Sewanee debuts new format for debate watch parties

DebateWatch at Inn

Debate watch parties have become common election-year events on college and university campuses. At Sewanee, the viewing parties this year are opportunities to critique the coherence of the arguments themselves, rather than merely to cheer (or boo) the candidates.

The University this fall is hosting DebateWatch, a series of viewing parties for the three presidential debates and the one vice-presidential debate. The events are open to students, staff, faculty, and community members, with the goal of providing a space to engage in dialogue and discussion surrounding the presidential and vice presidential debates.

At the first DebateWatch Monday, Sept. 26, the audience of 50 had dinner together while waiting for the debate to start. The sound was turned off—no punditry at this event—until the actual debate began. Following the debate, with the sound again off, participants took part in a 30-minute discussion, debriefing the debate.

The event format offered a way for participants to watch and critically analyze the debate without the bias of the media or commentators. The group considered both issues-oriented questions (e.g., what evidence or proof did the candidates offer? Were their examples representative?) and character-oriented questions (e.g., are the candidates aware of complexities? Do they speak out of self-interest?).

The event series was initiated by Sean O’Rourke, who recently joined the University as professor of rhetoric and director of the Center for Speaking and Listening. O’Rourke’s primary concern is with the communication arts of an engaged citizenry—public speaking, freedom of speech, robust and responsible debate, reasoned deliberation, constructive argument in controversy—at the center of democratic civic life.

The DebateWatch series will continue Tuesday, Oct. 4 (VP debate); Sunday, Oct. 9; and Wednesday, Oct. 19. It is sponsored by Sewanee’s new Center for Speaking and Listening, the Office of Civic Engagement, No Labels, College Republicans, and Sewanee Democrats.