Over 80 million people watched this election’s first presidential debate on Sept. 26, making it the most-watched debate in United States history. Among those watching were hundreds of University students, tuning in from various formal and informal screenings around campus.
The two largest organized debate-watching events this year were in the Usdan University Center and the Exley Science Center, hosted by the Usdan Center Activities Board (UCAB) and Arcadia Magazine, respectively. At Exley, a watching party was hosted in Tischler Hall for a sizable and enthusiastic audience.
Arcadia Magazine is a multi-partisan magazine dedicated to the full spectrum of political thought, originally started by the Wesleyan Democrats and the Wesleyan Republicans.
Audience members in Tischler Hall filed in minutes before the debate began, munching on snacks provided by Arcadia Magazine and taking seats in the large lecture hall. The debate was broadcasted on a large screen visible to students sitting in any corner of the room. After a few minutes of “The Voice,” the debate began promptly at 9 p.m. and students quieted down to listen and watch.
Arcadia Magazine asked the audience to be respectful and avoid arguments or fights, but acknowledged that the hall need not be silent. Students were vocal throughout the debate, expressing their reactions at various poignant or memorable moments. There was a clear bias for presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the room, evidenced by the reactions of the crowd throughout the event.
Students generally oscillated between clapping with appreciation and groaning with distaste over the course of the debate. An audible cringe swept through the room when presidential nominee Donald Trump asked Clinton what name she’d prefer he use when referencing her, stating, “I want you to be very happy.”
Many students also scoffed loudly when Trump said, “I also have a much better temperament than she does.” Clinton’s reply after Trump’s assessment of her temperament, a terse “Okay” with a wry smile, was met with a roomful of applause.
A favorite debate moment for the students watching in Tischler Hall was Hillary’s response to Trump’s comment about her lack of stamina.
“As soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease fire, a release of dissidents, an opening of new opportunities in nations around the world, or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina,” Clinton said, and the room went wild.
There were other moments that students enjoyed, including, according to one student, the instances in which Trump was clearly uncomfortable.
“I liked the parts where [Trump] was sipping water and looking really unhappy,” Susana Hair ’20, who was an attendee of the event, said.
In Usdan, the debate-watching party took on a different, more informal tone, with students sitting in clusters at tables or on couches. The debate was broadcasted on multiple screens around the floor. UCAB also provided cupcakes that students were able to decorate.
However, according to Grace Snyder ’20, the snacks were not the only thing that differed between the screenings at the two locations.
“Usdan seemed more tightly packed, and people were closer together,” Snyder said. “People at Exley were focusing on the debate and on their work, but they were also focusing more intently because it was a lecture hall.”
Emma Greenfield ’20 echoed this sentiment.
“It was more casual [at Usdan]; I felt like at Arcadia, people were working and were really into the debate at the same time,” Greenfield said.
Despite the difference in locations, students enjoyed watching the debate with their peers. Many students interacted with each other before and after the debate, trading thoughts and expectations. Even throughout the debate, students kept a running commentary in both Usdan and Exley.
“It’s much better than if I had just watched it alone in my dorm room or something,” Hair said. “I think that the majority of the people here seemed to have views that correlated with mine, and that was nice. I wish there had been more snacks, but other than that I think it was good. Big screen. I always love having political interactions with other people because I get very vocal.”
In some ways, however, some students found the debate slightly disconcerting. For Snyder, the debate was evidence of the perpetuation of mainstream media and entertainment craze.
“I think it’s interesting that the debate was like an entertainment spectacle,” Snyder said. “What does it say that we’re watching this and we’re just laughing at this presidential candidate? It just seems like it’s taken on a very unprofessional tone, which is kind of concerning, because you’d hope that there would be some seriousness going on around the time of the debate. But with all this media, I think we’re just kind of making a lot of jokes…about Donald Trump.”
Despite this consideration, overall reactions to the debate were positive, and both events were objective successes. Many students enjoyed watching the debate, as evidenced by the sheer number of individuals who tuned in from locations around campus, as well as the general reactions of students after it was over.
“[This debate] is a completely unique experience that would not have happened at any other time period in the U.S.,” Hair said.