Second Presidential Debate Town hall focuses on student engagement, volunteering

Wednesday, October 30, 2019 - 9:26pm

Students discuss community engagement for the presidential debate next year at the Student Activities Building Wednesday evening.  (Madeline Hinkley/The Michigan D

Students discuss community engagement for the presidential debate next year at the Student Activities Building Wednesday evening. (Madeline Hinkley/The Michigan D Buy this photo
Madeline Hinkley/Daily

About 50 people attended the second Central Student Government-hosted town hall to discuss preparations for the upcoming Presidential Debate next fall. The event consisted of student engagement-related activities where students could ask questions and discuss various aspects of preparations, as well as find out how to get involved in the event planning.

According to Catherine Carver, co-lead of the 2020 Presidential Debate Initiative, the variety of opportunities needed to prepare for the debate allow for engagement opportunities for students with a multitude of interests.  

“I think that part of the excitement for this is that there’s going to be such a myriad of volunteer opportunities, and helping students think outside of that very direct, sort of (idea) that your major equals your career,” Carver said. “So I think that it really allows for this extraordinary opportunity to engage in ways that students haven't anticipated.”

 Carver said the debate preparation extends beyond the event itself.

“Many students, when they think about the debate, they think about that 90-minute moment when the debate is being televised, right at 9 p.m. on October 15, 2020,” Carver said. “But in fact, one of the beauties of this particular opportunity is the ability to understand all of the different aspects that go into implementing something of this nature.”

During the event, students were able to split off into small groups to discuss a variety of issues pertaining to debate preparation, including campus climate, volunteer engagement, voter registration, media literacy and post-debate events and programs. 

Students had the chance to share their ideas with the event organizers. CSG President Ben Gerstein, Public Policy junior, said the small group discussions were beneficial for hearing the thoughts of the student body.

“To be able to share out here, in the room specifically, what students are thinking, I think is a lot different than just having questions answered at a surface level,” Gerstein said. “I think it allowed for us to dig deeper into sort of some of the details.

LSA junior Bridget Corwin said her group on voter registration talked about how to increase student engagement with the democratic process, and said the smaller focus groups allowed students to share ideas on topics that they are passionate about.

“It was cool to have those small group discussions as well,” Corwin said. “Sometimes I don’t necessarily talk about the different aspects of voter registration with my friends all the time, and it’s something that I’m passionate about, and I care about, and I see it as an important aspect of just like civic and political engagement on this campus.”

According to Corwin, the group discussed why voter registration is an important conversation due to the political ideas being brought to campus with the debate.

“I also think it’s really important that people understand that they have a voice and they are able to use their voice and literally shaping what those debates look like,” Corwin said. “I just think that voter registration is a really important piece to that, and it really important avenue for getting people civically and politically engaged.” 

LSA freshman Russell McIntosh said his small group, discussing media literacy, highlighted various modern concerns and discussions of the current media landscape and political climate.

“Media is pretty much our greatest influence and controls the way we think,” McIntosh said. “TV is going to be a huge portion of the debate, so we talked about the importance of educating people about the turn of the fake news and what fake news really is. We talked about how Michigan is going to be targeted by certain outside influencers. So media is just going to play a huge role.”

Carver said the debate presents a unique opportunity for students to participate in the democratic process.

“Educational opportunities are about what you do in the classroom and what you do outside of the classroom,” Carver said. “So the volunteering portion really allows students this sort of hands on involvement in implementing this event that’s important for democracy, is a key component of democracy, and that will also be seen literally around the world.”