No, not really. They were making a dramatic and hyperbolic gesture about the dangers of nuclear holocaust, but they were not seriously hoping to have pills handy for use.
In any event, organizers say their aim is largely symbolic: they want people to equate nuclear war with suicide.
"There are words we hear talk about when people mention nuclear war: survival, recovery," said Jason Salzman, 21, a junior from Denver who is one of the group's four organizers. "I like more appropriate words: suicide, death."
Still others supported getting the referendum approved for voting as a statement about free speech and democracy.
Mr. Salzman and Christopher Ferguson, 21, a sophomore from New Rochelle, N.Y., who is also among the organizers, said many students signed the petition to put the question on the ballot not because they supported the measure but rather "to let it get on the ballot in the spirit of democratic process."
It seems like the students voting were also aware of the symbolic motivations, as well.
Madeline Butcher, 19, a sophomore from Brunswick, Maine, said she would vote yes and hope the health service would stock the poison "to make everybody a little more aware of the reality of it all."
But Scott C. Ganeles, 20, a junior from Peekskill, N.Y, said he would vote for the referendum "just as an idea - just to put the word 'suicide' with 'nuclear holocaust.'"
NY Times Archive 10/11/1984: Brown Students Vote On Atom War "Suicide Pills"
Was it silly and more than a little foolish, to our eyes in the post-Cold War era? Perhaps, but many today do not realize the actual danger of those times, as well.
In any case, the idea that they wanted the pill available as a practical alternative, rather than making an attention-grabbing statement, is also overblown, as is the idea that college students were "clamoring" for cyanide. But that's not surprising, given the source.