PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Brown University students have approved by a 60 to 40 percent margin a referendum asking that the campus infirmary be stocked with suicide pills in the event of nuclear war, the student government said Friday.
Vote totals from the two-day referendumm, which drew a record 35 percent of the 5,400 undergraduates, showed the referendum was approved 1,096 to 687.
Sponsors Jason Salzman of Denver and Chris Ferguson of New Rochelle, N.Y., called their proposal a symbolic as well as literal way to express their generation's fear of nuclear war.
'There is a problem of this being misrepresented,' Salzman said. 'We don't want suicide. We don't want nuclear war. We want to end the arms race. We want prevention. We have to end this craziness of building bombs.'
Brown President Howard R. Swearer told the Ivy League school's trustees earlier in the day there was no way the university would stockpile pills containing a fast-working poison such as cyanide.
'The mission of the university is to affirm life and to work constructively to preserve and improve it,' he said.
Swearer said Brown recognizes the need for informed public debate on nuclear weapons policy. He said a recent study by Brown's Center for Foreign Policy Development found half of the people under age 30 in America believe an all-out nuclear war is likely within 10 years.
Beth M. Grossman, president of the Undergraduate Council of Students, said the Wednesday and Thursday turnout was nearly triple the usual participation for student government elections. She attributed the increased iterest directly to the referendum.
'A lot of people in the media have been emphasizing suicide instead of the nuclear question and I think that is a shame,' Grossman said.
Robert W. Reichley, vice president for university relations, took Swearer's message straight to joyous students as they announced the results.
'You ought to make it clear it is a symbolic issue, not a literal one,' he said.
Salzman said Brown students will now work to schedule college rallies across the nation on Nov. 2 to protest the threat of nuclear war.
'I think it's the mark of a sick society that we have to think about suicide, but we can cure it,' he said. 'It's a symbolic gesture. It says how scared we are. Nuclear weapons are suicidal and we cannot allow these things to be used.'
In a related development, students at the University of Colorado also will vote on a referendum asking that suicide pills be stockpiled at the school in the event of nuclear war.
The measure, to be voted on in balloting Oct. 30 and 31, urges campus health officials to study the possibility of stocking cyanide tablets. A co-sponsor described the referendum as an attempt to 'stimulate discussion' of the threat of nuclear war.
'We're living in a suicidal society, where the buildup of nuclear weapons is itself leading us to mass suicide,' said Kyra Grossman, representing a group pushing the measure. 'We're not condoning suicide.'