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​Beyond #NeverTrump: voting higher education values

guest column

Like many college students, I will be voting in my first general presidential election this November. I used to dream about the day when I would first cast my vote and help decide the future of our nation. However, this primary season has made for a bumpy entry into the world of politics. Those of us who supported Sanders in the primary are facing a difficult question: how can we prevent the nightmare of a Trump Presidency while advancing the progressive platform that motivated us to become involved in the first place? How can we do more than simply cast #NeverTrump votes?

We begin by recognizing that we will never be given any more than what we demand. We must make it clear to candidates up and down the ballot what it will take to win our support. That’s why I’m joining with thousands of students, faculty and workers across the country in launching Get Out The Vote University this week.

GOTVU has been a long-time coming. Over the past several decades, universities have become increasingly corporatized, which has triggered a series of dangerous trends: the disappearance of tenure track jobs, mounting student debt, low pay for everyone from cleaning staff to professors and the pervasive legacy of racial inequality in hiring practices.

We are demanding college debt relief for every family; fair pay and the right to organize for professors, graduate students and all campus workers; accountability for universities that misuse taxpayer money; and policies that address racial inequality in the stratification of both students and faculty of color. We must fight for justice on our campuses, and tell candidates that they need to join us if they want our vote. This election cycle is as much about congressional and local races as it is the presidential candidates. Let’s not forget that the politicians competing for our votes at every level are supposed to serve us, not the other way around. They are not entitled to our support; they have to earn it. Contrary to the narrative put forth in the media, it is possible to hold candidates on both side of the aisle accountable to our concerns, while simultaneously working to defeat Trump.

I know we have what it takes to push a progressive agenda because I have already seen it happening on Duke’s campus. A growing number of students, faculty and workers are taking action to redirect the future of higher education away from a corporate model—and towards one rooted in democratic values and the liberal arts. This is evident in the number of protests (motivated by both racial and economic injustice) that have interrupted the everyday operation of the university in the past couple of years.

I am also inspired by the courage, perseverance and success of Duke’s own non-tenure track faculty, who formed their union last semester with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Graduate students are now in the process of forming their own union with SEIU, and I am encouraged by the undergraduates and faculty members who have already pledged to support them along the way. When workers organize on campus, we all stand to benefit. In a state with one of the lowest union membership rates in the country, the support for these campaigns shows that Duke workers know we can build a stronger Duke together. It also means that despite the odds stacked against us, when we come together, we are powerful and we can build a more sustainable future in higher education.

This progressive energy is by no means unique to Duke’s campus, and there is nothing stopping those of us who dream of an education system that breaks down barriers rather than building them up from bringing our demands to the national stage. In fact, a national movement like GOTVU, which puts pressure on politicians, is the only way we can secure lasting change.

I encourage everyone at Duke who dreams of stronger university and shares my commitment to improving higher education to join me. You can add your name to the petition by clicking here, and you can contact me at to get more involved.

Ashlyn Nuckols is a Trinity junior.


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