West Chester University students watch 1st presidential debate
WEST CHESTER >> In anticipation of a heated debate, West Chester University students and faculty gathered at the student union to watch the first presidential debate between Hillary R. Clinton and Donald J. Trump in what has proven to be one of the most bizarre presidential election cycles to date.
Formally known as debate watch, a nonpartisan effort where the Presidential Debate Commission hopes to instill community interest and critical thinking in politics by reaching out to universities and requesting they host public viewings of presidential debates.
This year, as in previous years, attendance for the event maxed out. The student union’s theater met its capacity of 320.
As the debate began Monday night, several students cheered when Clinton said she wanted to close the wage gap.
But as the candidates began lampooning each other on the debate stage,
students largely laughed and seemed largely amused as the candidates argued back and forth, although Trump drew more groans from students at certain points.
Applause erupted when Hillary said to Trump, “I know you live in your own reality.”
According to Kevin Dean, and David Levasseur, both university professors with doctorate degrees in communication studies, students who support Trump are largely quiet about their support for him, and students are largely disappointed with both the Republican and Democratic candidates.
Dean said students frequently tell him that they will “hold their nose when they vote.”
Both professors also believe the millennials have the power to decide the election if they go out and vote, and that they have been impressed with the amount of conversation they have heard from students about candidates.
Students on campus also looked forward to the event beforehand, and many hoped they would get to see an objective debate rather than receive information through other potentially biased news sources.
But if the breakdown of decorum in the first part of the debate disappointed students, their disappointment was overshadowed by their laughs as students watched their potential leaders squabble on stage.
“Donald Trump is pandering to a more emotional level,” said Daniel DeBrakeleer,
a senior majoring communication studies. Prior to the debate, he said he thought both candidates prepared for the debate in different ways, that Clinton prepared herself to fend of Trump’s rhetoric, and that Trump prepared to push more facts and figures.
Another student, Domenica Castro, a freshman student majoring in communication studies, said prior to the debate that other students are viewing the candidates with a more theatrical lens rather than evaluating their potential impact they might have.
Of the attendees she hoped the crowd would stay in check.
“I’m hoping the crowd is temperate,” she said.
When the moderator, Lester Holt, said “stop and frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York” about halfway through the debate, students laughed and clapped partway through the debate. And again they laughed when Trump chided Holt after he tried to interrupt him.
Shortly before 10 p.m., when Clinton talked about addressing systemic racism in the country, several students clapped, and again when Clinton talked about gun reform.
Overall, as the debate passed the halfway point and as some civility was restored, students seemed to absorb the candidates’ positions more.
Although when Trump waffled around the birther question several times students laughed.
Overall, outspoken support for Trump among the several hundred attendees was virtually non-existent, with almost all cheers going to Clinton, lending support to what students and faculty said prior to the West Chester University students attended a debate watch party Monday night. debate about support for Trump being quiet.
Hank Kahl, a freshman student who created pamphlets advertising the event, also said prior to the debate that he does not expect the debate to sway the minds of students watching, especially if their minds are already made up.
“It’ll be interesting to see how it turns out,” he said before the event.
Also prior to the debate, faculty handed out surveys students could fill out anonymously to gauge their political leanings, and their expectation of what the debate would cover. After the debate, faculty held a brief discussion with students gauging their reaction to the debate.
“Her strategy was to talk right through him and ignore him, and it worked really well,” Dean said after the debate finished.
“There’s more contrast in this election than there has been in the last five,” he said.
Students had mixed reactions about the debate.
“I’m a Clinton supporter, and after the debate I’m more confident in my support
for her,” said one female student after the debate. “Even though I have my issues with Clinton.”
Another student wearing a Bernie Sanders T-shirt agreed, saying she was a better choice despite his issues he has with her.
When Levasseur asked what standout moments there were, one student noted Clinton’s resolve to not crumble under Trump’s insults.
Another student said she loved when Clinton talked about the Black Lives Matter movement, and criticized what she described as Trump’s lackluster response to that issue.
Another student said he thought Holt struggled to keep Trump under control, but liked when he pressed Trump on a few questions. Another said she came out of the debate thinking of the candidates not as villains, and said the media often paints them as such.
One female student said she was on the fence about both candidates, and was worried about her job prospects and the state of the economy after graduation.
Not one student publicly supported Trump.