As a political science and sociology double major, I have taken a number of courses that focus on democracy. While scholars do not agree on a single definition of democracy, free and fair elections are certainly part of a functioning one. American democracy will once again be evaluated in the upcoming midterm elections. In order for students to fully be able to participate in this vital election, Kenyon should not have class, or at the very least, not penalize students for missing class on Election Day.
It is no secret that young people are less likely to vote in elections. In a poll taken before the 2020 election, over 15% of people aged 18-34 stated that they could not take time off work to vote — higher than any other age group. Any percentage above zero is too high.
In 2020, the faculty recognized the challenges students faced on Election Day by passing a resolution that would not penalize a student if they missed class due to voting. As a result, all of my classes were either postponed or canceled due to there being no grade penalty for not showing up. Earlier in the semester, Campus Senate Representative Delaney Gallagher ’23 said during the Sept. 4 Student Council meeting that faculty could not give election day off because they did not receive the request in enough time according to the meeting minutes.
While some professors may choose to cancel classes, there is no reason as to why the faculty cannot make this a college-wide policy if they wish. The College’s claim that there is not enough time to do so is an excuse: They knew Election Day was going to be on Nov. 8. In addition, the resolution above was passed on Nov. 2, a day before the 2020 election. Faculty could, and should, pass an identical resolution when they meet next Monday.
Professors will certainly be against canceling classes, and I can empathize with that. I value the material that we might otherwise learn during that class time, but that content does not have to be covered in the set time for class periods on Election Day. The Kenyon community learned over the pandemic that students could do asynchronous work. Professors can alter their lesson plans to ensure that students learn the same material at a time that works for them.
I do realize that this is creating more work for professors, but I think faculty are more than capable of altering their lesson plans to ensure that students can go vote. I deeply appreciate that professors go to great lengths to teach students about the value of democracy in the classroom and in office hours. However, if professors decide to impose a grade penalty on students for missing class to go exercise their civic duty, then what are they really teaching us?
In a few weeks, I plan to walk down to the Gambier Community Center to vote. I hope that I can do so without having to worry about missing valuable information or incurring a harsh grade penalty for missing a class.
Caleb Newman ‘24 is the Executive Assistant and Sports Editor for the Collegian. He is a double major in political science and sociology with a public policy concentration from Arlington, Va. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.