Divided nation holds breath as race nears end

Joe Biden, wearing a mask and surgical gloves, faces Donald Trump in a boxing ring in front of the White House; Kamala Harris and Mike Pence stand cheering on the sidelines.
Illustration by Amelia Madarang

Amid widespread concern over the possibility of contested results, the accuracy of polling and the integrity of ballot counting, weary voters anxiously await election night in America. At Lewis & Clark, campus leaders are anticipating heightened community stress and encouraging students to engage with a number of election-related events and resources. 

One such event, hosted by the Associated Students of Lewis & Clark (ASLC), is an in-person, socially distanced election night watch party. Between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Nov. 3, students are invited to fill 19 rooms in J.R. Howard and Miller Halls to watch election results trickle in. Members of ASLC will monitor each of the rooms to ensure COVID-19 precautions are being followed and conduct contact tracing. In total, up to 200 students are invited to attend the watch party at a given time. 

According to Sarah Lind-MacMillan ’22, ASLC engagement & outreach coordinator, the watch party is intended to promote community support.

“It’s super crucial that people are not alone on election night,” MacMillan said. “We wanted to offer people two hours to be with each other and recognize the importance of having community on that night.”

Originally, the watch party was organized as a virtual event. However, at the urging of the Division of Student Life, ASLC opted to forgo its initial plan and instead coordinate an in-person experience. Part of this decision was meant to dissuade students from being alone on election night. As Assistant Dean of Student Engagement and Executive Director of the Career Center Rocky Campbell noted, another part was to offer a well-attended community event.

“Larger virtual events that are generic and general seem to struggle for attendance,” Campbell said. “If people are present that you know and have a tie to, you’re more likely to attend an event.”

The watch party will feature coverage by The New York Times. According to Lind-MacMillan, this is, in part, meant to advertise LC’s complimentary digital access to The New York Times.

Within academic affairs, administrators and support staff are ramping up resources in preparation for election night and the days after. According to Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Bruce Suttmeier, the college is not “anticipating an interruption to academic life because of the election.” However, academic support services are expecting an increase in demand.

“As an institution, we have begun talking about making sure our support offices are as prepared as can be for heightened demand post-election,” Suttmeier said via email. “Given the uncertainty around finalizing results, we recognize that may prolong and increase demand.”

Additionally, in an Oct. 7 email, Suttmeier encouraged faculty to use their classrooms as a community space to process the election results.

“As I’ve mentioned in various venues, many of our courses this semester are ideal venues for students to discuss, understand, and process the various issues raised by the election, so I encourage you to incorporate, to the degree possible, these issues in your classes,” Suttmeier said. “Students in 2016 spoke of the classroom as an essential space for coming together to discuss the result. To state the obvious, I imagine that will hold true this year as well.”

The Counseling Service is also expanding its resources in preparation for the election. John Hancock, chief psychologist and associate dean of students for health and wellness, reminds students that the Counseling Service operates a 24/7 crisis line. He also noted that, given the uncertainty of when results will be available, the Counseling Service will increase operations in the days following the election. 

“The emotions that are typically associated with election day itself may be unresolved at the end of that day,” Hancock said. “We’ve ramped up the number of counseling sessions that are going to be available to students in the days after the election because we think that there’s a certain activation about the election that happens emotionally for all of us.” 

According to the 2019 Stress in America survey, 56% of U.S. adults identify the 2020 presidential election as a major source of stress, compared to 52% in the run up to the 2016 election. While the Counseling Service will offer assistance to any student’s anxiety, Hancock believes that a community environment often serves as a source of comfort for election stress.

“I’ve been through a few election nights and I think there is the potential for this one to be more emotional than many in the past,” Hancock said. “My experience is that students oftentimes want to connect not with a therapist, but rather with other people who think and feel as they do.”

Associate Professor of Psychology Diana Leonard believes that the LC community should not forget that a divided nation means, regardless of the election outcome, some people will be disappointed by the result. A recent poll conducted by The Pioneer Log found that 96.4% of LC voters intend to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris compared to 1.8% voting for President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

“I think that we’re in a bubble here in Portland,” Leonard said. “There are many people who found the 2016 election results to be very positive. Any time that you feel that leaders don’t have your best interest at heart can be a great source of anxiety, especially if you’re from a group that’s disempowered.”

With the election just four days away, administrators have considered the possibility that students may want to protest the results, out of either joy or anger. In 2016, following the election of Trump, many LC students participated in demonstrations that rocked Portland’s city center for days. 

This year, due to the college’s COVID-19 safeguards, on-campus and off-campus students are not permitted to engage in protests that occur off of Palatine Hill. According to Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students Robin Holmes-Sullivan, disobeying LC’s COVID-19 policies could result in disciplinary action through the student code of conduct.

“The College’s prohibition of on-campus students leaving campus is and will remain in force … students are not permitted to leave to protest downtown,” Holmes-Sullivan said in an email. “We would handle this just as we would any violation of a College policy through our student code of conduct. Additionally, off-campus students are also subject to our prohibition of participating in events that may increase the possible transmission of COVID-19.”

Students are encouraged to stay updated on election-related events and resources through The Bark, the Health Promotion and Wellness webpage and emails from administrators. On election day, the Office of Spiritual Life will host a virtual meditation session at 4:30 p.m. Registration is available through the office’s webpage.

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