Student-centered debate watch party, part of larger program at Maryville


ST. LOUIS – Students at Maryville University will watch the first presidential debate on Wednesday, Oct. 3, as part of LIVEDemocracy — a new, campus-wide, nonpartisan effort to teach students about the political process.

During the debate students and professors will use and monitor social media to participate and monitor the process. During commercials, professors will conduct quick recaps and lead short discussions.

Maryville’s Associate Vice President Alden Craddock directs the Center for Civic Engagement and Democracy on campus. He assembled a 2012 elections taskforce that includes students, faculty and staff. Beginning in the summer, the group designed the program that has three parts:  an introduction to elections, a segment on understanding issues and a segment about making decisions. Craddock hopes students who take part will stay involved in the process long after they graduate.

Reporters, Editors, Producers, Photographers:  We welcome your interest in this effort to educate and engage students in the elections. Please call our office to arrange interviews or to cover one of our three live Presidential debate watch events on Oct. 3, Oct. 16 and Oct. 22.                  

As part of the project, some students took classes this fall about elections and the political process. Many other professors are incorporating LIVEDemocracy events and resources into their teaching to advance LIVEDemocracy across the curriculum.

There is a LIVEDemocracy website, with content for students, written by students, about the elections, the candidates and the issues. Other signs of the effort on campus include everything from a book club whose members are reading Allan J. Lichtman’s Predicting the Next President: The Keys to the White House 2012 to student-designed digital signage featuring election trivia. Students are also staffing election information tables on the quad each Wednesday during the noon hour and the red, white and blue LiveDemocracy T-shirt is popular.

“First of all, it has got to be fun,” Craddock said of the LIVEDemocracy effort. Craddock and James Harf, who directs Maryville’s Center for Global Education, are teaching the classes about elections and presidential politics. For one of Harf’s first class assignments, he asked students to select an issue of interest to them and one that may also be relevant to their major. He asked them to review each presidential candidate’s views on those issues and the stance of their respective parties. Later assignments ask students to analyze the importance of particular swing states in the election. After the election, students will write about why the winning candidate carried the election.

Campus-wide efforts purposely avoided mock debates, where students take sides and advance their arguments. The purpose of LIVEDemocracy is not to have students stake out a particular point of view and defend it. Rather, it is to learn about the democratic process, discover reliable sources that provide facts related to the issues and use that knowledge to decide who each student believes would best lead, Craddock said. “We don’t want people arguing their position without understanding the issues. Make your decision about what you think would be best for the country based on the facts,” Craddock said.

Maryville University sophomore Heather Sprengel, 19, of Maryland Heights said, “You may just be one person, but you can make a difference.” She said several Maryville students said they thought their peers would start thinking more about politics if discussions focused on college-related issues, such as tuition costs and financial aid. Sprengel said a closer look at health care laws might also draw in students, since many at Maryville study in science and health fields. “These issues are going to affect our everyday lives; you just may not think that right now,” she said.

The LIVEDemocracy title ties into Maryville University’s slogan, LiveMaryville.

About Maryville University
Maryville University, founded in 1872, is ranked in the national universities category of U.S. News & World Report. It is one of three institutions in the Greater St. Louis Area ranked in this division. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance ranks Maryville in the Top 100 Private Universities in the U.S. for Best Value.