The Democratic debate Sunday night in Flint — held in partnership between CNN and UM-Flint — involved University of Michigan students in a number of ways, including as volunteers and interns in setting up the event and, for a few, attending it.
Entering the spin room — where the media interviews candidates — the UM-Flint banner hung prominently between two American flags, alongside banners for CNN, The Flint Journal and the Democratic Party symbol.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, UM-Flint Chancellor Susan E. Borrego said the visual display showed the strength of the partnership between the University and CNN.
“They put our brand right with them,” Borrego said. “For instance, they never use a university brand like this prominently, and they did here.”
The debate location aimed to draw attention to the town's recent water crisis, which was discussed extensively in Sunday night’s debate along with other state issues. The crisis has affected the lives of many Flint residents, including students and other members of the University community.
In her remarks before the debate began, Borrego said students were able to work in both internship roles and volunteering to set up various debate spaces.
“We were honored to be able to host CNN for live broadcasts,” she said in a statement. “Our students have had the opportunity have an intense hands-on learning experience. We hope that hosting this debate and helping to put Flint center stage will be another catalyst moving Flint forward. As the anchor university in Flint, we are committed to partnering to do just that.”
The debate follows a week of different activities on campus in preparation. Borrego said students were involved all along the way.
“Students did a whole bunch of behind the scenes internships,” Borrego said. “Much of this room was loaded in by students. Students were runners, they were seat fillers at the debate itself, they worked in communications, they’ve been around here all week working in different ways. Some of them were paid, and some of them were volunteering or working in internships.”
CNN, in conjunction with the University, also hosted a watch party for students.
“There was a big watch party tonight in North Bank, and they set up technology so they can ask questions and use that instant response kind of thing over there,” Borrego said. “This is a huge event for a campus our size — it took a lot of work to do that.”
Other students were able to watch the debate in person.
UM-Flint senior Amged Eidelsafy, president of the campus‘s student government, was one of the students who attended the debate Sunday night. He said it was an incredible experience and he believes both candidates proposed solid solutions to help Michigan centered issues.
“It was an unbelievable experience. Really a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said. “I think they both proposes great plans and ideas to help the situations in Flint and Detroit, but I don’t know which is better.”
Eidelsafy said prior to the debate, student groups hosted outreach events to encourage student participation in voting including voter registration stations and offering free t-shirts for registering. He added that he thought voting is a process every person — including students — should participate in to impact their community.
“It is a civic duty to vote and participate in the democratic process,” he said. “Everyone should do their own research on the candidates and understand their stances on issues, and everyone should take part of it and should do their civic duty.”
Overall, Borrego said there was great value in having the debate on UM-Flint’s campus.
“It was a great opportunity to have this here, for Flint, for the University, for our students to be able to see this first hand,” Borrego said. “This is my first presidential debate and my first spin room and I’ve been around a lot longer than I’d like to say, so I just think it was a pretty exciting opportunity for the University of Michigan Flint.”