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Debate preparations hope to get student body politically engaged

By Ehlayna Napolitano (Special to The Chronicle) As the date of the second presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney approaches, excitement continues to grow in the student body, from student volunteers to students who might not normally have been interested in politics.

“I think you’re going to see a focus on the political situation we have [as we approach the debate],” Matthew La Corte, sophomore President of the Students for Liberty organization on campus. “The whole campus is…going to be like the C-SPAN campus for a bit.”

Journalists, political gurus and important figures will be present in the days preceding and the day of the debate. Students will have the opportunity to be at the center of media and politics, allowing many students to get involved in a direct way.

According to Jayne Brownell, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, between 350 and 400 students will be volunteering to assist with media, security and ticket sales/credential checking.

“This debate will allow politics to be front and center in students’ lives,” said Brownell.

Students on campus seem to be in the preliminary stages of excitement for the upcoming debate. Spencer MacDonald, sophomore Public Relations major and Director of Communications for Democrats of Hofstra University, looks forward to seeing students begin to care.

“In general, Hofstra is not the most political campus,” said MacDonald.

In the coming weeks, many events will take place on campus to help students become educated about the debate and motivate their interest in politics.

“We have to get young voters excited about and involved in politics…so they’re ready to be the leaders we’ll need in a decade or two,” said Brownell.

Events include the Day of Dialogue, hosted by the Center for Civic Engagement, and various speakers like Jeb Bush and Chris Matthews.

These events are all open to students and encourage political discussion and engagement.

“The debate is the high-profile spectacle, but what [the speakers] will share will hopefully [motivate] students to be engaged politically,” said Mario Murillo, Co-director for the Center for Civic Engagement.

Additionally, opportunities to become directly engaged with the campaigns of either party have already been extended to Hofstra students. In the past month, several Hofstra students were sent to cover the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Other political organizations have become involved with Presidential campaigns on a national scale, including the Democrats of Hofstra University, according to MacDonald.

At University of Denver in Colorado, similar preparations and excitement are taking place.

The first Presidential Debate will be held there on October 3, 2012, in a round-table discussion style debate. It will also be the first debate the school has ever hosted.

According to Kathy Grieve, Executive Director of Conferences and Special Events, talks and events similar to the ones taking place at Hofstra will be taking place during the next few weeks, covering “a wide range of topics [which will] help a great deal in promoting interest…across the different majors.” The school has over 800 students, alumni and teachers enlisted to volunteer to help out with the debate; school officials are, however, giving preference to the students. “It’s an exciting time,” Carl Johnson, Executive Director of Campus Life, said. “Students are just caught up in it all.”

However, some students are concerned that Hofstra’s campus is not entirely engaged or politically informed. Freshman Word Processing major and self-identified Republican James Pustorino says he is worried some students are not engaged with politics enough to make a decision about which candidate they support.

“I feel people, including myself, need to learn not to dismiss ideas that they don’t usually agree with; rather, they should listen first, then examine it and ask why they don’t agree,” said Pustorino.

Furthermore, students who might not be interested in politics may transform with the coming buzz around campus regarding debate issues.

“I think people should be interested in politics…I think people will be excited; I don’t think they realize how exciting politics is,” said MacDonald.

As October approaches, bringing with it the Presidential debates, it is sure to have a concrete impact Hofstra’s campus. Although some students have chosen to take a “backseat” to volunteering directly in the debates, according to MacDonald, the debate will impact all students in some capacity.

“People are going to find where they fit in [politically],” he said. “Hofstra will have a very informed [voting student body] in the fall.”

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