West Ch­ester Univer­sity stu­dents watch 1st pres­i­den­tial de­bate

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Adam Farence afarence@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @afarence on Twit­ter

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.

ADAM FARENCE — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

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