Ahead of election, Stanford students grapple with a deluge of stress

Nov. 1, 2020, 9:42 p.m.

With Election Day imminent, Stanford students are struck with intense emotions ranging from fear and anxiety to hope, with these sentiments piling on in an already fraught year at Stanford and in the U.S. 

The setup has led some instructors and students, considering the potential effects on their academic performance, to look to academic accommodations. 

While the Faculty Senate decided not to designate Election Day as a campus-wide holiday, they urged professors to cancel class or record lectures. 

Madison Houston ’21 said that while one of her professors acknowledged that the next few weeks would be difficult, they did not offer any accommodations, instead saying that it was important for Houston and her classmates to stay focused.

“I feel like that is really the mentality of like, we know it’s tough, but you gotta push through,” Houston said.

Students report that some other professors are not acknowledging the election at all. Senior class president David Pantera ’21 said that out of the three courses he is enrolled in, two of them have not mentioned the election.

“I think by now you should at least have had a conversation with your class, acknowledging that this is an important day and that this is going to affect some people differently,” Pantera said. “It’s important that professors make that statement right now so students feel like they’re understood and that the professor really empathizes with the situation they’re going through.” 

Pantera added, however, that his Black Studies Matter professor has been exceptionally accommodating, which has had a positive impact on him. 

“The last three weeks she’s been reiterating like, ‘Election season coming up,’ like, ‘We’re here for you. We’re happy to push you towards resources that can help,’” Pantera said. “She’s setting an excellent example of the type of support and understanding that students are really looking for right now.”

The Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) released a detailed plan to help accommodate students during the election. The plan, provided to The Daily by PWR instructor Donna Hunter, states, “PWR instructors may, at their discretion, cancel class on either Tuesday, November 3 or Wednesday, November 4 in response to the cultural and political moment.”

The proposal encourages professors to acknowledge the stress many students might be experiencing and emphasize their “commitment to both flexibility and compassion/empathy during this time.” 

Hunter wrote in an email to The Daily that she plans to hold class on Nov. 4, during which she will make space for students to discuss the election. 

“I would urge professors to listen to their students and to not put the burden on us to ask for help or to reach out,” Houston said. “I would ask that if people are reaching out, professors be accommodating and not ask questions or ask for explanations because sometimes you feel a way that you can’t even put into words.”

Multiple professors did not respond to The Daily’s requests for comment. 

As Election Day approaches, undergraduates are feeling a range of emotions. For Leah Waites ’23, the election presents a possibility to safely return to her normal life.

“Stanford was really a safe haven and a home and brought me a lot of joy, so being back [home] is frustrating, and it seems directly connected to politics,” Waites said. “So the election is like this faction of, you know, maybe our lives can go back to normal.”

Some students feel detached from the election all together. 

Justin Thach ’23 said that he feels numb to everything going on, saying, “There is everything to be at stake right now, and I think that’s why it’s so scary to be worried. Because if I really let myself feel everything that’s at stake right now, then I honestly don’t know how I’ll get through the quarter.”

For others, the upcoming election is another factor that has contributed to stress.

“I think just in general, adaptation to the change can be really hard,” Tristyn Thomas ’24 said. “And knowing that the election is going on at the same time — it’s a tough time.” 

Janae Young ’23 said that she feels a mix of frustration, anger, depression and anxiety. For Young and other undergraduates, the emotional impact of the upcoming election has made it difficult to keep up with school work and has altered their priorities. 

“I think Stanford requires you to operate at your highest capacity in order to perform, and I think that you can’t do that when you’re sort of worrying about the future of our country,” Young said. “So I think those emotions definitely have a result on academic performance.”

Nazjaa Hughson ’23 echoed Young, saying, “I’m really nervous and really anxious. I know this big thing is about to come up that could change everything, so it’s kind of stressing me out and putting more stress on me when I’m trying to do my work and go to class and stuff.”

William Howlett ’22 used the upcoming election to re-evaluate his priorities.

“Sometimes you just realize that your classwork might be of secondary importance to larger events going on in the world, and so it definitely makes you kind of put everything in perspective and think about the bigger picture,” Howlett said.

Many students have also taken on additional responsibilities to prepare for the election and to help others do the same, which takes time away from class work.

Houston has been helping her family members register to vote, understand the ballot and make plans for voting. 

“Some of my family members have records, so maybe this is their first time voting…  so that was really where I was helpful because either they hadn’t voted in a really long time because of that, or just other personal reasons,” Houston said.

Pantera has been dedicating his time to his role as a strategy consultant for Joe Biden’s national campaign team, working on ways to reach voters ages 18 to 24 on the West coast. 

“There will be periods of time where the workload is not too bad, but then there are a couple of weeks that are crazy,” Pantera said. “I really do feel like there’s so much at stake with this election and that this work is so important, so I really try to prioritize this.”

In anticipation of undergraduate anxiety next week, some student-led organizations on campus, such as Stanford Women in Politics (SWIP), are offering support to students on election day.

SWIP’s Director of Media Marketing Etienne Reche-Ley ’23 shared that SWIP will be holding an on-call on election day where students can talk to SWIP members at any point in the day to express feelings about the election. This on-call will be open to anyone who would like to come.

“We really just want to show that we’re there for anyone who needs extra support or someone to talk to,” Reche-Ley said. 

StanfordVotes, a student-led organization that focuses on educating undergraduates on voting practices and increasing accessibility to vote, is also answering questions pertaining to voting on their Instagram and Facebook pages via direct messages, according to StanfordVotes Director of Social Media Emily Handsel ’23. 

Contact Malaysia Atwater at matwater ‘at’ stanford.edu and Stefan Velculescu at svelcul1 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Malaysia Atwater '23 is a senior staff writer and former Vol. 260/261 managing editor in the News section. She is a political science major from Centennial, Colorado, and she enjoys dancing and re-watching Grey's Anatomy in her free time. Contact her at matwater 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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