“Divisive” is an understatement when describing the 2016 election. This election cycle has been punctuated by episodes of violence, hatred and senseless argument. Tensions have been particularly high at America’s colleges and universities, since they are historically politically charged environments. Brandeis is a particularly political university. “Social Justice” is one of our guiding principles, and Brandeis students are involved at all levels in the political process, from interning with senators to writing essay-length political Facebook statuses.
The divisiveness of this election combines with the political energy of Brandeisian culture to form a diverse body of unique and fast-changing opinions among Brandeis students. During the primaries, a good chunk of Brandeis students were supporters of Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders’ campaign electrified the left-leaning portion of students and contributed a refreshing wave of hope in the political process for young liberals. But as Bernie’s campaign started to wane, support shifted, at least partially, to Hillary Clinton.
Now, the dominant debate amongst Brandeis students is whether to vote for Hillary Clinton or write in the name of an alternative candidate, the most popular being Jill Stein. Most of the alternative candidate voters are former Bernie supporters, disgusted with the litany of scandals associated with the 2016 election. A few are Republicans who feel alienated by the Trump campaign. The motivations of the alternative candidate voters are usually connected to Clinton’s deep-rooted political career and her ability to attract scandals. These voters were at their peak immediately before Bernie Sanders officially endorsed Hillary Clinton, but after his endorsement, they are losing steam. One Brandeis voter showed this decline in write-in voters by stating, “Hillary Clinton is the only choice for President … That being said, Hillary Clinton is not my first choice for President; Clinton does not inspire me to vote for her the same way that I was inspired to vote for President Obama (if I could have voted).”
But Brandeis does have a faction of voters torn between the #NeverHillary and #NeverTrump movements, who prefer a write-in candidate to either of the official nominees. The majority of the alternative candidate supporters at Brandeis are extremely vocal on social media. They tend to use hope-inducing language, with statements such as “millions of people can rise up and make Bernie Sanders our president.”
Many Brandeisians see voting for an alternative candidate as the equivalent of not voting. Third party or write-in votes are often described as “throwing your vote away.” Despite the nationwide increase in Democratic support for Clinton, the passion with which liberal Brandeis voters support Clinton varies wildly. Many Brandeis Hillary supporters are extremely passionate about Clinton’s candidacy, but some are just passionate about avoiding a Trump presidency. Jose Castellanos ’18, a particularly vocal Brandeis voter and an advocate for immigrants’ rights, explained that he was voting for Clinton because he “doesn’t have the white privilege” to “risk throwing decades of social progress down the drain” by voting against Hillary Clinton. Another Brandeis voter, who used to be a Bernie Sanders supporter, explained that Trump’s moral principles led him to support Hillary Clinton, stating that “[Trump’s] principles are ones that let him mock the parents of a deceased veteran.”
Anti-Trump sentiment at Brandeis is nearly, but not completely, universal. Despite Brandeis’ reputation as a liberal school, a small group of Trump supporters does exist on campus. Actually, there are so few Trump supporters at Brandeis that I couldn’t find a single one who was willing to discuss their views with me. Even comparatively right-leaning Brandeisians frequently center their political discussions on Trump’s outlandish campaigning tactics or lack of traditional values. Brandeis’ diverse, but progressive values guarantee that many students, regardless of their political leanings, are uncomfortable with Trump’s campaign.
The political opinions of Brandeis students are simultaneously diverse and unified. Every student has their own thoughts, feelings and experiences regarding this year’s election. Hillary Clinton emerges from the jumble of opinions as the key candidate for most Brandeisians, but that does not mean that Clinton is the candidate that all Brandeis students support. Brandeis, like any college or university, contains a diverse array of unique and intelligent opinions and positions.