Now Playing: American Presidential Debates at the Grassroots

Students can watch Trump and Clinton argue from the comfort of the cafe on Oct 19


(Nicole Kwit)

They say watching American politics is Canada’s favourite sport, and 2016’s campaigns are more entertaining than ever.

“Students asked me about [the Presidential debates],“ says KSA Vice President Student Life Natasha  Lopes. “They asked, ‘why aren’t we playing them?’ I got a lot of Facebook messages about it.”

As requested, American Presidential and Vice Presidential debate-watching parties have been playing all October at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Surrey campus.

What Lopes calls community-building events, in which viewers can be “part of a moment in history,” are now regularly-scheduled affairs hosted by members of the Political Science Club of Kwantlen in partnership with the KSA, and are held at the student-owned and operated Grassroots Café.

Lopes hopes that soon Canadian-themed political debate-watching parties and roundtables—where candidates visit the University and field questions from the public—will become a regular occurrence at KPU. These get-togethers, Lopes says, will be serve as “safe spaces where students can learn” about important political goings on.

Though turnout at the Grassroots for the Vice Presidential debate was sparse, Lopes says the initial Presidential debate, where Donald Trump took aim at Hillary Clinton’s “stamina,” reflects a general shift in student political consciousness, as the event was relatively well-attended.

“I see a change in the way students regard events on campus,” she says. “We’ve seen a growth in clubs on campuses, so I am trying to work with as many clubs as I possibly can to continue to facilitate that growth,” she adds.

Two members of the Political Science Club of KPU, Nelson Juma and Danni Mayhew, share much of Lopes’s optimism. The pair see debate-watching parties as dialogue-inciting forums where important conversation is generated and where knowledge is dispersed.

“If you’re at home or by yourself,” explains Juma, the club’s Vice President, “then you’re just viewing, and you’re not able to engage in any substantive conversation. These types of gatherings propel us to have conversations that you may not agree with but are necessary.”

For Mayhew, the club’s Communications Director, being “surrounded by a group of peers who are at least similarly educated on the ideas because they have a vested interest in making themselves knowledgeable,” is important.

In addition to viewing-parties, the Political Science Club also hosts roundtable discussions and panels on a wide variety of salient topics, like the Right-to-Die legislation, for instance. The purpose of such events, according to Juma, is to create intellectual spaces “conducive to engagement with practical politics.”

Mayhew adds that student political engagement is inspired by such events as they function as intimate, inquiry-driven forums.

“I would like to see people come out and enjoy this,” she says. “This is a good time to get involved and meet like-minded people [and] start a discussion.”



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