College Houses and Reynolds Club Hosted DebateWatch Events

Written by Shengxiao Yu, UChicago AB‘12, Programming and Marketing Coordinator, UChicago Institute of Politics

The Institute of Politics, in partnership with Office of Reynolds Club and Student Activities, Campus and Student Life, Office of Undergraduate Housing, as well as Student Government, hosted DebateWatch events across the UChicago campus on October 22, the night of the final Presidential Debate of the 2012 Election.

DebateWatch is a program of the Commission on Presidential Debates aimed at promoting stimulating conversations about each of the debates.  As per the Commission’s guidelines, participating groups view the debate and turn off the TV when the commentaries start.  A facilitator then guides a post-debate discussion regarding the issues raised in the debate and the debate-watching experience.

On the UChicago campus, we had 21 College houses participate in DebateWatch, each hosting their own event in the house lounge or the Resident Head apartment.  At Reynolds Club, a central location on the quads, we had a larger screening event for students who wished to take part but are not affiliated with one of the 21 participating houses.  Each of the 22 DebateWatch locations had their own facilitated discussion.

Regarding the content of the debate, many students were disappointed that the candidates focused more on domestic issues when the focus of the debate was supposed to be foreign policy.  “I was expecting [to hear] more about China and the drone strikes,” said a student of May House in Max Palevsky, “but [the debate] centered around stuff at home.”  Students of Flint House in Max Palevsky felt similarly, but commented that “it was really hard that the last debate [focused] on foreign policy, because it is a difficult topic for the general public to [fully grasp].”

Students also had varying opinions on the candidates’ performance.  Some members of Rickert House in Max Palevsky thought that there was a “different Romney than [they had] ever seen before, because he [seemed] more moderate and more willing to cooperate.”  They thought that Romney did a better job of communicating in this debate when compared to the previous ones.  Students of Henderson House of Pierce Tower were disappointed that “Obama [had] waited until now to try to show what he has done over the last four years, and [he] hasn’t been in constant campaign mode.”  Students in Reynolds Club believed that ultimately, “the winner of the debate was not decided based on policy or substance but rather personality and confidence.”  Therefore, their overall views of the candidates were not affected by the debate.

Students of Talbot House in Broadview gather to watch the Presidential Debate.

Photo courtesy of Talbot House.

In addition to the post-debate discussion at each DebateWatch location, students were encouraged to tweet @uchipolitics with #Informed2012 to give feedback throughout the debate.  Regarding that experience, in their post-debate discussion, students in Linn-Mathews house of Burton-Judson commented that “social media has changed the landscape of the debates” and both candidates’ campaigns are using twitter as a tool to push out information.

Because many students had already sent in their absentee ballots or had made their decision prior to October 22, a common question posed by DebateWatch facilitators was about the students’ reasons for watching the last debate at all.  A student from Wick House in Broadview had decided to watch the debate because of the DebateWatch opportunity, noting that DebateWatch allowed students to have an “intellectually stimulating conversation within [their] house community, because the Presidential Election is an event that affects all of us.”  A student of Halperin House in South Campus simply emphasized the importance of being and remaining engaged:  “Civic engagement is not about tuning in once every four years right before the election.  Even though I have already sent in my absentee ballot, I still feel that watching the debate is important.  Civic engagement is about caring and participating all the time.”

Students of Halperin House hold a discussion after watching the Presidential Debate, facilitated by their former Resident Assistant Minjae Kim, AB’12.

Photo by Shengxiao Yu

The Institute of Politics is assembling the written summaries of the discussions that took place at each DebateWatch location and will be sending that compilation to the Commission on Presidential Debates.