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In emotional atmosphere, teachers take class time to discuss election results

Julia Mack talks to her Spanish Conversion for Heritage Learners class about the results of the election on Friday afternoon.
Julia Mack talks to her Spanish Conversion for Heritage Learners class about the results of the election on Friday afternoon.

“I had half a dozen students crying in class,” Mack said. “I had never in my life seen something like this.”

Mack said the morning after the election, she received an email from one of her students that said, "I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know how to navigate this country that doesn’t want to accept my community, my family, my friends and me."

Mack said the email felt so personal, it was almost like her children calling to her for help.

“I had never in my life received something like this, and I’ve been teaching for a long time,” she said.

Mack said her students discussed the election’s implications for the whole class period. She said some of her students are undocumented immigrants or have relatives who are undocumented immigrants.

“A student said that her father had called her up to say ‘Don’t worry about us. Just keep working. Keep working on your studies. We will survive this. We will be okay,’” she said. “Everybody kind of cheered up with the thought that her father, who is in such a vulnerable position, would call her up to tell her not to worry.”

But not all the stories made the class feel better.

“Another person said, ‘I got a phone call from my kid brother this morning and he asked me — Are we going to have to move? Do you know if we’re moving? Do we have to move again?’” Mack said. “And she started crying, saying ‘How should a child that young be exposed to something like this?’”

She said one student mentioned how because she benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy under President Barack Obama, her name is on a list so her undocumented family members are more visible to the government and vulnerable to deportation.

“I can see how the despair can be so debilitating,” Mack said. “The fact that they’re students and trying to make themselves better people is making it difficult for others to live and survive — I would hate to be in that position. I just can’t imagine where they get the strength to live every day like that.”

Mack said she is not sure if students are safe.

“That’s the tragedy of it,” she said. “I have no idea whether we can guarantee these students’ safety — and that’s anguishing for the rest of us who see them and love them, and would like to be able to help them.”

Other classes tied the election into their curriculum.

Mai Nguyen, who teaches a first-year seminar called Race, Sex and Place in America, said her students discussed how national, state and local governments affect the policies that are important to them.

“I had a number of students saying they’d cried themselves to sleep for the past few nights,” she said.

Jonathan Foland, who teaches Introduction to Gender and Communication, said 15 of his 22 students came to the 8 a.m. class on Wednesday.

“I also saw that a lot of students had a downcast look on their face,” Foland said. “There was a malaise. I asked students if they needed a safe space, if they needed time to process what had happened over the past 24 hours.”

Mack said four professors are holding a discussion about how to support undocumented UNC students and their families in Dey 205 at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“We are going to find a way to support these students,” she said. “We will stand with them. We’ll make sure that they are safe, and we will do everything we possibly can to keep them at UNC.”

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