The second presidential debate of this election cycle occurred Tuesday night, and students who attended the Presidential Debate Watch Party in the Leone Cole auditorium got a rare opportunity to watch it together as a community.
“I’ve been attending debates all my life, but I’ve never watched one in a setting like this,” said Dr. Lori Owens, who is an associate professor of the Political Science and Public Administration Department.
Dr. Owens, along with Drs. Jeremiah Russell and Erin Rider, is part of Jacksonville State University’s branch of the American Democracy Project, which organized the event.
JSU joined the American Democracy Project in 2007, which Dr. Owens describes as “a nationwide initiative to encourage college students to become more civically engaged.”
The focus of the organization is getting young people who are attending college involved in the democratic process as a group, regardless of political leaning.
That’s no mean feat, considering the demographic has earned a reputation for being apathetic—according to the Millennial Values Survey, only 46% of those aged 18-24 felt sure they would vote this year.
Dr. Owens, assisted by Dr. Russell and Dr. Rider, is doing her part to make sure that students at JSU—no matter what major they’re pursuing—aren’t a part of that staggering statistic.
“Each university makes the project whatever they want,” she said. “Here at JSU, we’ve put together three events just this semester and are looking to organize more for the spring.
“We’re also trying to branch out into different departments on campus—Dr. Rider of JSU’s Sociology Department is organizing a Martin Luther King, Jr. event that will take place next semester,” she said.
Watching the debate as a collective group of college students was a unique experience— one that Dr. Owens feels was a success. “I’m happy with the turnout, and all of the students were very attentive and polite,” she said.
Both of JSU’s student-organized political parties were also out in force at the debate watch party, trying to raise political awareness among students and gain new members in the process.
Carlos Acosta, who is president of the JSU College Republicans, says that watching the debate and participating in this year’s election are vitally important for students.
“When I graduate, the state of the nation—the state of the economy—those are things that will affect me, whether I go out into the workforce or to graduate school,” he said. “We as young people will inherit this situation… we have a voice and it’s time for us to use it.”
The results of events like the debate watch party on political awareness are, in some ways, immediately apparent—both political parties had numerous students become new members Tuesday night.
What remains to be seen is whether those new members will fully immerse themselves in their party of choice and really participate, or simply become what Brett Johnson, president of the JSU College Democrats, calls “quasi-members.”
The next event the ADP is offering students to participate in will be a town hall-style forum in Merrill Hall hosted by Alabama’s third congressional district representative Mike Rogers on October 29th.