If the election of Donald Trump as our next president has done nothing else, it has left the nation with more questions than answers. His rhetoric and divisiveness during the campaign have already spilled over into communities and onto college campuses across the country, and many are concerned about whether the president-elect will deliver on some of his most controversial campaign promises.
[Above: A group of women gather for a rally in Washington, D.C., on March 2, 2016, as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. (photo credit: Lisa Nipp/Center for Reproductive Rights)]
While Trump has proved to be anything but predictable, his policy proposals and cabinet appointments thus far provide some insight into what is at stake and who has the most to lose under a Trump administration.
During the campaign, Trump’s higher education platform was vague at best. However, he is known for his criticism of the U.S. Department of Education, which he has suggested eradicating. For Julie Ajinkya, PhD, vice president of applied research at the Institute of Higher Education Policy, this proposal is disconcerting as the department helps ensure access to a quality, affordable higher education for many low-income and underserved students, particularly through the Pell Grant program.
“Even suggesting that we dismantle an agency [whose] sole purpose is to protect and uphold the quality of education … really concerns me about how important education will be to this administration,” says Ajinkya.
Perhaps Trump’s pick of GOP donor and school-choice activist Betsy DeVos as secretary of education indicates his intent to sustain the department. Yet little is known about where DeVos stands on issues related to higher education.
“We don’t know much about DeVos’ priorities in higher education because of her primary focus on the K-12 space,” Ajinkya says. But DeVos’ connections with certain organizations have sparked worry among “some advocates in higher education who are particularly focused on closing equity gaps and improving access and success for underserved students.”
“She has, at times, supported groups that have sought to ease the regulation of for-profit colleges despite the research that shows us that students at these institutions suffer a disproportionate level of student debt,” says Ajinkya.
Furthermore, DeVos’ family foundation reportedly donated $10,000 to an advocacy group that has fought against Title IX, arguing that the law’s directives trample accused students’ rights. As secretary of education, DeVos has the potential to rescind the Dear Colleague letters from the Department of Education that have pushed for greater enforcement of the gender equity law. This, along with stories of Trump’s own actions, has some people questioning how much of a priority upholding Title IX will be under the new administration.
“We’ve made an incredible amount of progress toward making sure that all students feel safe and protected on college campuses, and I would really like to see that stay a priority for the Department of Education,” says Ajinkya.
When it comes to affordability and student loans, it’s likely we’ll see colleges and universities held more accountable by Trump. Ajinkya says she hopes he “will focus on student outcomes and maintain an expectation that in order to receive federal funding, all colleges must serve their students well.”
Although DeVos is “a big question mark for the higher education policy space,” Ajinkya says she hopes that DeVos’ history of supporting school vouchers will translate to improving underserved students’ access to higher education.
“Pell Grants are incredibly important for helping low-income students access postsecondary education,” she says, “and we know that DeVos has been a staunch advocate for vouchers in the K-12 space, so I think it’s interesting to highlight that. Pell Grants essentially act as a voucher [for these students].”
Undocumented immigrants also face an uncertain future following the election. Although President Barack Obama has deported more illegal immigrants than any other president before him, Trump may rival those figures come January, when he’s promised to immediately deport up to 3 million immigrants with criminal records. Estimates, however, put the number of such individuals at only 1.9 million.
“Despite what Trump said during the campaign, changes in immigration are based on policy memorandum, regulations, and executive actions,” says David Garabedian, an immigration law attorney. “Any dramatic legislative changes require approval of bills by both parts of Congress, and as we have seen, Obama’s Comprehensive Immigration Reform took years to implement, and even then, most of the reforms never went through.”
In spite of legislative hurdles, Garabedian says that with a Republican controlled Congress, there has never been a better opportunity for changes to immigration policy. Yet he believes Trump will “trend toward a restrictionist platform that limits benefits and lessens the options currently available.”
For now, according to Garabedian, Trump will likely focus on deporting criminals and repeat offenders, as well as repealing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Established by the Obama administration to allow undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to obtain work permits, DACA is on Trump’s hit list. In fact, terminating the executive order is No. 5 on the president-elect’s list of 10 steps he’ll take regarding immigration.
Many immigrant advocates are now warning DACA-eligible individuals against traveling outside of the U.S. at the time of or following Trump’s inauguration, fearing they may be refused re-entry.
Muslims hoping to emigrate to the U.S. under a Trump presidency may also find themselves locked out. During the campaign, he suggested proposals such as banning all Muslims’ entry into the U.S. and creating a Muslim registry.
“Current immigration laws give enormous power to the president to determine who and how many immigrants to allow into the U.S. Therefore, if Trump wanted to ban immigration from certain nations to keep out Muslim newcomers, he could probably do so,” says Garabedian. “Whether he will actually implement such a ban is hard to tell, and if he does, the national and international backlash will be swift, and it will certainly be challenged on legal grounds.”
Furthermore, Garabedian says the Trump administration will likely make changes to nonimmigrant employment visas like the NAFTA TN visa, which allows professionals from Mexico and Canada to work in the U.S., and the H-1B visa, which gives employers the ability to recruit and employ foreign professionals in specialty occupations.
While international students and professors are in the clear for now, a Trump administration may have a negative effect on colleges’ ability to recruit international students. According to a pre-election survey of 40,000 students from 118 countries, 60 percent said they’d be less inclined to come to the U.S. if Trump was elected; in Mexico, this percentage was even higher at 79.8 percent.
Many women across the country fear the repercussions of a Trump presidency, with reproductive rights the focus of their concern.
“We are definitely in a critical time, and I don’t think anybody should underestimate the threat that we are facing right now when it comes to reproductive rights under a Trump administration,” says Kelly Baden, interim senior director of U.S. policy and advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights.
While Baden believes the threat to Roe v. Wade — the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that protects a woman’s right to an abortion — is real, she says women face many short-term battles.
One such fight, Baden says, involves the defunding of Planned Parenthood and other reproductive care centers, the 20-week abortion ban, and the no copay contraceptive coverage provided by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Specifically, Trump’s pick for secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Tom Price, poses a “serious threat to women’s health and rights,” she says.
“We know Price is an opponent of the ACA. He … has said that he does not believe there are any women who have trouble paying for birth control,” Baden says. “This is somebody who is now going to have a lot of power when it comes to what our country’s healthcare system looks like and what our reproductive healthcare provisions look like. So it’s an incredibly problematic appointment [for women].”
As secretary of HHS, Price would have the ability to completely remove the no copay contraceptive coverage, as well as other preventive health services requirements for women. Should this happen, along with widespread abortion bans, Baden says that women of color, young women, and those who live in rural areas will pay the highest price.
“We’ve already seen that some states are feeling emboldened by a Trump election and are threatening to pass abortion bans or, in the case of Ohio, are already passing abortion bans,” she says. “Unfortunately, we know that those most impacted by restrictive reproductive rights laws are those who can’t afford to travel farther to a clinic.”
For Baden, the threat the country now faces in terms of women’s reproductive rights demonstrates the responsibility Americans have as voters. But with the progress made in recent years, she says that despite the path ahead for women, they are prepared to fight.
“We are coming off an incredible win in the Supreme Court with our case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that … really reaffirmed our constitutional right to abortion and the priority that women’s health should take,” says Baden. “Now, just a few months later, to be concerned about losing contraceptive access — it’s an incredible reminder of how important the positions of our elected officials are and how closely we need to pay attention to politics.”
When it comes to policies and protections for the LGBTQ community, Trump has swayed while never showing outright support. Initially criticizing the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage last year, saying he would consider appointing a justice to overrule the decision, he has since called the issue “settled.”
Perhaps more concerning for LGBTQ Americans is the record of Trump’s conservative running mate, Mike Pence. As governor of Indiana, Pence garnered widespread criticism when he signed a religious freedom bill into law that many say legalized discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
As such, many advocates are worried about what a Trump administration will mean for this already marginalized group. Stephen Peters, press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ civil rights advocacy group in the country, says that much uncertainty lies ahead for this community.
“Based on the fact that Donald Trump and Mike Pence intentionally sowed fear and division for political purposes during the election, the most important question we now face is whether they will also govern that way,” says Peters.
While great progress has been made in recent years in terms of marriage equality, transgender rights, and access to healthcare for LGBTQ individuals, Trump has the ability to undo much of this forward movement. Should the ACA be repealed, the nondiscrimination provision that includes gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes would go away as well. Some also speculate that we’ll see more “bathroom bills” under Trump, like North Carolina’s controversial HB2, which made it illegal for people to use public restrooms that don’t align with the sex on their birth certificate.
Fortunately, LGBTQ students are largely protected under Title IX, which forbids discrimination based on gender and which court rulings have interpreted to cover sexual orientation and gender identity as well.
Regardless of all the speculation and divisive rhetoric, Peters says “the tide has irreversibly turned in favor of LGBTQ equality” — a fact he believes is illustrated by the defeat of North Carolina incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory.
Despite the many uncertainties that currently beset a Trump presidency, Peters and Baden are convinced that Americans will not so easily concede the advances made in recent years.
“We know just how high the stakes are, and our work is more important now than ever before. When we stand together, we are a force to be reckoned with,” Peters says. “The far majority of Americans are on the side of fairness and equality, and we will hold the Trump administration accountable at every step along the way.”●
Alexandra Vollman is the editor of INSIGHT Into Diversity.