CSLC hosts post-election discussions


Seven panelists discussed the course of election day as the results of the vote were still coming in on Wednesday. (GVL/ Katherine Arnold)

Katherine Arnold, Staff Reporter

With Joe Biden projected as the country’s new president elect, it feels like everyone is lying in anticipation of what comes next, and waiting couldn’t feel more stressful. On Wednesday, the Community Service Learning Center (CSLC) hosted the first of two events themed as a post-election discussion panel. The CSLC brought together Associate Director Melissa Baker-Boosamra, moderator Jane Johnston, seven panelists and a number of students to talk about what happened on election day, where we are in the aftermath and where we’re going next.

As part of the Democracy 101 series of events, this post-election panel served as another contribution to the series that started after many questions arose out of the 2016 presidential election. Student Senate and the CSLC have partnered to continue hosting this series and to keep asking critical questions about what democracy looks like. For this panel, that meant asking exactly what the 2020 presidential election means.

“We are acknowledging the strangeness of the time we all find ourselves in at this moment,” Baker-Boosamra said. “Certainly, this is an important time in our nation’s history, and there is a lot hanging in the balance.”

Jane Johnston, a GVSU alumna and moderator of the session, opened the discussion by formally introducing each panelist for the evening. The seven were Kathy Hunter, a psychiatric nurse practitioner and member of the GVSU Counseling Center; Karen Zivi, an Associate Professor in Political Science; Jeff Kelly Lowenstein, Professor of Civil Discourse and Executive Director of the Center for Collaborative and Investigative Journalism; Ellen Wehrman, the Michigan Director for the Campus Election Engagement Project; Anne Jbara, an attorney at GVSU; Bilal Hammoud, Public Engagement Associate for the Department of State; and Lauren Moine, a senior and Vice-President of Public Relations in Student Senate.

Wehrman began the panelist discussion by taking a closer look at how the counts were developing on Election Day, as well as how significant it was that states had more votes than usual. Given the extra load on the system (during the hectic restrictions of COVID-19, no less), she stressed the importance of how many people helped to make Michigan’s election day run successfully.

“We are really grateful to how many people stood up to be poll workers to make sure that everyone could vote safely and in-person in the midst of a pandemic,” said Wehrman.

Kelly Lowenstein discussed the significance of how peaceful the Election Day was for the most part, but also the challenge of hearing Trump call the election early on Wednesday morning, as well as that of mail-in voting, voter fraud and the potential for a recount.

“We are in this fragile and tenuous state, and what is so powerful about this conversation is that ultimately how this ends calls to all of us,” said Kelly Lowenstein.

Hammoud praised how Michigan’s Department of State was able to create a successful voting environment, both before and during election day. He described how the Department of State dedicated all able-bodied workers to help polling for struggling counties across Michigan, and on top of that, emergency workers to help in case polling offices began to meet maximum capacity.

“I thought it ran pretty smoothly, considering the high turnout in absentee voting, the pandemic, and overall all of the lines were relatively manageable that day,” Hammoud said. “From a state-wide perspective, Michigan performed phenomenally.”

Kathy Hunter noted how voting, even in normal election years, can impact mental health.

“Anytime there is a feeling of uncertainty and change, we understand that there is going to be anxiety, potentially grief and loss, some sadness, anger and irritability,” Hunter said. “They are all very normal feelings and experiences.”

This two-hour discussion panel covered many more topics, such as mental health resources students can access for processing election events, how social media has played a role in the election, how different communities impact voting patterns, how dehumanization impacts voting, how age plays a role, the importance of learning about beliefs you don’t share, and much more.

For interested members of the GVSU community, the second part of this two-part series will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 11 as a Post-Election Debriefing and Roundtable Discussion. You can find more information at the Community Service Learning Center’s website at gvsu.edu/service.