Four years ago, only 19.8 percent of Penn's eligible students exercised their right to vote in the midterm elections. Now, a handful of professors are taking steps to encourage students to head to the polls.
Computer and Information Science professor Chris Callison-Burch scheduled an exam for his class at noon on Election Day. Callison-Burch is offering extra credit to any student who votes before the test, or — for students who are ineligible to vote — takes a friend to the polls.
“I think it’s important for everyone, no matter what their position is, to encourage people to be active citizens, whether it’s the students I see outside Franklin’s Table encouraging people to vote or the people who go door-to-door on campus reminding people to vote,” Callison-Burch said. “People should use whatever tools are at their disposal, so this is one that I could use. And if I could encourage a class of 100 people to go and vote, then I’ll do it.”
Anthropology professor Morgan Hoke is implementing a similar policy to that of Callison-Burch. Any student who could show that they were either registered to vote, had voted, or helped someone else vote would receive extra credit. Hoke is even giving extra credit to a student who is an RA and had sent an email to residents with information about voter registration.
“There’s a lot of concern that this younger segment of the population feels disempowered, doesn’t really feel invested in the democratic process, doesn’t really feel like voting matters,” Hoke said. “This is a way to, I think, make it matter on a smaller scale, that maybe we’ll just hopefully help a little.”
Both professors expressed support for University-wide accommodations for voting.
“I think the University should do everything that it can to help encourage students to participate in the democratic process," Hoke explained.
For College freshman Adriana Purcell, who said she has a midterm scheduled on Election Day morning, the fact that her professor would not be making accommodations in light of the midterms made sense.
“I don’t really think that the University has to do much more because students are so on top of everything that I feel like we really know our civic duty,” Purcell said.
Melissa Sanchez, professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, is excusing Election Day absences for students who show proof that they voted, like an “I Voted” sticker or a selfie in front of a polling place.
“I would prefer that they come to class, if possible,” Sanchez said. “But I know that undergrads have tearfully busy schedules.”
Sanchez expressed support for Penn making Election Day a University holiday — a designation which Columbia University currently uses — “so that college students wouldn’t have to make the choice between missing class and missing their chance to vote.”
Above all, Sanchez emphasized the importance of the election on Nov. 6.
“I hope that all of the students will be able to find another time to vote, but they can catch up on the information that they miss from missing one class,” Sanchez said. “Nothing can make up for people not voting.”
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