Presidential debate town hall discusses venue, student safety and involvement

Tuesday, October 22, 2019 - 10:35pm

Ann Zalucki, Operations Co-Lead of the 2020 Presidential Debate Initiative discusses facilities and logistics of the debate at The League Tuesday evening.

Ann Zalucki, Operations Co-Lead of the 2020 Presidential Debate Initiative discusses facilities and logistics of the debate at The League Tuesday evening. Buy this photo
Claire Meingast/Daily

About 60 people were in attendance for a 2020 Presidential Debate Town Hall hosted by the University of Michigan’s Central Student Government Tuesday evening. After the announcement the University will be hosting a Presidential debate next fall, event organizers gave a presentation and answered student questions regarding campus safety, venues, tickets, campus climate and more. 

Venue and seats

The Commission on Presidential Debates determined the University will be hosting the third Presidential debate on Oct. 15, 2020. According to Ann Zalucki, operations co-lead of the 2020 Debate Initiative, the third debate is traditionally the town hall formatted event. This means community members would be allowed to ask the candidates questions directly throughout the event.

Despite a capacity of 13,000 in the Crisler Center, Zalucki said the debate hall will only host 800-1000 people.

“This is a studio, its meant to be viewed on TV,” Zalucki said. “Crisler is a gigantic venue, it is a 10,000-person venue. The size of the venue is not the size that we’re going to fill. You’ll notice the seating size, a 10,000 venue, we are looking at roughly 800-1000 seats that participate in this viewing pleasure. But again, that is not meant to be all housed, it is meant to be viewed.”

According to Zalucki, only about 100-200 tickets will be given to the University of Michigan to distribute to students and no tickets will be sold.

“The CDP, not the University, controls the tickets U-M is going to receive,” ” Zalucki said. 

LSA freshman Daeveonna Middleton said she was disappointed by the low number of tickets being given to the University.

“I know they said something about how 1,000 students could help volunteer for events, but that’s not guaranteeing us from being able to go there and working directly with the debate,” Middleton said. “I was kind of disappointed, but I also have to realize this is an international event. But I wish there was more opportunity for students to be able to experience this because it’s kind of like a once in a lifetime thing.”

Student involvement 

According to Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones, there will be various student engagement volunteer positions surrounding democratic engagement, programming, campus climate, safety and student activism. The event staff volunteers will work in the coming months to help prepare for the debate.

Jones also said students can attend the next Presidential Debate Town Hall next Wednesday, Oct. 30, to sign up for the various engagement teams and get involved.

“I would imagine that this is going to continue to evolve, and in the next town hall meeting that we’re holding on the 30th, when we get into groups, specifically, those of you that do want to come back to the next meeting and want to actually engage and be a volunteer can start working in these areas,” Jones said. “There are five major areas of involvement, and there’s overlap and connections between the five areas.”

Campus accommodation

According to Zalucki, the University is preparing to accommodate up to 5,000 different members of national media and says students should anticipate having the option to interact with media entities as the debate draws near.

“We’re going to have about 1,000 to 3,000, up to 5,000 different media center media entities from around the world,” Zalucki said. “That’s huge. A 40,000 square foot tent is gigantic, and we are ready to host such a large event because that means they’re going to also be on campus talking to all of you. We give you opportunities that you wouldn’t have every day.”

Zalucki said it will be the equivalent to six College Game Day stages placed in the Ingalls Mall area in order to accommodate the major media networks prior to the event.

“Think when ESPN is here for game day, just multiply that by six,” Zalucki said. “And I’m sure all the excitement… (will lead to) smaller pop ups from some sort of social media sites as well. So, the media presence on campus for those four days will be quite extraordinary and a real opportunity for student voices to be heard.”

Campus services

When asked about how the debate will impact on-campus services, Jones compared the shift in operations to hosting another special event, like a large football game, and said the University will strategically assign tasks to make sure campus services remain functional.

“We’re being very strategic about who is going to be involved with which things related to the debate,” Jones said. “When we know we have a football game, the hospital steps up in ways that are very different than our normal operation, so that we can anticipate and plan for medical emergencies that might be affiliated with that. So, I would imagine in many of our areas, we’re going to do the same sort of planning to step up and be ready.”

Zalucki said the University will also be bringing in outside vendors to assist with day-to-day operations and facilities on campus.

“We are also bringing in any types of vendors who do this regularly,” Zalucki said. “On a regular basis, you want to go to school, you want to be fed, you want the lights on and you want to get internet. As we start to ramp up, there will be improvements and resources just to supply and support these types of activities on campus, so your internet won’t fall down, things like that, we are anticipating.”

Carver said arrangements are being made to ensure faculty who are helping plan the debate, particularly on the core team, will have replacements or ways of ensuring academics and normal course curriculum are not falling behind.

“From a curriculum and other management standpoint, everybody that has been pulled on to the core team, for example, you know, there’s a recognition that the person is not doing their regular job and steps are being made to take care of that,” Carver said.

Business freshman Karma Karira said she is most concerned about the functionality of student facilities during debate week.

“The most pressing issue to me was how it would intrude on my ability to be a student on campus,” Karira said. “The resources that are still available to students and how that’s separated from the presidential debate, and, just in general, I pay for going on those busses and having those study spaces, so those concerns are most pressing.”

Student safety and well-being 

When asked about student health and well-being, Jones said student involvement, particularly from the engagement volunteer teams, will be critical in ensuring the students’ needs are met.

“So, I think I sort of started to talk about in terms of anticipating the needs of our students and student life,” Jones said. “That group is focused on campus climate and safety and well-being. But we might be thinking from administrative perspective, what can we do? How can we staff up availability of counselors and CAPS for example, right? But (students) may have other very tangible ideas about what we could be doing, and so that’s where (student) input is going to be really, really important.”

According to John Seto, Division of Public Safety and Security deputy director, there will be an increased security presence around campus buildings as the debate approaches to ensure the safety of students and faculty.

“Is it going to bring out some new challenges? Absolutely,” Seto said. “But I am here to tell you that based on the foundation that we built and the partnerships that we’ve built, I’m very confident that we can provide that safe and secure environment, right.”

Ben Gerstein, Central Student Government president and Public Policy junior, said it is important to keep focus on the impact the debate will have on students.

“Hosting the debate is a really unique and exciting and historic experience,” Gerstein said. “But we also should recognize that, you know, the impacts of this election that it will have on our campus and the divisive nature of sort of the dialogue and political discourse in recent years. So being cognizant of that as well, but also recognizing that this is a unique opportunity for students to get involved.”