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Students in Penn Dems preparing mail-in ballots in their voting kits to off-campus residents. 

Credit: Jintong Wu

For a school that prides itself on its efforts to provide students with the best mental health and wellness services and claims to support civic action from its students, the University of Pennsylvania is failing its student population on both matters.

Three months ago, I emailed the President’s office demanding that students and faculty get the day off for the 2020 elections. I received a reply letter from the President's office stating that this was not possible because the “academic calendar was set years in advance.” Weeks later, the University stood by its decision to cancel fall break, a decision that had been made only a couple of months prior.

Depression and anxiety have been shown to rise during the pandemic, and Penn students are no exception. Studies show that the pressure of online classes alone is enough to affect the well-being of already stressed-out students. When you add in the strain of the pandemic, the anxiety surrounding the upcoming election, the recent murder of Walter Wallace Jr. at the hands of police, and explosive racial divides across the country, Penn students have never had more to deal with to maintain their mental health. The decision to cancel fall break has meant that Penn students have not had the opportunity to step away from their classwork and focus on their well-being this entire fall semester.

Currently, Speak Up Penn is promoting a boycott of classes from November 3rd to November 4th called “The Penn Scholar Strike for Wellness” to prioritize the mental break Penn students need and to promote Penn students to vote on election day. They are also partnering with Police Free Penn to demand that Penn police stop patrolling West Philadelphia communities beyond 43rd street.

For many students, this election is the first where they can vote and have their voices heard. But when forced to vote or to attend classes, many students will not be able to cast their ballot on election day due to the academic pressures coming from Penn. 

In the 2016 election, Pennsylvania was won by 44,000 votes. The ability of University students and faculty to vote could drastically shift the 2020 election. Penn is actively suppressing these students' and faculties' right to vote by not canceling classes on election day.

Penn's administration should be ashamed that it has come to this point where students must boycott classes for their mental wellbeing and for the ability to vote on election day. Penn must do better.

By providing the day off for students and faculty from November 3rd to November 4th, students will not have to regret their decision on whether to attend class or to vote. It will allow students to have the time to look after themselves and take that much needed time to focus on their mental well-being given all that has occurred this last year.

By refusing to give students a break this fall semester and classes off on election day, Penn is failing to support its students' and faculty members' mental well-being and constitutional right to vote. Penn must do better.

ELI MORARU is a College junior studying Political Science. His email address is emoraru@sas.upenn.edu.

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