Students Need to Vote in Local Elections

John Petersen, OC '88 and Paul Sears Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology

To the Editors:

This Tuesday, registered Ohio voters will cast their ballots. Oberlin College students often ask themselves, “Is it appropriate for me to vote on local issues?” This is a complex question that students must answer for themselves. While any town with a college inevitably experiences some degree of town-gown friction, the reality is that positive collaboration between students and other community members has dominated city and College relationships since both were collectively founded in 1833. In recent years, students, faculty, staff and townspeople have worked closely together to address the question of how a city and college in the Rust Belt might collaborate to build a vibrant and resilient economy that alleviates poverty and inequity, promotes sustainable agriculture and local business and ultimately weans itself off fossil fuels.

The candidates and issues on the ballot this year present citizens — including college students — with important choices that will help answer this question. While there are a number of fine candidates running for City Council, Sharon Pearson embodies many of the principles that exemplify the best of Oberlin — the kind of town-college collaborations that we should take pride in and support. A lifelong member of the Oberlin community, for 25 years Pearson worked for the city of Oberlin. For the last several years, Pearson has served the community as a program coordinator for the Oberlin Project, a town-gown collaboration designed to promote “full spectrum” sustainability.

In her work on City Council and with the Oberlin Project, Pearson has been a tireless advocate for social justice, economic development and sustainable transportation. Accomplishments during her first term in office include: leading legislative efforts to support local economic development and local jobs; leading the initiative to successfully pass a “Complete Streets” ordinance which advances sustainable transportation options; coordinating regional efforts to enhance public transportation; and working to establish a Youth Council to enhance the voice of the younger members of this community. In her second term, Pearson has committed to continued focus on these critical issues and increased emphasis on diversity in leadership and promoting the voices of the under-served.

In addition to the City Council election, there are a number of ballot issues that are critical to strengthening this community. For example, a yes vote on Issue 1 would establish a bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission that could help to prevent whoever is currently in power from gerrymandering election districts. For those that care, legalization of marijuana is also on the ballot.

The League of Women Voters website provides candidate statements as well as nonpartisan information about ballot initiatives. It is quite appropriate for college students to abstain from voting on issues on which they do not feel informed or feel that they have no stake. However, I would suggest that students who are registered to vote in Ohio have a responsibility as well as a right to exercise their franchise on the issues that affect their lives and the life of the community in which they live and study.

John E. Petersen, OC ’88

Paul Sears Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology