In lieu of a presidential debate, let’s have conversations
I’m not going to lie. I’m disappointed.
I’m genuinely sad that Washington University has decided not to apply to host a 2020 presidential or vice presidential debate. Entering my first year at Washington University, the idea of this was endlessly exciting. I imagined what it would be like to sit at a watch party with my friends and hear the words “Washington University” said on national television, hopefully reminding at least one person that we are not, in fact, in Seattle. The thought of spending a few days surrounded by members of the free press inspired me. I couldn’t wait to be included in a small part of history, even if I didn’t get to be one of the lucky few students who made it into the actual room where it happens.
And is that selfish? Yeah, a bit. Despite all the excitement the debate would bring into my life, I knew it would also cause a sizable burden for many members of the Wash. U. and St. Louis communities. The debate would be extremely expensive, cause multiple road closures and inconvenient construction, and heighten campus security significantly. A Student Life poll conducted in the weeks prior to the 2016 debate found that 60.4 percent of Wash. U. students would have preferred to have had a Fall WILD, which was cancelled due to debate logistics.
In spite of these challenges, the second 2016 Presidential Debate provided a unique opportunity for students to engage in political conversations. Political protests and marches were held on and around campus throughout the day of the debate. The University organized lectures, panels and even a debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s economic advisors. Intramural fields were turned into “Public Expression Zones.” Student activism went beyond the two party system, with rallies for libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
Needless to say, the debate got students involved in politics, even if just for a weekend. In absence of a debate, it’s vital that the University develop other ways to foster political discussion on campus. In a recent Letter to the Editor in response to a controversial article regarding political inclusion at Wash. U., Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori S. White stressed that, “Creating an environment in which different viewpoints can be expressed, including those with which we might not agree, is fundamental to our mission as a university.”
If the University is to continue stating its support for political diversity, it must take action to create more platforms for students to explore that diversity through conversation. In a time of such extreme political division both on campus and across the nation, sponsoring more opportunities for students to engage in politics is an important step toward improving students’ knowledge of current events and mutual political understanding. It’s time to foster more political debate on campus, even if it’s not a presidential one.