The Right to Vote

There has always been a well known divide between Duke and Durham, with many students–myself included–rarely going off campus and into Durham. No, Shooters and Devines don’t count, and neither does Harris Teeter. We may know cute restaurants downtown or on 9th street, but not much about the neighborhoods where over half of the population live in poverty. We may know Southpoint Mall and American Tobacco, but not of the racial segregation caused by the Durham Freeway.

So, with the tabling outside of BC plaza encouraging students to register to vote, I wonder–as Duke students, do we really deserve the right to vote in the upcoming Durham mayoral election? Are we truly part of Durham?

There are arguments on both sides of the debate. Duke students hold a Durham address, and for that reason, our voice ought to be heard just as that of any other Durham resident. We go to an elite university and receive one of the most prestigious educations in the world, studying complex issues to understand the implications of their solutions. Some of us even volunteer or work in Durham–we’ve learned to find a home in its charm.

But at the end of the day, I am still skeptical of it all. In my eyes, even four full years here will never be enough. As students, we won’t face the same struggles that Durhamites do, we cannot resonate with the history that still influences their everyday lives. We have only seen the parts of Durham that we have chosen to see, likely places or events already familiar with Duke students. But that is a skewed image of what Durham is, which becomes dangerous if we shape it to be the only narrative of Durham we believe.

Most of all, our vote won’t affect us. What stake can we claim to have? We are here for less than four years, on a campus whose administration speaks out against even national legislation. We have the privilege of amnesty laws and a university police force. In what circumstances are we ever affected by local policy?

I recognize that the majority of students likely have good intentions. That they might not be looking to benefit themselves, but rather want to vote for who is the best for Durham. They know about the affordable housing crisis and want to improve Durham Public Schools. Some are concerned about Durham residents who won’t vote, worried that these people don’t have the knowledge to do so, and therefore believe it is their responsibility to fill in for them. I even trust that many students will take the time to read about candidates and their stances. Yet if they cannot claim to understand what it means to be a Durhamite, nor will they be affected by the results, do they really have the correct knowledge to vote? What qualifies them to do so?

which side would be truly responsible?