Every time I keep pushing for voter engagement efforts on campus, I’m often met with the common pushback from staff, faculty and even residents:
“College students could care less about today’s politics.” “College students are just too lazy to go to the polls. Even if we provide them with all of these resources, what’s the point if they won’t ever use them?”“College students just have no idea what they’re voting for. Why encourage them to vote if they don’t know what they’re voting for?”
However, to dismiss college students as “disengaged” and “apathetic” to the current political climate erases the priorities, needs and goals that students have. Current issues on the ballot, such as reproductive rights, climate change and public safety, affect every young person. Whether we choose to engage with the government or not. As Connecticut State Senator Douglas McCrory, stated, “Young people aren’t dumb. If they find someone who [engages] them, who meets their needs, and speaks their language and speaks to their issues, who [makes] themselves available, they will come out and support them.”
To further call college students “lazy” eliminates the deep institutional barriers to voting that many of us face, especially if a student is a first-time voter. Current issues students face include understanding how to change the address to students’ dorms, using tools such as mail-in ballots and absentee ballots, and deciphering what candidates are on the ballot. Voting is a complex obstacle course designed to trip students up if students lack the time, the energy and the resources.
With a clear mission for effective voter turnout, the Undergraduate Student Government Association (USGA) with continued support from administration, faculty, and community organizations championed efforts to close classes after 2PM on Election Day in 2020. In President John Fry’s announcement, “Drexel Closing Early On Election Day, November 3,” on September 24, 2020, President Fry provided clear, university-wide protocol on taking off time to vote. He wrote:
On November 3, 2020 — Election Day — the University will close at 2 p.m. to allow time for the Drexel community to vote. We ask that all faculty teaching courses that day please plan to teach asynchronously, if possible, and provide flexibility and support for students who may be working the polls.
The results of this policy proved to be powerful. 72% of students participated in the 2020 Presidential Election, and 83% of students on campus were registered to vote. Student turnout was so powerful that Drexel earned the university “Gold Seal Certification” from All in Democracy for gaining over 70% voter participation, an honor reserved for just over 200 universities across the country.
Despite the undeniable triumph of higher voter turnout, messaging about the university-wide half day remained more arbitrary in both 2021 and 2022. On October 26, 2021, far into Fall Quarter, President Fry, along with Helen Bowman, Provost Paul Jensen, and Dr. Subir Sahu, released a university-wide message, “Early Closing To Provide Extra Time To Vote On Election Day 2021”:
Thanks to the advocacy of the Undergraduate Student Government Association, the University will close at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, November 2 to encourage voter turnout and in support of the USGA’s expanded efforts to make this a day of service. Although classes will not be canceled, faculty are encouraged to be flexible when possible.
By creating an unclear policy sent late to faculty, professors and students were not given ample opportunity to prepare for a day off during the academic term. While this year the announcement was sent on October 5th, the messaging is the same. Placing the responsibility on individuals to work around the university’s requirements creates institutional barriers that prevent both Drexel students and faculty from voting.
Drexel is not alone in trying to turn election day into a university-wide holiday. A study done by Rutgers University found that 95% of students are more likely to vote if the University canceled classes on Election Day. Within the area, students report feeling the same sentiment of exclusion. As one student from Temple University writes, “One missed class may put professors and students one day behind. But a missed opportunity to vote could put this country decades behind.” Moreover, over 7,000 people petitioned the University of Pennsylvania to give its 41,000 employees time off on Election Day. Additionally, Penn Faculty Senate passed an October Resolution that recommends “all faculty and instructors to accommodate students engaging in election-related activities, like poll working, on Election Day.”
Yet, despite clear student and faculty agreement for both policies, Penn administration was unable to accommodate students’ requests.
At Drexel University’s 2010 convocation, the newly instated President John Fry famously announced his commitment for Drexel to become “the most civically engaged university in the United States.” Voting is unequivocally one of the simplest and most effective ways to be civically engaged. By electing local to federal legislators, policymakers, and law enforcement, voting empowers Drexel students to help create long-term change over their undergraduate and graduate careers. Students are not “dumb,” “lazy” or “disengaged.” They just need to be given the time and resources to make it happen.
As USGA continues to fight for an election day off, in the meantime I call on all professors to:
- Cancel class when possible
- Have a flexible attendance policy (or an online option) for students who cannot attend class
- Accept extensions for assignments due on Election Day.
And furthermore, I call on all clubs and organizations at Drexel to:
- Ensure that all of the members who can vote are registered to vote.
- Point to resources on where to vote at @DrexelVotes
- Encourage all members to make a plan for how to vote this year.
The time to have election day off was yesterday, but the time to vote for your elected leaders is today.
Undergraduate Student Government Association