Campaign may encourage more discussion of assault, discrimination

Matt Pommer • Wisconsin Newspaper Association

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign probably helped University of Wisconsin-Madison efforts to focus student attention on racism and sexual-assault issues.

Last spring anti-Semitic signs were painted on Madison campus buildings, and groups of minority students called on campus administrators and student government to fight racism.

The Madison campus had launched efforts to quell sexual assaults in part by encouraging students to report such assaults. But in the past, even talking about it has been difficult for many victims.

But allegations about a major party presidential candidate have changed things. His taped conversations about what a “star” can do to women suddenly became a top campaign topic.

It clearly encouraged a number of women to describe Trump’s actions with them, several stretching back decades. Trump has denied all of the reports saying they are “lies, lies” and a conspiracy by the media to discredit him. He said if he becomes president he would loosen libel laws.

Trump’s response to the accusations also serves as a reminder to women of what they are likely to hear from those who are the accused aggressors. Often assault case investigations become “she said, he said” situations.

The number of reported assaults has grown on the Madison campus. Has there been a change in student relations? Or have the women who spoke about Trump’s actions lessened the stigma about reporting and talking about it?

Trump’s graphic comments made an impact among Wisconsin voters. The Marquette Law School poll was in the field as the story unfolded. Some of those polled were contacted before the news broke; others answered the questions as it broke.

“The publication appears to have caused a significant shift in voters’ attitudes,” said poll director Charles Franklin. Among men a 12 percent Trump lead had shifted to a one percent Clinton advantage. Among women a nine point Clinton lead had grown to a 33 percent advantage.

Trump also has brought racism into a front page story. Whether it’s criticism of an American judge with Mexican heritage, proposing to ban Muslims from entering the country, or deporting 11 million illegal immigrants, the racial feelings are in the middle of the presidential campaign.

Trump says his goal is to “make America great again.”

Some are aghast at his proposals, suggesting there is nothing “great” about discrimination. But America’s history is full of discrimination, both racial and religious. Often those in earlier decades who backed discrimination were among the most vocal members of the public.

Trump’s backers are wildly enthusiastic as the election nears. They especially enjoy his accusations against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and promise to investigate her background should he be elected. She is the first major party presidential candidate who is a woman. University students are being encouraged to discuss discrimination making the UW campuses around the state become more receptive to all young people. But some, including students, may think the university’s role should be limited to the classroom.

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