Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton stand at their lecterns during their third presidential campaign debate on Oct. 19 at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. (Pool photo by Mark Ralston via Reuters)

What are college students thinking about in the closing days before the election? Accusations of sexual assault, and memes, and hate speech, and drinking games to get themselves through the presidential debates. For many college students, this brutal, hair-raising, divisive campaign is their first chance to cast a vote — and they’re wondering whether to go to the polls at all.

College newspapers offer a glimpse at their take on the issues, the candidates and our democracy. Some students stand by the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, some the Republican, Donald Trump, but many said they would write in presidential candidates, concentrate on the other races and questions on the ballot — or avoid the polls altogether, because they’re disgusted by all the ugly allegations, revelations and rhetoric of the campaign season.

Here’s a look at what some students are thinking and writing about — with parting words from a professor looking back on another divisive campaign long ago.

The University of California at Berkeley’s Daily Californian, like many student newspapers, endorsed Clinton: “It’s almost unfair that the most qualified presidential candidate in history happens to be running against the least qualified presidential candidate in history. But it makes the decision easy.”

In the Hillsdale Collegian at Michigan’s Hillsdale College, sophomore Garrison Grisedale wrote,

Keeping the status quo may prove Trump’s prediction true: “Four more years of this, and we may not have a country anymore.” America is not an undifferentiated multicultural blur. America is a country. And her current path can lead only to collapse; she will inevitably fall with a shudder, a ghostly outline, a mere shadow of her former self, the edges intact but the substance absent. We must heed Trump’s call to unite as “one people, under one God, embracing one American flag.” So let’s make America strong again, proud again, safe again.

In the Harvard Crimson, the editorial board urged students to vote to legalize marijuana, a question on the ballot in five states including Massachusetts.

It’s a well-established fact that the initial impetus for criminalizing marijuana was the targeting of minorities and people of color.

. . . The legacy of those policies are manifested in the nation’s overflowing prison population. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. . . .

Rather than continuing to fund the War on Drugs, a policy that has done more to increase violence than stem it, the United States should reorient its priorities towards the regulation of marijuana under a well constructed legal framework.

In the Claremont Independent at Claremont McKenna College in California, Matthew Reade wrote in “What is Killing American Politics?” about how polls find majorities of voters don’t trust the major-party candidates, even though voters wage such strong influence over their selection:

Americans have lost faith in their democratic institutions for good reason. With both major parties fleeing the center, more voters have been left behind than ever before, and this year, they are locked into a false choice between two awful candidates.

That despite the system of checks and balances built into our nation’s framework; he argues that the checks upon the two-party system have failed, because the two parties “have insulated themselves from the moderating force of independent voters,” forcing them to choose between two extremes. He urges independent voters to rebel:

Third-party threats have produced some of the most extraordinary and important political transformations in American history — including the victory of the anti-slavery movement under Abraham Lincoln. . . .

Fortunately, ending gridlock in Washington will not take a Lincoln. A strong third-party movement, drawn from a broad, deep coalition of disaffected partisans and political independents, could put enough pressure on the two-party monopoly to force them to the center — or to carve out just enough space for a new party, a moderating force in American politics.

In the Yale Daily News, junior Cole Aronson criticizes the Yale College Republicans for endorsing Trump, a decision which led some members to quit and form their own splinter group — and a defining issue for many conservatives in this election.

The group “should be ashamed of itself,” Aronson, who is conservative, wrote.

. . . The YCR excused itself because it is a Republican organization, and so must support Republican candidates wherever they are found. Folderol. It needn’t and it shouldn’t do anything its members think is wrong. . . .

They should join those who, while they vote red most years, think and act always as conservatives — especially when there’s a sociopathic ogre at the top of the Republican ticket.

In the Daily Texan, at the University of Texas at Austin, freshman Nrhari Duran compared candidates to sushi and wrote, “new voters are getting more wasabi than they can handle in 2016, making them too wary to participate in government,” and urged classmates to look to state and local issues.

In the Daily Wildcat, at the University of Arizona, Julian Cardenas called for a return to civility as political debate has overtaken social media and opened up new divides even among friends and families. “The heated environment — and at times hateful rhetoric — has engulfed the public and seems to be visible now in people’s lives,” not just in the news media. “Sometimes — although it hurts you, burns your soul, goes completely against everything you stand for — you just have to be nice and accept someone for their differences.”

Amid all this turmoil, a professor at Michigan State University challenged students to look beyond the immediate frustrations with politics. Bruce Curtis, a professor emeritus, wrote in the State News that he has never regretted a vote he cast, but that “50 years later, I bitterly regret the one vote I did not cast.”

It was 1968, during the Vietnam War, a conflict for which both parties shared responsibility, and he watched television coverage of protesters outside the Democratic National Convention being gassed and beaten by police in Chicago. “I was sickened by the brutality of the war and police,” he wrote, and sickened, too, by politicians.

With Bobby Kennedy assassinated, with Eugene McCarthy out of the race, utterly contemptuous of Richard Nixon, I refused to vote.

Republican Nixon won. He continued, intensified and expanded the war in Vietnam, and into Cambodia and Laos. Many thousands more suffered and died. Everyone knows how his Watergate further dishonored the presidency.

Maybe Hubert Humphrey couldn’t have ended the war any sooner, Curtis wrote, but he feels certain he was a better man.

“I will vote this Nov. 8,” he wrote, “and I will vote early in the morning.”


Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Donald Trump while attending the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria on Oct. 20 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)