The Bowld gym echoed with the clatter of chairs Monday night as faculty and students pulled more seating out for new arrivals to the Political Science department’s hosting of the first presidential debate of this election cycle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
The showing was far more than was expected. The three rows set out were doubled in length and doubled in number. Even pizzas ordered for the event ran out as interested students filed in and filled up the gym.
Gideon Ragland, a senior history major, sees the debate as important to helping voters remain informed.
“We become more informed about what the candidates believe and that allows us to vote more wisely,” he said.
Local news organizations showed up to the event and interviewed students, bringing a seriousness to the crowd. In front of news cameras, anyone’s words and beliefs are given significance.
Argus Floyd, a sophomore conservation biology major, remarked on the relevance of this election to his scientific field.
“Even though they don’t talk about their position on conservation, conservation is inherently a government policy,” he said, mentioning the various environmental impacts of each candidate.
Ian Malone, a sophomore English major, cautioned against watching the debates without caution.
“The problem is a lot of it is just rhetoric, just talking, just buzz words,” he said. “It depends on whether people are discerning enough to see the truth from the lies.”
The room was quiet, punctuated by occasional laughter or cheers. The cheers were strictly partisan, rising up from corners of the audience when specific jabs hit. One cynical group cheered when the projector cut out, leaving the gym hauntingly quiet.
Some viewers used small screens to cast echoes of the candidates to friends through Snapchat, while others preferred to carry on low conversation. The overall tone was a hushed concentration.
Faith Sturgeon, a sophomore English major, sees the group aspect of a viewing event as important. The group dynamic helps people discuss and weigh ideas so that they can make more informed decisions.
“Fact checking is so important with this one,” she said.
Ragland also saw the communal nature of the event as a useful element.
“I think it’s helpful because you see that other people are interested and care about it, and that might prompt you to care more about it.”