Sophomore year: Debate, election and an ill economy

| News Editor

Joe Biden and Sarah Palin debate in the 2008 vice presidential debate. Students had the opportunity to volunteer for the debate and attend the event in person. The University hosted two presidential debates in previous elections.Evan Wiskup | Student Life

Joe Biden and Sarah Palin debate in the 2008 vice presidential debate. Students had the opportunity to volunteer for the debate and attend the event in person. The University hosted two presidential debates in previous elections.

The year began with the opening of the Danforth University Center, Washington University’s new LEED Gold-certified sustainable student center, and Seigle Hall, a new law and undergraduate building on the west end of campus. On the South 40, construction began on two new buildings, the new Wohl Center and new Umrath House.

Soon after students arrived on campus, then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) announced via text message that then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) was to be his running mate in the presidential race. One week later, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) surprised the country by picking Sarah Palin, the little-known Republican governor of Alaska, to be his running mate.

Palin was transformed into a celebrity almost overnight, ensuring that the vice presidential debate on the University’s campus in October would become one of the most exciting moments in the year’s historic election cycle.

In the weeks before the media stormed campus, the University saw a surge in political awareness and activism among students. Student Union allocated $55,000 for student programming related to the election. Students from all ends of the political spectrum canvassed dorms and area houses to register voters, while Bon Appétit started selling political party-themed elephant and donkey sugar cookies.

The excitement culminated on Oct. 2, when thousands of media personnel converged on campus to cover the vice presidential debate.

During the day, students rubbed shoulders with well-known journalists, politicians and media personalities, including Katie Couric, John Oliver from “The Daily Show,” Howard Dean, Rudy Giuliani and Joe Lieberman.

A large crowd of students gathered behind a stage set up outside Graham Chapel, where MSNBC filmed live news coverage and episodes of “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”

Several students entered into a heated argument with some non-students in the crowd carrying McCain-Palin signs, which the students felt deliberately misrepresented the views of the University’s student body.

The night of the debate, more than 400 students with winning lottery numbers entered into the Athletic Complex’s ultra-secure debate hall, where PBS newscaster Gwen Ifill moderated the debate between Biden and Palin on matters of domestic and foreign policy.

After the debate, the general consensus from politicians, pundits and students on campus was that both candidates had argued well, and that Palin had succeeded in proving her knowledge of national and international politics.

Following the debate, students focused on campaigning for various political issues including Proposition M, a referendum to increase the St. Louis County transit sales tax by half a cent in order to fund operating expenses for Metro and to support future expansion of the light-rail system.

The proposition did not pass, despite the efforts of University students in showing up at the polls in record numbers on Election Day.

The night of the election, campus erupted into spontaneous celebrations as the nation’s first black president was voted into office.

After the election, fall semester ended on a more somber note.

Later in November, Chancellor Mark Wrighton announced that because of the ill economy, the University’s endowment had fallen about 25 percent in value.

More bad news came as rising crime near campus reached a tragic new height when University City Police Sergeant Michael King, a University alumnus, was shot and killed on the Delmar Loop.

On the last day of the fall semester, a drug-related search took place at the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity house, resulting in the University’s removal of the fraternity from campus at the beginning of the spring semester.

Not long after returning from winter break, hundreds of students gathered in the Danforth University Center to witness the historic swearing-in of President Obama. Students at the event enjoyed watching the carving of an Obama ice sculpture and a large-screen projection of the inauguration ceremony. With the nation’s economy continuing to spiral downward, students now looked to the new president to help alleviate the nation’s financial pressures and sustain a job market for outgoing seniors hard-pressed to find employment.

March saw the men’s basketball team celebrate its second-consecutive NCAA Division III National Championship, while the women’s basketball team lost in a nail-biting national championship matchup of its own.

Following David Banner’s performance at fall W.I.L.D., students gathered in the Quad on the last day of classes to listen to spring headliner The Black Keys and celebrate the end of what was a historic year at the University.