On a blustery afternoon this past week, the Atrium, a gathering place at LaGuardia Community College, arguably the most ethnically diverse college in the most ethnically diverse quarter of the world — western Queens — seemed especially worn. There was little light streaming in from the windows that overlook a small interior courtyard, the only suggestion of greenery amid a drab array of buildings, and an offering of concession foods that did not put you in mind of Alice Waters’s ministrations in the dining halls at Yale.
I had come to gauge the reaction of students to the election of Donald J. Trump as president; around the country, many elite colleges were in a state of mourning and protest. At Brown, flags were destroyed. At Columbia, on the night of the election, students flooded College Walk to cry and scream. The university’s president, Lee C. Bollinger, himself denounced President-elect Trump at an awards dinner several days later, saying that the falsehoods disseminated during the campaign “would make George Orwell seem naïve and unimaginative.”
Students at urban community colleges around the country, though — largely poor and many of them immigrants — were potentially those with the most to lose under a Trump administration. Were they equally unnerved? Or was the expression of outrage — with its petitions and meetings and hours spent lingering over coffee and vodka and plans to overcome — itself a luxury their lives could not accommodate?
On the morning after the election, Gail O. Mellow, LaGuardia’s president, shellshocked and assuming her students needed comfort, went to the Atrium to hear them out. She found herself surprised by the range of response. “Many of us have experienced this as a uniform negative, and they don’t,” Ms. Mellow told me. Some students welcomed change, they said; others were unaffected; still others felt that the world was really no different from the way it had been 24 hours earlier — life, with its difficulties, would go on.
Later the same day, Karen Dubinsky, one of Ms. Mellow’s administrative colleagues, had been scheduled to lead a meeting of the President’s Society, a group of the school’s most diligent students. She assumed that the evening would be given over to their feelings about the election, but the subject hardly came up. Instead, the students wanted to talk about their coming job interviews, their résumés, how to shake hands with potential employers, how to find work as radiology technicians. None were afraid; none saw the current moment as the harbinger of end times. Of LaGuardia’s approximately 50,000 students (representing more than 150 countries), more than two-thirds come from households that make less than $25,000 a year.