The fall of 2016 was an exciting time for first-year students at Xavier, and at colleges across the country, as the presidential election provided an opportunity to study democracy in action, to engage peers and communities in the process, and to debate the issues deemed most pressing by our fellow citizens, as framed by the candidates. An opportunity like this one allows students to view their education, and the larger purpose of higher education, through the degree to which their education prepares them to contribute to positive social change. But the 2016 election raised an unexpected set of issues for students, and the thrill of the opportunity to participate in their first election was tempered by sadness. Even before the victory of Donald Trump, Xavier’s students, almost exclusively representing minority groups in this country, watched and listened as hateful, bigoted, and racist comments from the candidate were and embraced and championed by a surprisingly large swath of their fellow citizens. Students who came of age under President Obama believing that progress toward equality, while surely ongoing and incomplete, was generally seen as desirable by a majority of citizens now recoiled in shock to learn that attitudes to the contrary were held by so many. Trump’s victory in November cast a fearful, chilling silence across a campus that prides itself in its historical mission of social justice.
But after the shock wore off, the silence gave way to sound: the sound of first-year students gaining and regaining their voices. And now they had a lot to say. Some were angry, others afraid, some in resignation, others in defiance. But many saw in the moment a chance to revisit and reaffirm their core beliefs, among them being tolerance, inclusion, compassion, and equality. This year we at Pathways asked students to voice these beliefs in narrative form. We gave them options. Some chose to speak directly to their experience as being viewed as and treated as an “other,” one who is not fully welcome, not fully at home, not fully deserving. These writers had past experiences that led them to worry what a future of systemic and codified “othering” under Trump might look like. Other students chose to follow a more descriptive approach, using Dagoberto Gilb’s essay “Pride” as a model, to show the values they cherish at work in those around them. The people they admire unwaveringly embody the values they wish to uphold, and in showing these people and these values, they show a society they know exists, even in a time when it doesn’t seem to. One they want for their future.
We are pleased to present this special collection of essays by our first-year students, who represent both our present and our future, in this unique historical moment. Pathways wishes to thank the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for its support, along with Xavier’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Graduate Opportunity, and its director Dr. Ja’Wanda Grant.