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Successful first deabte watch party shows student interest in election

September 30, 2016

At Hofstra University on Monday, September 26th, presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump put their visions for America on display for the entire country to see. For Clinton, the first of three debates involving both campaigns served as a chance to extend her quickly narrowing lead, and protect her once-bright chances of becoming the 45th President of the United States. For Republican nominee Donald Trump, the debate signified an opportunity to seize the momentum, and pull ahead after shrinking the former Secretary of State’s lead down to single digits.

Alternate candidates Jill Stein of the Green Party, and Libertarian Gary Johnson were not invited to participate, failing to reach fifteen percent of the vote in a single accepted media poll before the debate’s start. Due to recent flat polling, and failing to meet established requirements, the stage was left to the two major party candidates, at least for this debate.

For Monmouth College, however, the debate served as a means of getting students engaged in politics, and promoting civic engagement. The Monmouth College Communication Department took the opportunity, hosting an informational watch party in Patee Auditorium. For the approximately fifty students, staff and faculty in attendance, the watch party and the debates themselves were another opportunity to form judgments on both candidates, and make a more informed voting choice come November 8th. Per Communication Studies professor Hayley Hawthorne, that’s exactly the point. “Debates help the public learn about the positions of the candidates,” Hawthorne said. “They are more policy oriented than general news coverage of the campaign. We should know more tonight about the candidates and their positions.”

Though the debate was often contentious and at times rowdy, Professor Hawthorne made sure to note that the job of fact checking was not to be left to moderator Lester Holt, referencing controversy surrounding Commander-in-chief forum moderator Matt Lauer. Instead, she invited students and faculty alike to engage in the discussion on Twitter, using the hashtag “#MCDB8.” And engage, they did. Throughout the course of the debate, Tweets were used as a form of commentary on the debate itself, though there were still occasional verbal outbursts from the crowd. Despite the audience participation, at least one member of the Monmouth student crowd wasn’t convinced that the participation signified meaningful persuasion from one side to the other. Junior Ethan Hager voiced this concern, saying “I think the debate reaffirmed both sides’ thoughts about their candidate.” This certainly seemed to be the general tone, with ardent supporters not budging an inch on their vote choice based on the debate.

Not to be outdone, the audience got into a debate of its own after the formal festivities were over. A panel discussion, led by senior Jacob Marx, Communication Studies professor Joe Angotti, and part-time History professor Bill Urban went into detail on some of the topics touched upon in the debate. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given current events, the discussion quickly turned to race. A terse back-and-forth occurred over the proposed role of race in American society, and the existence of systemic racism during the panel, stemming from Clinton being the first candidate on a major ticket to use the phrase “systemic racism” during a national debate, and Trump declaring himself to be the “Law and Order” candidate. Despite the rhetorical conflict, the panelists were happy with the outcome of the panel itself. Marx, in particular, noted “the crowd had a very good discussion and it was nice to watch civil discussion going on with such a controversial topic.”

After the debate, students and faculty members hung around to discuss the events preceding, indicating the beginning of a discussion that is bound to continue well into the fall, and on to November.

Anthony Adams
Contributing Writer

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