Nearly two weeks ago, a collective of student leaders asked Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and UNC System leaders to pause campus operations on Election Day.
Their hope was that pausing campus operations would increase voter turnout, but they were told the University could not offer the day off due to a tight schedule this semester.
Now, many of these students are wondering why the University is encouraging faculty to pause instruction on Oct. 9 in observance of World Mental Health Day — but not on Election Day.
In accordance with the response given to student leaders concerning Election Day, campus leaders said in an email on Oct. 1 that the compressed academic calendar does not permit a full day off on Oct. 9.
Instead, campus leaders encouraged faculty to be flexible on Oct. 9 and said this pause might take the form of asynchronous classes, postponing due dates or rescheduling quizzes.
Michelle Thomas, vice chairperson of the Commission on Campus Equality and Student Equity, said the encouraged pause for World Mental Health Day provides what students leaders were advocating for on Election Day.
She said that from her understanding, other students were petitioning for a mental health day before they began advocating for the day off on Election Day, which could explain why the school chose to offer this pause on Oct. 9 instead of Nov. 3.
“So it’s possible that’s why it was set, but at the same time, I do think if it was the option to choose between having a wellness day and the Election Day, it probably could have just been combined,” she said.
Oct. 9 also falls toward the midpoint of the semester, when students would typically have Fall Break, Leslie Minton, associate director of UNC Media Relations, said in an email.
Thomas said they will continue to push for asynchronous classes on Election Day.
Darian Abernathy, chairperson of the Carolina Union Board of Directors, agreed that more than one "pause" would be beneficial to students, who are losing what would amount to almost two weeks of time off during a normal semester.
Because the University is unable to offer a day off on Election Day, student leaders met Sept. 28 to discuss alternative ways the University could encourage students to vote.
Bria Clyburn, a member of the Carolina Union Board of Directors who was present at the meeting, said one of their solutions is for professors to offer class asynchronously or make sure there aren’t any exams, large assignments, tests or quizzes due on Election Day or the day after.
“So just really lightening the load so that students really do feel like they have the opportunity to get out and vote,” she said.
Another proposal is for professors to create assignments that pertain to Election Day.
In STEM courses, Clyburn said students could research a bill on the Congress floor that would affect the area of science or medicine they are studying. In other courses, professors could ask students to fulfill their civic responsibility and submit an assignment about their experience.
“Whether that be submitting a photo, submitting a brief paper about what you learned about the importance of civic engagement, anything along those lines that will help students engage briefly in some form of civic engagement,” Clyburn said.
Abernathy also said faculty could engage in a scholar’s strike on Election Day in order to bring voting and elections to the forefront of class discussions or to encourage students to vote during class time.
Minton said encouraging students to participate in the political process is a priority for the University.
She said the University is sharing important voting information with students such as deadlines, voter registration resources and how to participate in early voting and Election Day voting. University Libraries has also prepared events and informational resources to assist voters this year, she said.
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