DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Tensions are high among voters and for students all across the state who participated in their first election on Tuesday.

Just one day before the final votes were cast, Southern Methodist University turned to Facebook with a letter from its president titled “Responding Respectfully to the Election,” a topic the university felt was important as stress weighs on the school’s many first-time voters, like senior Connor Pittman.

“That is something we have to reckon with, that there are going to be people… who are so caught up in politics, that they may react violently,” Pittman said.

Dr. Jill DeTemple is an SMU professor and an academic associate with Essential Partners, a nonprofit that specializes in decreasing polarization.

“We are feeling heightened tensions now, and I think some of that has to do with the separation that COVD has brought. It’s much easier to dehumanize someone if they’re not in a room with you,” DeTemple said.

She says between COVID-19 and social media physically distancing people, it’s easy to disagree with others.

“We are as polarized as we have been since the Civil War,” DeTemple said. “So building up the idea, that there are people who are actually out to get you….is a pretty normal thing to do when you flatten them because of that political polarization.”

Data shows over 1 million early votes were cast by Texans aged 18 to 29. That’s why DeTemple says it’s important to teach students now, in a critical time in American history, how to respect each other’s votes.

“Even if we disagree about politics, we could do better as a community going forward if we think about the complexity,” DeTemple said.

Nicole Nielsen