Why I cancel classes on Election Day

When I teach on Tuesdays I don’t hold class on Election Day.  While I think every minute in class is very important, I think it is more important for our students to participate in democracy.  Below is the message I sent to my students this year:


Dear PHY210 Students,

As you may have noticed on the course calendar, we do not have class on November 6th because it is election day.  Please note that the college is not closed, and you may have other classes that day.  However, I choose to not hold class on election day.

Many Agnes Scott faculty and staff have been disappointed to find out how few of our students vote.  This was the case in 2016, an important presidential election year.  We do not receive special information about who voted (and we know nothing about voting choices), but many students openly said they didn’t vote.  We want you to be empowered to vote, and one way I can participate in this effort is to give you 75 minutes to spend on democracy.

I have cancelled class on November 6th, but in exchange I ask that you spend 75 minutes on democracy.  That may be voting in person on November 6th, but I know that isn’t an option for all of you.  You may need to spend those 75 minutes soon, and then you can have 75 minutes on November 6th for sleeping or watching Game of Thrones or something.  So here are some suggestions:

  1. Vote in person on November 6th!  (local voters)
  2. Fill out an absentee ballot if you vote in a different state.  Make sure to start the process early – depending on the state, you may need to request it by a certain deadline.
  3. Volunteer for a campaign which reflects your values.  This might involve “get out the vote” efforts right before the election, etc.
  4. Help friends register to vote.  Find out which of your friends aren’t registered, then get them registered!  Help them figure out where they need to vote, and remind them to do so!
  5. Help reduce obstacles to voting for local people.  This might involve driving people to the polls or watching children while someone goes to the polls.  There are organizations that facilitate this, but you also might just reach out to your friends/family/faith community to see if you can help.

For those of you who do not have the right to vote in the USA, you could consider options 3-5 above.  You could also take the 75 minutes to learn about/participate in the government of your homeland (if applicable).  Another option is to share how American policies impact you and/or the differences between the USA and other countries.  You could post such a reflection to social media or your digital portfolio.  You could identify how a certain candidate’s policies would impact you more positively and share that information with your friends who are able to vote in the USA.

You and I may not agree on all (or any) political policies, but I respect you and I want your voice to have its maximal impact.  College doesn’t always feel like the “real world”, so I am giving you these 75 minutes to step away from college and fully participate in the real world.

“I commit to take action because I believe that science matters, facts matter, math matters, language matters, and honor and decency matter… I commit to take action because ultimately — and I say this as someone who makes a living as a wordsmith — words are not enough. Writing on Facebook is not enough. Imagine if Rosa Parks had tweeted her indignation rather than offering up her physical body to the cause. Imagine if John Lewis had simply posted pictures of the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Instagram instead of marching and getting beaten to a bloody pulp in Selma.” – From Ordinary Hands, by Thrity Umrigar (this is definitely a left-leaning essay, you are not expected to agree with all of it)

Please let me know if you have any questions,

Dr. Ackerman