Updated: Oct. 14, 2020 at 10:42 a.m.
A student launched a petition last week calling for officials to cancel synchronous classes on Election Day to encourage community members to take part in the political process.
The petition, which has attained more than 850 signatures as of Tuesday, states that holding synchronous classes on Nov. 3 is an “impediment to necessary civic participation” of students, faculty and other members of the GW community. University spokesperson Crystal Nosal said Provost Brian Blake is encouraging faculty to be “flexible” on Election Day to allow students to vote.
The petition cites American University’s decision last week to cancel classes for the election this year and during all future presidential elections as an example GW should follow.
“Canceling synchronous classes on Election Day like our neighbor – American University – recently did will not only make it easier to participate in our democracy, but it also can lead to an increase in turnout by eliminating scheduling conflicts for both students and faculty,” the petition states.
The petition mentions a 2018 report from the Pew Research Center that states that two-thirds of Americans are in favor of making Election Day a holiday and 2016 U.S. Census data that shows that scheduling conflicts were among the top reasons for why eligible voters chose not to vote.
“Regardless of who they are, every eligible member of the GW community deserves the opportunity to fully participate on Election Day, and canceling classes that day – this year and for future elections – is the most effective way to make that opportunity truly accessible,” the petition states.
Maria Leon-Acosta, the student who started the petition, said holding synchronous classes on Election Day hinders the GW community’s ability to “fully participate” in the election.
“This election – regardless of where one stands – is one of the most contentious of our lifetimes, and even with voting being conducted at least partially by mail, others may opt to vote in person, work the polls and/or spend the day volunteering for their preferred campaign(s),” Leon-Acosta said in an email.
She said all members of the GW community deserve the opportunity to “equitably participate” in the election this year.
“Moreover, GW consistently prides itself in the civic and political engagement of its students and community – giving students and faculty the day off on Election Day is the logical choice to live up to that claim and to further encourage our community’s continued participation in those types of initiatives,” Leon-Acosta said.
She said the petition has had a “warm reception” from the GW community since it was launched last week and said she hopes officials respond favorably.
“That said, encouraging professors to merely give flexibility to students is not enough – it gives them the opportunity to still deny that flexibility, and it ignores the fact that faculty members and staff should also be able to have time off on Election Day,” Leon-Acosta said.