Harvard Students Slog Through Classes as Election Chaos Looms Large


Assignments delayed. Lectures replaced by open discussions. Zoom cameras set to off.

With the 2020 election still up for grabs more than 24 hours after polls closed, sleep-deprived Harvard undergraduates are coping with the turmoil of a delayed result while going through the motions of online school.

“It’s been hard,” said Noah Harris ’22. “While I have, for the most part, been in the classes, it’s very hard to concentrate.”

President Donald J. Trump’s election in 2016 ground academics in many courses to a halt in the following days. This year, with students scattered across the country, changes to courses have varied class by class.


In Statistics 110: “Probability,” professor Joseph K. Blitzstein, who made class optional on Election Day, pushed back a homework assignment.

“In return,” Blitzstein requested in an email to students Wednesday, “if I am sleep-deprived in class tomorrow please don’t take it out on me in the Q guide.”

Talia M. Blatt ’23, who watched state returns come in from her home in Lexington, Mass. on Tuesday, was prepared for the possibility of delayed results. But following the long election night, in her 9 a.m. Chinese class, “I was just barely processing what was being asked and what was being said,” she said.

“It’s so hard to feel like any of my silly little tasks are meaningful when to me, it feels like I’m awaiting both the fate of our democracy, but also, for me personally, it’s the climate change issue that matters most,” she said. “If our planet is doomed, then it doesn’t really matter if I finish my Chinese homework, and it’s hard to convince myself that it does.”

Blatt, who worked as a fellow on U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey’s (D-Mass.) winning campaign, said there has been “a fair amount of understanding” on the part of teaching fellows and faculty.

“In a strange way, the pandemic has really primed at least my friends and classmates that I’ve spoken to,” she said. “I think the general sense about this year, and this time, as being absurd and tumultuous and frightening has prepared us for an election that is absurd, tumultuous, and frightening.”

R. Elizabeth Hoveland ’22, who has been working as a volunteer organizer in her home state of Montana, said faculty have been accommodating around the election.

In Gened 1036: “Global Feminisms,” one of Hoveland’s classes, discussion posts were delayed and lecture became a discussion space Wednesday.

“Harvard faculty and Harvard grad students have been phenomenal with accommodating students who are currently performing two rolls — one as a student and one as an activist,” she said. “And I’m very proud of at least the faculty that I’ve had, at how understanding they’ve been.”

As the race remains in flux days after Nov. 3, its results loom large for many students.

“I don’t know anyone who’s confident that we are going to 100 percent win this thing,” said Hoveland, a Biden supporter.

Harris, a Mississippi native living in Lexington, Mass., for the semester, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about Biden’s chances going forward.

“It’s very hard after last night to be optimistic because the polls were suggesting this was going to be very much an electoral college landslide, at least — if not just a reshaping of the presidential map entirely,” he said.

Speaking as results rolled in just after 1 a.m. Wednesday, Michael B. Baick ’22 said “there are two ways to think about school” while the election remains uncertain.

“The first way to think about school — the obvious one — is, I’m too stressed out to do anything about school,” he said. “The way that I’m going to try to convince myself to think about school over the next few days is the search for something resembling truth — search for a framework that I can believe in. The search for stories that can inspire me and more importantly can inspire others has become more intense than ever.”

—Staff writer Jasper G. Goodman can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jasper_Goodman.