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Drake Students and Staff Respond to Election Stress

With the stress of election season compounding onto the stress of 2020, some Drake professors made the decision to cancel classes on Election Day Nov. 3 to give students time for self-care.

For English professor Beth Younger, self-care days have been important throughout the school year, but especially so amid the election season.

“This semester is so different from any other semester we’ve ever had, so I’ve been kind of thinking about self-care days throughout the whole semester,” Younger said. “I want people to have the time to do what they need to do, like if people need to vote, if people need to sit in their dorm room and do something to maintain sanity, whatever they need to do.”

For Younger, part of that decision stemmed from how different this semester felt anyway in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It’s just a very different semester, so I’ve been trying to think about it in a different way,” Younger said. “If we were still meeting in person, I would also say, ‘If you need to be gone on this day, I’m fine with that, absolutely.’ I can’t speak for other professors or educators, but I feel like this semester, there are very few people who are just kind of like, ‘Yeah, let’s go, everything’s fine.’”

Strategic political communication professor Jennifer Konfrst also said the abnormal semester was a factor in her decision to cancel classes the day after Election Day. 

“I already knew it was going to be a frustrating semester, one in which we wouldn’t have fall break, and I know students well enough to know that October was going to be rough anyway,” Konfrst said. “Then adding on this pressure and the overarching stress of an election, there are plenty of things you can talk about without having somewhere to be at 9:30 on the day after the election. One thing I could do was to give us a little break in there.”

Konfirst was teaching at Drake during the 2016 election and said she made the decision to hold class the day after that election. She had also been on the ballot that year, running for a seat in the Iowa House of Representatives.

“2016 was interesting because I was also on the ballot and I lost,” Konfrst said. “That Wednesday after Election Day, I was teaching J30 and they were all looking at me like, ‘What am I going to do with her? Is she going to explode? What is she going to do?’ and I just said ‘I lost and Donald Trump won, so that’s how I’m doing.’”

According to Konfrst, there are moments as a professor when lesson plans need to be set aside to address current issues and the feelings of students.

“There are times when the material has to go out the window,” Konfrst said. “There are times when you can’t teach a lesson that day because your students aren’t there with you, so the lesson comes from listening to each other and talking about the issues that are emotional and raw. Students didn’t quite know how to react and so it was really just a lot of processing. Those moments are ones that as an educator, I feel like it’s my responsibility to pause and address them.”

However, Konfrst decided to cancel classes for Election Day and the following day in 2020 to give students time to process things on their own.

“I know that there’s a lot of emotion out there right now, plus the fact that we’re all very on edge,” Konfrst said. “I don’t know what to expect when it comes to seeing students’ reactions, but I will say that I’m more prepared this time to have those conversations than I was in 2016.”

Younger also said her experience teaching during the 2016 election reinforced her decision to cancel classes for a self-care day during the 2020 election.

“I wish I could block it out. After the election, I had so many students traumatized, mostly LGBT students and students of color, and I felt like my office was a place that they could come and freak out,” Younger said. “When it happened, I didn’t know how I was going to teach my class. So I would go to class and say, ‘Does anyone want to talk about this?’, and they did. And some people said other classes were pretending like nothing happened. You can’t just pretend like nothing happened, because the world was turned on its head. It was hard for students.”

Drake sophomore Jeremy Alport, who is enrolled in one of Younger’s classes, said he appreciates her decision to cancel classes on Election Day.

“I think it’s a great idea because we’ll all be stressed as heck, regardless of who we want to win,” Alport said. “Some want to destress, some want to watch vividly and some want to escape. This will allow us to do those.”

According to Younger, it’s ultimately a judgement call for professors to decide what benefits the most amount of students at any given time. 

“I had one student [in 2016] tell me after class that she was glad we talked about it, and I had one student tell me after class that he wished we hadn’t talked about it because he wanted to pretend everything was normal,” Younger said. “That’s my struggle: how do I do what’s right for the whole class? It’s impossible, you just have to try to do what you can. Which this time means having a self-care day.”

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