Debate Watch Party Draws More Than 100 Students
Written by Robb Crocker   

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- More than 100 Rutgers students, many enrolled in Public Speaking or Introduction to Communications, showed up for the first ever Debate Watch Party at the Red Lion Café at the College Avenue Campus’ Rutgers Student Center on Monday night. The event was promoted by both the Debate Union and the School of Communication and Information.  Kevin J. Ewell, Assistant Dean for Student Services described the event as a sensational accomplishment for all parties involved.

"The Presidential Debate Watch Party was quite a success," Ewell said. "I was very delighted to see the number of students who came out to the event.  They were extremely engaged in the debate.

"For many undergraduate students, this will be their first opportunity to vote in a presidential election, which makes this debate watch party more meaningful and more relevant.  I was very impressed with the pre-debate commentary provide by the talented members of the Rutgers University Debate Union and was excited to co-host this event with them."

The event, which began with a debate tutorial and continued with a live feed of the debate, retained the majority of the students who initially showed up for the event. Event presenters included:

  • Chris Bergman (President of the Debate Union, part of the 10th-ranked partnership in our league), who spoke on body language, poise, posture, gestures, and confidence;
  • Nisha Kumar (former Vice President of the Debate Union), who spoke on emotional appeals;
  • Henry Phipps (Public Relations Chair of the Debate Union) who spoke on questions and the candidates' responses; and
  • Ashley Novak (Treasurer of the Debate Union, 2nd-ranked individual speaker in our league) who spoke on logical fallacies.

"The Debate event was very well attended.  Nearly all stayed for the full debate and post-debate analysis," said Rutgers Debate Coach Storey Clayton.  "Most were very engaged during all points of the event and the questions after the debate itself indicated that they were listening and paying attention to both what the candidates said and how they said it.

"This event not only showcased what a focus on debate and public speaking can do, but ensured that our youngest voters will be going to the polls better informed and more able to accurately represent their views on election day.  I think we also piqued some further interest in the Debate Union, as some students discussed joining the team after the event."

The event planners weren't the only ones excited about the event—some students who were at the event commented that the points taken from the pre-event tutorial presentation were insightful and informative.

"The event was helpful for understanding debate tactics more easily," said Samantha Crane, 21, from Monroe, N.J. "The speakers did a good job discussing points that are relevant for the debates."

Simon Vuong, 19, added," The event was good. It created a good environment for watching the debate and learning about debate tactics.

"I learned and enjoyed."

Melissa Repke, a 21-year-old from Edison, N.J., noted that all of the speakers came off as "knowledgeable."

"They had a lot of insight of key points to pay attention to while watching a debate," she said. "They made the material they were talking about relatable to the audience by comparing things the candidates might say and made it relevant to a college student's point of view."

North Brunswick-native Anita Bruno, 46, echoed Repke and Crane's sentiments. "The event was useful and interesting," Bruno said. "What I found most useful was when the last speaker (Novak) spoke about different formats of speaking like slippery stack."

Reaction to the candidates from the audience was mixed as the debate aired on multiple screens. Mitt Romney's statement that the "Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917," drew a response from President Obama's that unleashed cheers and jeers from the crowd when the President exclaimed, "We also have fewer horses and bayonets."

"I could feel the Obama love in the room," stated Vuong, of Mays Landing, N.J. "And while that's great, I would have much preferred bipartisanship."

Kumar later said that "horse and bayonets" comments and other quips directed towards Romney was an intentional tactic.

"The use of humor is more appealing to the audience," she explained to the crowd after the debate.

Alina Rashid, a 19-year-old from Edison, N.J., examined that both candidate appeared to have raised their confidence level and improved on their fact check compared to the previous two debated. She also noticed a different tone from the candidates.

"The debate was a lot less aggressive than the other debates," she observed. "It began with some attacking, but then shifted to mostly explain each side of the argument."

After the debate was over, the Debate Union fielded questions from the audience and offered analysis of the debate to those remaining. Novak observed that she didn't think "either side got to really prove their point." For example, she noticed that Romney had a tendency to piggyback on Obama's comments and agree with his policies adding a criticism without offering or demonstrating a solution.  Repke also noticed both candidates practicing this tactic.

"When in agreement," she explained, "the points being made were the exact sayings except in different wordings and made to sound like it was their own ideas."

Ewell says he hopes those who attended the event will had a positive enough experience that will carry-over in the coming weeks and in the future.

"I hope students were enriched and enlightened by the debate commentary and the debate itself, and that they will be compelled to exercise their civic duty by participating in the democratic political process and voting on Election Day."