As the University Chaplain, Zandra Wagoner has strengthened her mission to create a diverse and inclusive campus community following the presidential election and upcoming transition to uncertain times.
Wagoner, an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren, holds a doctorate in religious studies. She is also an assistant professor of philosophy and religion.
Recently, Wagoner sat down for an interview to discuss the surprising presidential election results, and how she plans to support students in this changing political and social climate.
What was your reaction to the election of Donald Trump, and the election aftermath?
This has been a very difficult and turbulent time as people are trying to understand the potential impacts of the new president-elect. Whether one is a Democrat, Republican or an independent, the reality of the election is that there were targeted groups. There have been discriminatory and hateful things said about certain groups of people and that has caused concern and fear and a sense of instability.
People do not know exactly how that rhetoric will get translated into actions. We now know from the Southern Poverty Law Center that there has been an increase in hate crimes and acts of hatefulness toward others.
This election unleashed hateful language that is not civil. For our students, for our community, it has been difficult. There is a lot of fear.
There is all this happening at the national level. It is going to have some real effects on real lives in coming months and years.
We have also had a tangible act of hate – with the threatening letter sent to the local mosque.
What are things we do to remain optimistic in these changing times?
Living in a democratic country, we help shape what our communities can become. It’s harder to create the kinds of communities we might want, that are inclusive and welcoming and nondiscriminatory.
While it may be harder to create that in the current environment, we still have the opportunity to keep working toward that vision.
Here in the Inland Valley and Pomona Valley area, we have some really good, strong community networks of people who want to support all of our different communities that are particularly vulnerable right now. We just need to continue to build on those relationships and not let those relationships erode between various vulnerable groups.
By establishing and maintaining these relationships across difference, when we need to call upon each other to stand in solidarity, those relationships are already there for us. I do believe there will be plenty of opportunity where we will need to stand with and for other people.
How does this relate to spiritual life?
There are some basic shared values that a lot of spiritual traditions carry that have to do with things like compassion, justice, love, mercy, service to each other and hospitality to the other.
These are values that most humans are able to affirm. This is a time to really engage with those questions about what does it mean to be a compassionate community, what does it mean to be just, which means what does it mean to be in right relationship with each other.
These are values we need to work on together and negotiate together. Continuing to build community across differences, continuing to educate ourselves about communities that are experiencing discrimination so that we better understand what needs to be done in order to be in right relationship or a just relationship with one another.
What are some plans you have to help students?
Through my office we will continue to have opportunities for various kinds of meditation, whether it is silent meditation, art meditation or gong meditation. These are times when people can recenter themselves and to refocus.
We will continue to have interfaith opportunities where people can learn about each other’s religious or nonreligious traditions, which again builds these networks and bonds and friendships among us so that when it is needed, we can stand with and for one another.
In terms of the campus community, I think there is a very important relationship between the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, the work from the Center for Multicultural Services and the work from the Office of Civic and Community Engagement. These offices are able to address diversity, address being grounded and then translate that into either our campus community or our local and wider community through the engagement office.
I feel like those are really great networks that can be very supportive to students because this election has brought up all kinds of things around our different identities and how they play out in society.
We need places where can explore our various identities, through the multicultural services office and in the places that can ground us and have us consider our deepest values and how to out them into action, which the community engagement office helps us do.
I see all those very deeply interwoven and connected, and I hope they can be a good support for students as we all navigate this new political terrain.
I think the listening sessions that we have had, just bringing students together to be able to share their reactions, we need to do that again around before and probably after the inauguration.
On Tuesday night we had a community candlelight vigil. On that same night we had a diversity town hall where we watched a documentary film and it allowed us to talk about these important issues around diversity.
What other resources are available for students?
We also have to draw onto our political science department that can help us understand and think through the political situation. We need our psychology department thinking with us about emotional impacts and the systematic psychological impact that happens. Our sociology department that can help us think through systemic racism and we also need our art department so we have ways to express what’s going on.
In other words, we have a lot of resources on campus that can help students and all of us process all this emotion, the impact and the real ways in which our lives may be different.
This can come from a lot of different departments, whether it is the English department, history or sociology, we need to know the histories of resistance, how do people empower their voices, how do people act both within and outside the political system through civil disobedience, we need to make sure we know alternative ways to respond and act.
Christina Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.