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Election season preparations

William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe sent the following message to the campus community Oct. 16, 2020. - Ed.

Dear W&M Community,

I write to share William & Mary’s preparations for this election season, the first one in a century conducted under pandemic. The Alma Mater of the Nation has witnessed every presidential election and every transfer of power in this country. Now in our fourth century, our alumni continue to make history as legislators and public servants, across the political spectrum and across the nation. As we mark our ballots, each of us makes our own history.

Today I also write about the crucial importance of small acts – affirmations, individually and together – that sustain the democratic process. William & Mary has been preparing for the 2020 election thoughtfully and creatively, consistent with our mission of teaching, learning and discovery. Some of the snapshots below may be familiar from elections past. Some are new. All reflect our university’s enduring commitment to service.

  • To empower our community, W&M’s non-partisan Voter Engagement Action Committee provides vital information on how to vote.
  • W&M has an incredibly high rate of student participation. According to a recent poll on behalf of the Student Assembly, 97.1% of those surveyed are registered to vote on November 3. I’m especially excited for those of you who are first-time voters.
  • Innovations that sustain democracy are in W&M’s DNA. The Alliance of Students at the Polls, which a student in the Law School helped to found, is building a national network of student volunteers to enable in-person voting.
  • W&M’s faculty are leading experts in election law as well as national and foreign policy. They will help make sense of the process and outcome. Examples include the Government faculty’s discussion on October 20 about the 2020 presidential election and information from the Law School’s Election Law Program.
  • To increase participation, the Commonwealth designated Election Day as a state holiday for employees. For students, the Student Assembly has asked for flexibility too, and the deans have committed to working with the faculty to find generative options. Any new approach we discover under pandemic is likely to strengthen us for years to come, promoting life-long participation in the democratic process.

Throughout this unprecedented semester, health, safety and wellness have been at the forefront of everything we do. This will continue to be our focus over the next six weeks, which also include finishing classes, final exams, travel planning, holidays and more. With this in mind, and with so many absentee votes projected to be cast, it may take longer than normal to learn election results, adding to uncertainty. As the university has all semester, W&M will continue to offer a broad array of wellness resources and programs for the community. 

W&M’s values have guided us all year, and they are as important as ever during election season. Every small act that affirms these values strengthens our community and our democratic institutions:  

Belonging: We create a welcoming and caring community that embraces diverse people and perspectives. We support one another as human beings, no matter our views on election outcomes. Incidences of othering, xenophobia, racism and hate have no place in our community. 

Curiosity: We foster an open academic environment that champions intellectual agility and inspires creativity in the discovery, preservation, application and advancement of knowledge. We defend the right to disagree and express disagreement freely because it is a premise of our democracy that dissent and free expression strengthen us. 

Respect: We treat one another with mutual respect, recognizing and upholding each person's inherent dignity and worth. Even when we find ourselves in deep conflict, we seek ways to engage in thoughtful dialogue.

Finally, as we learn, teach and work during this pandemic, the surge of care for others – such a creative force at W&M – continues to propel us forward. I draw hope from the voices of students, families, employees, alumni and neighbors who step in to help and who give each other grace. In the face of uncertainty, the simple act of asking “How are you?” sustains and strengthens our spirit. Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do since we started down this path eight months ago. 

Best regards, 

– Katherine

 

Katherine A. Rowe

President