The 2020 United States Election, which decides who occupies the oval office, 35 seats of the Senate, all 438 seats of the House of Representatives (including representatives from the District of Columbia), and positions within state and local governments, has been on the minds of many Americans and non-Americans alike. Because of the significant consequences of this year’s election, feelings of worry, excitement, or dread are all expected and rational. The results of this election will determine the methods used to solve the biggest issues of today: the ongoing (and increasingly prominent) COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism and inherent racial prejudice and inequity in our country, the struggling economy and proposed methods of recovery, and the ongoing fight against climate change. 

Given how unprecedented, emotional, and influential this election is, a team of faculty and administrators from Hewitt, Ms. Robbins, Ms. Rose, Ms. Stevens, and Dr. Burgess, thought about how to approach the 2020 Elections in a proactive and engaging way, involving Hewitt’s values and new mission. This group, according to Ms. Robbins, knew how intensely this election will have an “impact [on] our students, most of whom can’t vote, but certainly all of whom are aware of and emotionally connected to the election and the results of it.” Thus, the team wanted their election programming (purposefully scheduled before the election) to inform students and teachers about the current political circumstances, give the community the ability to have conversations about the elections, and help civically engaged participants navigate through these murky times with unity and empathy. 

In accordance with Hewitt’s mission, the mandatory election programs spoke to an equitable, sustainable, and ethical future through Ms. Adam’s video explaining the electoral college, Natalia M. ‘22 and Mr. Clare’s presentation about climate change politics, and Ms. Knight’s presentation about Ethics and Power. In a video sent to the upper school, Ms. Adams discussed the electoral process in the United States by speaking about the history of the electoral college and the current movements for revision or change. Natalia and Mr. Clare covered the differences between Donald Trump’s and Joe Biden’s general platforms related to environmental sustainability and addressed the unproductive political polarization of climate change, a topic many do not believe should be partisan or political. Ms. Knight spoke about the increasing influence of the executive branch of government, the controversial impact of the electoral college on elections and representation, and our country’s history of voter exclusion and suppression. All of the presenters stressed the importance of holding leaders accountable for their actions and words. Finally, the election programming gave students the opportunity to pursue their individual interests in additional workshops and presentations that followed. With Mr. Heller, students explored political polarization and the role of social media in creating different realities for different people, and Chloe V. ‘22 and Carly G. ‘22, the heads of Politics Club, presented on the role of COVID-19 and mail-in ballots in the election process. Lastly, Ms. Nichols and Ms. Adams offered students space to process any and all emotions surrounding the election. Having these members of the Hewitt community share their expertise and deep interest further engaged students with the material presented.

The organizers of the programs recognized the importance of communicating feelings regarding the election and aimed to understand and sympathize with our community’s fervent emotions. In the programming and in classes, teachers and students work to address feelings or questions and validate any concerns. Additionally, so many people, including members of Hewitt’s community, “see their personal rights on the line or being debated in this election,” said organizer Ms. Robbins. Thus, she continued, this election “is absolutely not an armchair discussion or hypothetical debate about far away policy.” The students I spoke to echoed this notion of the severity and consequences of this election. These students keenly knew, through watching the Presidential debates and keeping up with current events, the large implications on current rights and the future of our country. To summarize, they expressed worry, stress, and fear in response to the election, the candidates, and the issues of the present and future that relate to this election. (A synopsis of emotions from the students I surveyed is portrayed through this article’s corresponding image.) Hewitt’s programming aimed to process these feelings by legitimizing and discussing them. Through this programming, Ms. Robbins has established a “plan or course of action” to address her similar feelings. Empathizing with people who are affected by voter suppression or disenfranchisement, “informing people about our rights [and] mobilizing people to vote if they are able to do so” makes Ms. Robbins feel more productive and hopeful. The students’ worry for the future empowers Hewitt students, and other Gen Zers, to use our “powerful voices to inspire lasting change,” Olivia S. ‘22 said. We are hopeful and dependent on young leaders.

At the end of the day, the message from the programming is loud and clear: make informed decisions based on your understanding of “the clear differences between each candidate,” as Chloe said and VOTE! Your vote matters, especially in this moment in history, and especially because your vote protects democracy. If you can, vote. If you can’t vote, like many students at Hewitt, urge those who can to do so. The Hewitt community worked, through the Election programming, to inform students and empathize with provoked emotions. Although the same may not be true nationwide, these interactions speak to the culture of our school.

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