President Trump and his policies have been harshly criticized by UVA students in the months following his election. This is somewhat unsurprising given the results of the Miller Center’s February Millennial Caucus poll, where 98% of respondents supported a candidate other the current president. However, the reasons behind this general dissatisfaction are surprisingly multifaceted, and can be partially explained along racial lines.
When asked about the salience of several of Trump’s policies on race relations, most students (44%) were primarily concerned with the president’s executive order limiting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Caucus respondents attributed Trump's actions to racism rather than an effort to prevent terrorism, with various responses the order “anti-American” and “damaging to Middle Eastern, Black, and White relations”.
Surprisingly, the President’s order to the Justice Department to discontinue investigations into local police departments was mentioned by only 23.8% of respondents as the action that would most likely affect race relations. Millennials seemed to be more perturbed by racism directed at foreigners than at the president’s actions dealing with the Black Lives Matter movement. This outward-focused attitude may be tied to the demographics of the respondents, 68.4% of which identified as White and only 13.2% identifying as Black/African American. Among those who identified as Black/African-American, all but one emphasized that race played a significant role in their daily life at UVA.
White respondents showed more division, splitting 50/50 on whether race was a prominent force in their lives. However, the underlying reasons for both choices were often the same: inherent privilege and implicit bias. One respondent who did not see race as playing a significant role in his life stated that he “hardly ever thought about race because that is the privilege...of being a white male in America.” Another student echoed this response, remarking that “there is such an inherent privilege to being white that I don’t even notice.”
These perspectives were reflected by an overwhelming concern about Trump’s immigration ban rather than other domestic issues. One student specifically emphasized our “NEED to help millions of non-violent refugees that NEED [sic] our help,” while another remarked that the ban “contradicts the spirit of America...which is the land of freedom and a melting pot of cultures.”
This trend was not observed in any other race category. Non-White respondents were also far more likely to identify the Justice Department and the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General as problematic, with an emphasis on internal racial barriers. One student argued that “race relations within the country are most closely tied to police treatment of minorities,” while another emphasized how “mass incarceration devastates African American communities”. Participants also expressed concern for the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court because of his potential to “shape policy for a generation and create legal precedent.”
Although students at UVA may appear to have cohesive opinions regarding Trump’s policies, this is likely due to a large number of Whites surveyed as well as a tendency for most respondents to view his proposals along racial lines. Minority students viewed the Trump administration’s choices through a domestic lens and emphasized their potential effect on systemic biases. White students were primarily concerned with the foreign travel ban and America’s image abroad, reflecting self-reported feelings of privilege both in the country and at UVA.
The Millennial Caucus is a student-led initiative that promotes the views of undergraduate students from the University of Virginia on the topics covered by the Miller Center’s First Year 2017 project . This survey was conducted in February 2017. For more about this project, please visit About the Millennial Caucus.