Students pass the University of Nebraska, Omaha's Milo Bail Student Center in droves every day. It is centrally located in the middle of campus, and it is rare to see it bare; it's usually filled with student organizations chanting for their clubs or chalk drawings on the sidewalk.
The Monday following the election, someone new staked out a table and chairs.
Juniors Eric Hundahl and Kain Martin, as well as graduate student, Joe Raddock, became local celebrities after setting up a tri-fold poster board that says "Have you felt unsafe on campus? Discriminated against? Threatened? Afraid to walk around campus? We will walk with you."
Hundahl said the trio decided to set up camp after a mutual friend was verbally harassed last week. Someone yelled at her to "go back to Mexico," without any context. This is unfortunately becoming a norm, with college campuses around the nationfacing hate crimes and verbal abuse after the results of the 2016 election. Hundahl states:
"People have said they appreciate what we're doing. Oddly enough, no one has taken us up on a walk to class yet. But I think the gesture and the message is what's most important. Seeing a first-hand account really set us off and we wanted to offer help."
The community has showed its agreement with great enthusiasm. Hundahl said that on Monday, some people just stopped to take pictures, but by that evening, the guys were on the front page of Reddit and going viral on Facebook groups like Pantsuit Nation, as well as spreading among UNO students and alum.
The following day, news cameras and reporters zig-zagged around the guys. They were featured on TV, radio and now, here. They have used their privilege to extend a kind hand and eliminate hate. Students not only see them as a cool photo op, but a safe haven during this gray area in an already-gray 2016 calendar.
One senior, Jennifer Alquicira, said the following:
"I felt relieved [to see them on campus]. I felt like there are truly people who see that people are afraid of what others are capable of doing or saying to them, as of the recent events. This gives students a chance to get back to knowing who is there for them and to be closer as an inclusive and welcoming community."
Days following the election, UNO's Chancellor, John Christensen, sent out an email that hate has never been and will not be tolerated on campus, even during such wild political discourse. He also attached links and phone numbers to offices on campus that specialize in creating a welcoming environment for students. Hate crimes and discrimination have appeared to be kept to a minimum on campus, but this simple white sign has created a needed sense of solidarity and kindness for those who remain worried. Sophomore Adriana Carias also said the following:
"I first saw them on social media and instantly liked the post. I thought it was super sweet that a group of men were actually doing this at UNO. We haven't heard of a lot of harassment happening here, but just knowing that there are resources for those that don't feel safe is really comforting."
Hundahl and Martin either work or have worked at the university's gym and recreation center, and Martin also has military experience. The three men have been playing this new job by ear, texting each other their free hours during the day and hoping their designated table isn't preoccupied. Hundahl describes his thoughts after the creation of the tri-fold and the traction they received:
"We had no idea it would actually gain traction. We thought we were just doing something nice, but it's really encouraging to see everyone have a positive reaction to it."
Minority students are most affected by both the results of the election and the resulting kindness of these three students on campus. Senior Husam Aldughaishi is an international student from Oman, and on the night of November 9th felt he was going to be asked to pack his bags. This gesture, however, has made him feel much more welcome in Omaha.
"Before I saw them, I was thinking a lot about what will happen," he said. "I was afraid people might turn their back [on me], but when I saw these guys, I felt there was still hope in people and that there are people who care and are fighting for us. I know some new international students who just came here and they were afraid and worried, so I hope they feel safe now."
With people like Hundahl, Martin and Raddock, safety has become much stronger at UNO. And from one student to all the others, this makes me proud to be a Maverick.