The big news from this past week is, of course, the election of Trump as the 45th president of the US. The atmosphere around Oxy has been subdued for most of last week, and there has been articles and blog posts about how colleges have responded to the unexpected turn of events.
For my part, Wednesday morning felt numb. My CS lecture was on parsing – normally a mind-bending topic due to the heavy mutual recursion, but which in context felt irrelevant. I hastily added a slide to my lecture about understanding if students can’t focus, offering to listen if they want to talk, but otherwise gave the lecture I had prepared before the election results came in. There were noticeably fewer students in class; one or two had emailed me saying that they were too distracted for class to be helpful, but many simply did not show up.
I co-teach a cognitive science class right after, where we made roughly the same announcement. Luckily, that class was dedicated to peer-review of papers, so students mostly worked in groups. Still, the conversations were hushed, and some students decided to pay with my colleague’s puppy (which she brought to class) instead.
What I did do was rethink some of my future lectures. One of them was the security and privacy lecture yesterday, which was depressing already. In addition to the standard narrative about strong passwords and limiting information leaks, I also added a slide about the privacy implications of corporate acquisitions. The reading was about Microsoft and LinkedIn, but I also brought up the NSA and government transitions. I will be changing one more lecture as well: the last lecture of the semester was originally going to be on version control, but instead I decided to more generally address the role that technology might have played in the election, specifically job loss due to automation. The plan to conclude on the message that, as students who how computers work and what technology can do, they must be deliberate in applying that knowledge to the social good.
All that, and I am not sure what else I can do for my students. I know some of my other colleagues have had students message them, even the night of the election as Trump pulled ahead of Clinton, seeking both advice and comfort. I have not had students come to me, and to be honest I am relieved for that. I have never been great at comforting people, and I have never learned to navigate that especially in the context of student-teacher relationships. I guess, for students reading this: you should know that many of your professors are feeling as helpless, and as lost for words, as you are. We don’t know what the next months or years will entail, but if you need to rant, or just a place to sit and take a deep breath, we’ll be here.