Rowland ’17: Brown voters can do better

opinions columnist
Monday, October 24, 2016

The presidential election has been the spectacle most on my mind recently, as many of my classmates likely understand. Each new repulsive discovery shakes me, but the bombast fails to surprise me. I read the news and tremble at the turn our country has taken but understand why and how it happened. I am both horrified and jaded. Still, I retain an optimism that the democratic process and society overall have the ability to correct course in the long run. Were it not for this irrational and potentially naive belief, my course of study in public policy would be trivial, and I would be crushed by a foreboding sense of doom.

Since my classmates do not seem to be crushed by the weight of a disastrous destiny, I must assume that, to a certain extent, they share my optimism. Why else would we choose to attend the hippie Ivy? I’m being a bit self-deprecating here, but I’m more serious than joking.

Thus, when I read in The Herald’s undergraduate fall poll results that 6.4 percent of students plan to abstain from voting in the upcoming election (excluding those ineligible to vote) and another 6.4 percent plan on voting for third-party or other candidates, I was disappointed. Given our privileged perch at Brown, failing to balance our cynicism with a commitment to serving the community and living lives of usefulness, as Brown’s mission dictates, is unacceptable in a very absolute and unambiguous sense. To choose not to vote or to cast a vote more likely to derail progress than enable it (as third-party voting in this election is overwhelmingly likely to do) evidences a contempt antithetical to our shared values. I knew we were cynics, but I thought we were cynics who maintained a soft and fuzzy core harboring belief in productive civic participation.

The numbers tell me that about 800 undergraduates are either too apathetic or disillusioned to follow through on the lofty principles of democracy. For context, in the 2012 general election, 458 people voted in the precinct that represents Brown. If the ideals that embody our shared values are to be realized, we need to support candidates who will move the United States closer to our goals rather than further away from them. And while our goals may be idealistic, the goal I outline in this column — that all students eligible to vote simply make their way to the ballot box — is very much within reach.

Now, it may seem that I’m overly sensitive in this case, given the single-digit numbers listed above. And normally I tend to avoid thinking in absolutes. But this case is far from typical and the scope of Donald Trump’s repulsiveness is so grand that even marginal voter abstention rates are a betrayal of the ideals I had projected on the Brown community.

The Herald’s poll results are a fitting manifestation of the idea that there’s a story behind every data set. The numerical and tangible representation of campus sentiment is fascinating and sometimes surprising. And on a campus with so many opinions, the aggregation of perspectives on prominent issues can serve to provide some clarity and context for those of us buried in the weeds of our chosen causes. I’ve been so immersed in my own paradoxical approach to the bleak state of politics that I had lost sight of those for whom disgust overwhelms optimism or apathy overwhelms interest.

In this case, I’m the one out of touch, even compared to others within the confines of the Ivory Tower. I tend not to demand absolute conformity with my opinion. (Doing so would make the job of being opinions editor impossibly difficult not to mention ethically compromised.) But in this unique case, I feel comfortable holding my peers to high standards even when that means rejecting opinions other than my own. And the results of the poll, though minimal, are both statistically significant and significantly disappointing.

Lainie Rowland ’17 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to