“We, the students of Temple University, are requesting that classes be canceled on November 8, 2016 because of Election Day.”
This Change.org petition, addressed to Acting President Englert and Temple administration, has accumulated more than 740 signatures since its creation two weeks ago. The idea came to Elijah Zimmerman, a senior electrical engineering major, while he was engaged in conversation with friends.
“A group of us on campus were concerned about the future of our world,” Zimmerman said. “We’d been discussing how we as a student body can make a bigger impact on our political system.”
While the petition’s concept was Zimmerman’s idea, it was senior English and political science major Jamie Schoshinski who took action. She wrote a brief statement, addressed it to Temple administration and created the petition on Change.org.
“I just really wanted to do it because the elections in Pennsylvania are so important, both at the presidential and at the state and senate levels,” Schoshinski said. “I feel like a lot of our younger generation that doesn’t see the importance of [elections].”
“Beyond that, also, it is difficult for people to get to the polls, or at least make them a priority, when they have classes all day,” she added.
Many students who signed the petition and share similar views posted comments to add their own perspectives.
“It would really help voter turnout,” Andrew Pitt, of Glenside, Pennsylvania, wrote on the petition’s webpage. “Many people have competing obligations, including work, and unfortunately for everyone, making it to the polls is generally lower priority for people who need the money or can’t miss a shift. Many people I talked to this election cycle didn’t vote in the primary for exactly this reason.”
“Responding to this petition would help students whose permanent address is elsewhere, say, at a parent’s home, to be able to go to the polls,” said Kevin Arceneaux, a political science professor.
“I think a centralized push among the student body is beneficial when it comes to providing voting information in a way that’s accessible,” Arceneaux said. “That means you’ve got to post it everywhere.”
Temple’s administration has never addressed cancelling classes on an election day in the past. In 2012, the university worked with Student Activities and the Committee of Seventy, a Philadelphia-based organization that aims to educate people on local politics and elections, to direct people to nearby polling places.
“It’s honestly weird that an answer has never actually been given because it’s such a huge issue,” said Patricia McNamee, a freshman media studies and production major, who signed Schoshinski’s petition.
“Many students work and then have night classes or others have class all day in general,” McNamee added. “Also, commuters have an even harder time balancing classes and voting. I personally can’t vote in the morning and I’ll only have a few hours to hopefully make it to the polling place.”
Zimmerman said he’s skeptical that the administration will seriously consider the petition.
“I do not have enough faith in our administration to believe they will listen to us,” he said. “I do, however, believe this will be a window into bigger opportunities for the student body to be more involved and mobile as a unit.”
Other students have their doubts. Melissa Ng, a sophomore fine arts major, said she feels “that classes would not be canceled if the petition is submitted unless there is a large amount of people who sign it. The university has many other problems to deal with so this may not seem important in their eyes.”
According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement — a Tufts University research initiative that studies young people’s engagement in politics — people between ages 18 to 29 make up 21 percent of the eligible voting population, totaling about 46 million people. CIRCLE said lack of knowledge on how to register to vote was the main reason for low turnout among young voters.
“I would say the tricky thing for universities is that they’re non-profit organizations, so they can’t take a partisan position,” Arceneaux said. “Students would have to figure out who to vote for and how to vote but I think it’s completely within the university’s position to say, ‘Here’s how to register to vote. Here’s how we can help you make this happen.’”
Amanda Lien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.