San Francisco, United States - November 9, 2016: Thousands of people gathered at Powell and Market Street and then marched past City Hall to protest Donald Trump's election to the presidency.
San Francisco, United States – November 9, 2016: Thousands of people gathered at Powell and Market Street and then marched past City Hall to protest Donald Trump’s election to the presidency. (Jason Doiy / The Recorder)

Columbia Law School’s post-election forum on Wednesday was packed with students and faculty, but it wasn’t the jubilant crowd organizers initially anticipated based on projections of a Hillary Clinton victory.

The atmosphere at Columbia the morning after the election was emotionally charged and grim, with many students and faculty struggling to comprehend Donald Trump’s unexpected win.

“Some people cried, but people didn’t raise their voices,” said dean Gillian Lester. “There was an understanding that some people were feeling real despair, and they were given the opportunity to express that despair. Some people didn’t really know how to talk about what had happened, but they felt it emotionally affected them in ways they hadn’t experienced before.”

Trump’s victory was a blow to many law professors and law students — voters with college degrees overwhelmingly favored Clinton, and the legal academy has a well-established liberal bent.

Some law schools are now scrambling to offer support to crestfallen students and help decode what a Trump presidency might look like. “I’m encouraging students to channel those emotions and feelings in a way that allows them to use their skills to engage,” Lester said.

Of course, not all law students are upset with Trump’s win, and administrators at several law schools said they have taken pains to ensure their election – related events are nonpartisan and respectful of all political positions.

The response to Trump’s win was varied among students at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, said Camille Rich, a law professor and university associate provost. Law students are trained to rein in their emotions and think strategically, which may impact how they react on campus.

“In some cases, there’s not the outpouring of emotion that you might expect — it’s a more restrained response, and trying to intellectually think through next steps,” she said. “For other students, it’s a very raw emotional place. Some of them are simply stunned. I think both the media and the polls did not prepare them for the actual results.”

Rich and several other law and political science professors spoke on a Wednesday night panel about the implications of a Trump presidency on immigration, the U.S. Supreme Court, and checks and balances. Rich focused on the issue of race.

“We ended on what it means to have a difficult political conversation in an emotionally charged environment, and what the demographic breakdown of the election teaches us about the bounds of political conversation,” Rich said. “The Democratic Party assumed that Trump’s use of racial and gender epithets would be enough to change the minds of white women and people of color, but 30 percent of Latinos voted for Trump. Thirty percent of Asians voted for Trump. The majority of white women voted for Trump. There is something to this idea that political correctness doesn’t mean anything to them.”

New York University School of Law also held an event Wednesday evening for students to meet with law faculty and diversity administrators and discuss the election. The editorial board of the conservative New York Post caught wind of NYU’s forum and declared law dean Trevor Morrison’s message to students that read, in part, that “many among us feel hurt and fearful today” as evidence of an overreaction among academics to Trump’s election.

But Morrison said Thursday that Wednesday’s forum is precisely the type of activity a law school should pursue.

“Diversity, inclusion, and mutual respect — core values at NYU Law — have been deeply relevant in this election, so we provided a forum for members of our community to discuss them,” Morrison said. “A law school, at its best, engages deeply with the issues of the day while remaining nonpartisan as an institution; the candid, thoughtful conversation that resulted illustrated that value.”

Some long-planned law school events, including a Thursday evening forum at New York Law School titled “The Presidential Election and the Muslim Community: Charting a Path Forward,” are taking a dramatically different direction in light of Trump’s victory at the polls. Trump proposed a ban on Muslims entering the United States while campaigning. “I think necessarily the response will be different based on what they heard from the two candidates’ platforms,” said law dean Anthony Crowell of the panel’s speakers.

On Friday, New York Law School is convening a lunchtime session on the election. “We’ll hear from students about what’s on their mind, and how, as an institution, we chart a path forward,” Crowell said. “The reaction certainly is one of concern — on many levels — given the tone and tenor of the political debates we saw over the past year-and-a-half.”