Letter to the Editor: Uncompromising Empathy and Election Night Safety

By the time this goes to print, the 2020 presidential election will be less than a week away. Part of my role at Reed is to hope for the best while planning for the worst. This perspective has led me to consider election night as both a time of increased risk to our safety, as well as an opportunity for empathy—as a safety strategy.

If history is our guide, we may expect that a few people may use the moment to try to intimidate others through extreme rhetoric, loud and large displays of divisive symbols and slogans, and even vandalism or physical confrontations. I assert that the strategy of greatest safety is one that includes studied, planned, uncompromising empathy.

Empathy as a safety strategy does not replace concrete plans for staying out of harm’s way, rather it informs our decision-making when we are confronted with choices in the moment of potential conflict: understanding the feelings that lead to the acts described above gives us the power to step away from conflict instead of being unwittingly drawn into more dangerous responses that put us at risk.

Make a practical election night safety strategy

  1. Stay in the (COVID-safe) company of people you know and trust

  2. Avoid places and events likely to attract people seeking conflict

  3. Move away from anyone who is agitated and goading for an argument or fight

  4. Reach for empathy instead of anger if caught off guard

  5. Know how to get help (503-788-6666 — Community Safety Emergency)

Uncompromising empathy in this context means not compromising your safety. Avoid being caught in a cycle of fear or anger-based reactions to the chaos and intimidation we may see on election night. Rather, prepare for these risks, both physically by where you spend your time, and emotionally by understanding the motives of those who foment conflict during times of fear and uncertainty.

The Community Safety team will be with you on campus. Please call us any time of the day or night for help or connection to support.

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