In Tomlinson Theater, after the final scene, the lights are cut. Except for the ghostlight: a lone source of light that’s always on as part of a longtime theater superstition.
As part of the Ghostlight Project, performers gathered in front of more than 800 theaters across the country and shined lights into the sky to form their own “ghostlight” on the eve of President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
“The premise of the Ghostlight Project is we ourselves can be a light in dark times,” said Heather Birmingham, a sophomore musical theater major and the organizer of Temple’s Ghostlight Project.
On Thursday at 5:30 p.m., about 30 theater students shined their phones’ flashlights into the sky on the steps of Tomlinson Theater. Birmingham played guitar and led the group in singing “This Little Light of Mine,” as a manila folder with the message, “Respect, compassion and humanity for all. I stand for peace, justice and love!” rested against a guitar case behind her.
The theater students’ response to the inauguration was one of several ways students reacted on and off Main Campus.
Matthew Janis, a sophomore musical theater major, said he wanted to air his concerns about the future of LGBTQ rights as a gay man. He helped Birmingham organize the event and spoke to the crowd.
Despite acting often and being comfortable with talking in front of people, Janis said speaking at the event made him “shaky” with emotion.
“Together, we create a beautiful mosaic of colors, creeds and characters,” he said to the crowd. “We vow to protect each other, protect each other’s rights, each other’s lives and each other’s happiness.”
Every theater that participated in the project was asked to take action on a specific issue, and Temple’s theater community chose to uphold diversity and equality.
Peter Reynolds, the head of musical theater in the School of Theater, Film and Media Arts, said he wasn’t surprised that students were using the Ghostlight Project to voice their political concerns.
“Seeing the students’ reactions to the election and the amount of grief and concern and real distress I saw many of them express, I was absolutely supportive of them participating in such a healing event,” he said. “Saying out loud that we honor diversity and inclusion … is a way to move positively in the future.”
As Trump gave his inaugural address, Melissa Sherman knitted a pink pussyhat to wear to the Women’s March on Philadelphia the following day. Occasionally, she’d put her needles down and cover her face with her hands, expressing her frustration.
Sherman said she’ll carry the feeling of apprehension with her for the next four years.
“Those are just words,” she said of the inaugural address. “What’s going to be important is the actions that are taken, the policies that are proposed. This is ceremony.”
Sherman, a sophomore geology major, attended the Inauguration Viewing, Discussion and Teach-In event on Friday morning in Paley Library’s lecture hall, organized by journalism professor Karen Turner.
Turner said she remembers at least five different on-campus viewing parties for President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009. When she contacted Paley in late November, none had been scheduled.
Despite personal feelings of nervousness or excitement about the upcoming presidential administration, Turner said the event is a way for students to stay politically engaged.
“We can’t close ourselves off,” she said. “We need to create an environment where people with differing points of views can come together and share. The only way to understand how other people view the world is to have a discussion with them.”
Turner, theater professor Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon and Elisabeth Fornaro, a fourth-year urban education doctoral candidate, led an open discussion after the inaugural address with students and faculty members.
Turner also brought in speakers to talk about bystander intervention and activism as part of the teach-in, including Jai Singletary, the vice president of external affairs for Temple Student Government.
“We need to know the facts,” Turner said. “Watching the inaugural address is a benchmark, and then we can go from there.”
The day before more than 500,000 people gathered for the Women’s March on Washington, Morgan Lepre, a sophomore political science major, stood on the National Mall to watch the man she voted for become the 45th president.
“It was a very unique experience seeing President Trump take the oath of office, just because it was only possible with the 44 other men who allowed it to be possible … and gave power up to one another even though they had completely different viewpoints from each other,” Lepre said.
Lepre added that her father was a football coach, and she heard his players use rhetoric similar to Trump’s controversial comments about women during the campaign. So when the comments came from Trump, they were “nothing new,” she said.
She pointed out Trump hired Kellyanne Conway — the first woman to run a Republican presidential campaign — and said Hillary Clinton’s “track record” made her unfit to be the first woman to become president.
“As a woman myself, I feel like I don’t have any rights that could be taken away,” Lepre said.
Arnelle Obdoe felt like she couldn’t express herself as a Trump supporter on Main Campus during the election without being attacked for her political view.
“If I brought up the election and even said ‘Trump’ [on campus], there was an automatic freeze reaction, people walked away or turned their noses or just lashed out and attacked me,” the senior theater major said. “It’s OK if people disagree.”
Obdoe attended an inaugural ball watch party on Friday at the Student Center, which was hosted by the Temple University Political Science Society. George Basile, a junior political science major, helped organize the event as the club’s public relations director.
The club is a nonpartisan political forum and its regular body meetings often include discussion of different views, he said. Basile said the members and board members of the club are a mix of Republicans, Democrats and Independents.
“We encourage debate,” Basile said. “We definitely try to get a candid sense of where their political ideology might be because it can be a little threatening for both sides.”
TSG President Aron Cowen said Inauguration Day events at Temple are extensions of students’ engagement with politics.
“In a time of rising partisanship, I think it’s important to be able to sit down and just witness one of the hallmarks of American democracy, which is the peaceful transition of power,” said Cowen, who attended the event. “It’s always awe-inspiring.”
Hours later, however, millions of people participated in marches across the world dissenting the rhetoric and ideals that people say Trump pushed while campaigning to become 45th president of the United States.
"Remember, the Constitution doesn’t begin with, 'I, the president.' It begins with, 'We, the people.'"
– Gloria Steinem pic.twitter.com/62Xn6DojdT
— Temple Democrats (@TempleDems) January 22, 2017
My generation has not faced a battle this great. One is here now and this battlefield needs warriors of peace and civil disobedience.
— Jai Singletary (@Jai_Singletary) January 20, 2017
The Women's March in Philadelphia was a force to be reckoned with today pic.twitter.com/habgN8KRra
— Benjamin A. (@bennyque100) January 21, 2017
Katherine Galvin and Sienna McGinnis, two junior graphic design majors, were two of the estimated 50,000 people to attend the Women’s March on Philadelphia on Saturday, which began at Logan Square in Center City and ended with a rally at Eakins Oval.
McGinnis said she’s never described herself as a “super political person,” but this election inspired her to go out and make a change herself.
“I think it really shakes me as a person to have so many of my close friends seriously upset and distraught over this,” she added. “To have so many communities shocked and scared concerns me as a woman.”
According to the Women’s March website, its goal was to bring people together “regardless of race, gender, age, ethnicity, religious affiliation, political party, immigration status, sexual identity or orientation.”
Uniting for inclusivity, not out of anger, is what Galvin said encouraged her to attend. She also wanted to march in support of Planned Parenthood, an organization she and many of her friends have used in the past, she said.
“It’s definitely a place that’s very accessible,” Galvin said. “It’s always been part of my life and a positive one.”
Kelly Holohan, head of the graphic and interactive design program in the Tyler School of Art, attended the Women’s March on Washington, which an estimated 500,000 attended.
“It was amazing to look over all of those pink hats,” she said. “We needed to document it. Not only to have our voices heard in the moment, but to say we were there, we recognize the importance of that moment.”
Representatives from Temple’s Special Collections Research Center had a table set up at Logan Square and walked the perimeter of the march on Saturday to collect posters.
Director of the center, Margery Sly, said they gathered at least 200 items from the event — a standout being a poster of a cartoon whale holding a sign reading “Save the Humans.” She added that archiving the signs seemed natural, and they will become part of a collection with artifacts from a march in Philadelphia during 1913 that protested for women’s suffrage.
“I would certainly consider [the march] an important piece of Philadelphia history and it has aspects of counterculture,” Sly said. “Counterculture is fringe, alternative, out-of-the-mainstream, varying from the prevailing social norm.”
Critiques of the marches held around the world have surfaced on social media, including the ideas that Trump opposers need to learn to “deal with it” and marching won’t change the election’s results.
McGinnis said the idea that the march has the potential to impact individuals, not legislature, is not talked about enough. She said she felt hopeful on Saturday morning.
“Doing something is never going to do nothing,” McGinnis said. “My little sister could be sitting at home [watching] and be like, ‘That’s amazing.’ It’s not that it’s affecting the country, it’s affecting somebody who could also make a change themselves.”
Grace Shallow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Grace_Shallow.
Emily Scott contributed reporting.
This article has been updated to reflect the opinions Morgan Lepre expressed in an interview.