Whitworth, he mentioned being involved in the Vietnam War protests on campus and downtown.

“The one thing they had in common is a sense of urgency,” Oakland said.

Junior Sarah Dixit helped pass out safety pins at the gathering, encouraging people to wear them in a representation of solidarity with the marginalized.

“I know there are people on campus who believe the same things that I do,” Dixit said. “I have more hope after that demonstration; they’re fighting for the same thing: love and kindness toward others.”

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Leonard Oakland leads students in unity gathering after election