From the classroom to the polls: Local professor gives day off so students have time to vote

March 3, 2020 /

People across the country are working hard to get young people civically engaged, but one local professor is taking it to the next level this Election Day.

Bryan Russell, a philosophy professor at Bakersfield College, is cancelling his classes Tuesday — Election Day — so his students can have time to vote.

“I have a chance to talk about how important it is to vote in the classroom,” Russell said. “Because I do think it’s important especially for students to vote.”  

In the 2016 presidential election, only 46.1 percent of voters between the age 18-29 voted, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This number is less than any other age group.

Russell has heard countless reasons why his students aren’t voting. But now, he has figured out a way to lessen the amount of excuses by giving his classes the day off and encouraging them to use the time to vote. 

Russell’s students are appreciative of him giving them time to vote. 

“Our professor giving us the day off and the opportunity to (vote) is great” said Lisa Larsson, one of Russell’s students. “He knows the importance of this but also knows the likelihood of using class as an excuse. More professors should encourage voting in their classes.”

Recently, there has been an increase in voter turnout of youth between the ages of 18 to 29 years old. In the 2018 Midterm election, voter turnout for people between 18 and 29 years old went from 20 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2018, the largest percentage point increase for any age group — a 79 percent jump, the U.S. Census Bureau reports.

Although there has been an increase in young voters casting their ballots in recent election, many are still not voting, and the reason is simply psychology: they feel their vote doesn’t matter, or the election won’t effect them.

Russell points out in this election, higher education has been a topic of conversation among the presidential candidates. The conversations at the debate tables range from how much tuition should cost to student loans and forgiveness programs.

Russell also mentions the talk of free health care among presidential candidates could directly affect many 18-to-29-year-old individuals. These are just a few reason why Russell is encouraging his students to start voting now. 

However, some students don’t buy into the idea their vote doesn’t count, and they are taking advantage of Russell’s time off to vote.

“I am voting tomorrow because I think it’s important to be involved and to have a say in what you want in the community,” said Sofia Nuno-Luevano, Russell’s student. “Things will always stay the same or give an upper to those with entitlement if the people themselves don’t go out and try to do something about it.”

Russell admits he wasn’t always civically engaged as a youth. Just as some of his students have, he to made excuses to not vote. In fact, he didn’t begin voting till he was 28 years old.

Russell said he didn’t know the lasting effect that voting could have on his life. He also felt none of the candidates at the time reflected his views.

He said he felt “completely hopeless.”

Now, after voting in many elections, he understands that voting can make a difference and feels that getting people to the polls can be the first step. 

“It’s a good thing to get young people to the voting booth so that they can get a life long process started,” Russell said. “Even if they get there and they are reading the arguments for the various propositions of the candidates and they don’t understand who they should vote for, that’s at least a point of contact with our political system and could lead to better outcomes in the future.”

JaNell Gore

JaNell Gore

Ja'Nell Gore, 18, is an incoming freshman at Bakersfield College. In addition to writing for South Kern Sol, Ja'Nell is involved with several clubs at her school. Ja'Nell enjoys writing and listening to spoken word.