Earlier this month, the College of William and Mary’s Student Assembly passed a resolution calling on the College to cancel all classes and move all assignments due Nov. 3, Election Day. If College President Katherine Rowe’s administration is serious about encouraging student self-determination and political participation, they must fulfill the demands of the resolution.
Throughout our country, systemic barriers have been put in place to make voting harder. Restrictive voter ID laws, political gerrymandering and even the simple fact that elections are held during the work week all create meaningful roadblocks to democracy. The Commonwealth of Virginia is no different.
We have a voter ID law, we have heavily gerrymandered congressional districts and we obviously hold our elections on a Tuesday. In recognition of these barriers, Democrats in the Virginia General Assembly passed a law this year that repeals our voter ID law and makes Election Day a state holiday.
However, the College still plans to hold classes on Election Day. This actively makes it harder for students to make our voices heard.
Since barriers to voting disproportionately impact low income voters and voters of color, it seems odd that the administration would not have already cancelled Election Day classes after a summer of being criticized for its history of structural racism and its failure to protect student financial aid packages. Nevertheless, Rowe’s administration has yet to respond to the Student Assembly resolution, nor have they committed to cancelling Election Day classes. If it is good enough for Virginia as a whole, why is making Election Day a holiday not good enough for the College?
Perhaps you do not grasp why this is important. Perhaps you do not think that classes, projects, papers and presentations present a significant time commitment. I will concede that not every student at the College will have a large enough workload Nov. 3 to make it harder to vote. I will also concede that not every student will be voting in person, since the COVID-19 pandemic has made absentee voting more popular.
But if even one student decides they have too much on their plate to take a break for voting, if even one student comes to the conclusion that they must put their academic commitments before their civic responsibility, then the College has failed its mission of cultivating “creative thinkers, principled leaders, and compassionate global citizens equipped for lives of meaning and distinction,” as listed on the College’s website. Instead, the College and Rowe’s administration will have taught students that individual success is more important than participation in politics. That is an incredibly dangerous lesson, especially at a time when our leaders are searching for every possible opportunity to undermine the grand tradition of democratic governance.
We are regularly lectured about how much the College values student self-determination.
But what good is self-determination at school if we do not have it in the real world?
What good is electing dormitory community councils if we do not have time to elect our congressional representatives and our president? It is time for the College to cancel classes on Election Day.
Email Aidan White at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated Election Day was Nov. 4. Election Day is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 3.