The Eckerd community, along with the rest of the world, watched as the United States counted the votes for the 2020 election and projected Joe Biden as the new U.S. president. His win causes a major shift in the country, but how does this affect political and social activism on campus?
Afro-American Society, the Eckerd College Organization of Students Environmental Responsibility Committee, Florida Public Interest Group Students, Eckerd College Queer and Straight Alliance, the International Student Association and the College Democrats at Eckerd College are all non-partisan activist clubs on campus, except for the College Democrats. The leaders of each of these organizations discuss their reactions to the recent election results.
Joelle Clayborne is a senior and the president of Afro-American Society (AAS), which is an inclusive club that advocates for Black students on campus and educates about Black culture and history. Recently, AAS has been focusing on taking care of their members by providing them with food and therapy session meetings. AAS also held two events this semester: a meet and greet at the waterfront and a movie night watching the Black queer film, “Moonlight.”
Leading up to the 2020 election, Clayborne said many members were worried about the safety of themselves and their loved ones. This election shed light on the racism present in the United States, which intensified stress for many Black students.
“No matter the outcome, they were worried that racism and prejudice would be emboldened to the point of violence,” Clayborne said.
Following Biden’s projected presidential win, AAS plans to continue their work of advocating, educating and celebrating the past, present and future of Black culture. Some of the things AAS hopes to see changed at Eckerd are:
Increased funding to the Diversity and Inclusion Office
Training for all members of the Eckerd community on bias and microaggressions
Racial diversity in Eckerd’s faculty and staff
A more comprehensive system for racialized complaints
Ending the college’s relationship with the St. Petersburg Police
Closer relationship with the South St. Petersburg community
Offering more race curriculum
Increased mental health services
Better pay and treatment for grounds, facilities and housekeeping staff
“Biden’s win may make it easier to do what we’re doing, but we will not be making any changes,” Clayborne said.
Alex Gordon is a junior and director of the ECOS Environmental Responsibility Committee (ERC), which works to promote and create environmental sustainability on campus. Currently, the ERC is preparing for their educational Earth Week event in late April, which raises awareness for the environment.
The ERC’s main concern with the election was climate and the environment. Gordon said that Donald Trump’s presidency is different from Biden’s future presidency because Biden acknowledges the science behind climate change, unlike Trump. She said that people need to be ready to take extreme climate action.
“Whatever way the election swings, climate is still going to be the number one problem for [the current] generation, and the number one problem for the planet,” Gordon said.
Gordon is also the chapter chair of Eckerd’s Florida Public Interest Group Students (PIRG). She said, this fall, PIRG’s New Voters Project registered around 200 new voters at Eckerd and worked to increase young voter turnout at the national and local elections. Aside from voting, PIRG has been running a campaign to ban the use of Roundup pesticide on public land in St. Petersburg, as well as a campaign for raising money and awareness for hunger and homelessness in Pinellas County.
PIRG’s main concern with the 2020 election was getting as many young people to vote as possible. Gordon said the voice of young voters is essential, especially in such a polarized election, and PIRG wanted to raise youth voting rates and have their power recognized.
“Just because someone gets elected, organizing and making grassroot change won’t stop. We still have things to do, regardless of who’s in office, especially for the climate crisis. It doesn’t care who the president is or who our representatives are. We have to deal with this,” Gordon said.
Corinna Scala is a senior and the co-president of the Eckerd College Queer and Straight Alliance, which promotes and supports the rights and lives of LGBTQ students and allies. Most recently, ECQSA has been holding virtual meet and greets, bonfires and gaming events for current and prospective students. They also plan to continue work with The League of Women Voters of St. Petersburg to hold workshops about how queer community members can get involved with politics, according to Scala.
For this election, Scala said that ECQSA hoped for candidates that would support policies that help transgender, gay, and intersex students. Members were overjoyed that Biden was elected because his campaign promotes policies that help all members of the LGBTQ community. Scala hopes that Biden can keep his promises and squash hatred, such as anti-transgender, anti-semitism, and racist behavior.
“We hope that [Biden] is able to bring back and unite the U.S.,” Scala said.
Scala is also the vice president for the International Student Association (ISA). Due to COVID-19, many international students could not return to campus this semester, according to Scala. Many members have been focused on how their own countries are dealing with the pandemic. ISA plans to reconnect next semester to plan events and make sure international students are taken care of.
Scala said that international students tend not to get involved in U.S. politics because they can’t vote, and ISA focuses more on bringing awareness to issues overseas. However, Scala said ISA members’ biggest concern with the election is not getting kicked out of the country and receiving hate from the person in office.
“The way immigrants, or foreign people, are considered by the current administration is sometimes wrong and harmful, especially people that are of the [Islam] faith or from countries that Trump does not like. It’s good to have [Biden], who doesn’t say such negative things about people from other countries,” Scala said.
Lily Murray is a senior and vice president of the College Democrats chapter at Eckerd College, which advocates for democratic politics. She was also a co-captain, with sophomore Audrey Marsala, for the chapter’s Biden campaign. Murray said she and Marsala held the most events of all the College Democrat chapters in Florida.
During the summer, EC Democrats organized an event for students to talk to district representatives and created a community of Biden supporters by hosting movie nights, legislation and environmental policy conversations and phone banks over Zoom.
Murray said that Eckerd students are a lot more left-leaning than other Florida schools.
“We’re very happy because we won Pinellas county,” Murray said. Pinellas was important to the election because it is a swing county in the swing state of Florida. Biden won over Trump by only .22%.
Murray said people should recognize that political activism is more powerful in numbers, and that it can be used to make effective change through the legislative process. Even though Biden won, EC Democrats will continue to campaign for local elections, attend protests to support the environment and Planned Parenthood and bring more democrats into the club.