Law Students Gain Insider's Perspective of the Presidential Debate Hosted by Wash U

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Presidential Debate venue in the Wash U Field House.

Nothing rivals a ringside seat for getting an up-close-and-personal view of a heavyweight bout. Unless, maybe, you get a backstage pass. Students from WashULaw enjoyed multiple vantage points for Round 2 of the Presidential Debates, when Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump squared off October 9 at Washington University. They came away with a greater appreciation of the many facets of the political process and the subtleties of staging a nationally televised event. 

The candidates are introduced
The candidates prepare to debate.   

LLM student Abdullah Alshehri was in the audience for what he called “one of the historical events in the United States.”

“I am so proud of the great work done by our university. I was amazed seeing former presidents, governors, and senators,” Alshehri said. “I was energized.”

First-year student Ethan Roth praised the organizers for mixing students with other guests in the crowd. “This environment allowed students to interact with individuals from both sides of the political spectrum with years of political acumen and insight,” said Roth, who was seated in the balcony. “This made the true difference of being there live versus watching it on TV.”

Other law students got a behind-the-scenes look at the process of staging the debate. Second-year student Earl Scott Flood was a volunteer assigned to be a runner for CBS, responsible for errands and making sure items were in the right location. He enjoyed meeting members of the crew as well as on-air reporters.

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Earl Scott Flood with CBS’ Gayle King.

“I had an amazing experience,” Flood said. “The makeup of student volunteers was a great representation of the student body. It was nice meeting students from both undergrad and other graduate programs.”

First-year law student Jermaine Brookshire Jr. served as a volunteer helping to transport Commission on Presidential Debates staff members and campaign members around campus in a golf cart.

“The buzz and atmosphere on campus was infectious and I think that had a lot to do with how passionate the student body is about this important election,” he said. “It was a privilege to be able to assist in the process in a small way by carting guests to their checkpoints. It is a testament to what we should be doing on a grander scheme in this country, which is to do our part to make things run efficiently and lend a helping hand. I am glad I had the opportunity to do that.”

As part of their debate volunteer coverage, The New Haven Independent featured Brookshire’s inspirational story of his journey to law school in the article “From Shelters To … The Supreme Court?”

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Lei Yu serves as a debate preparation volunteer.

Lei Yu, an LLM in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution, served as a volunteer for debate prep, acting as a town hall participant in the run-through before the broadcast. A native of China, Yu had access before, during, and after the debate to event planners and broadcast producers, asking them questions about the process of setting up and planning the debate. She said she especially enjoyed a conversation with Moira Kelly, associate producer and director of education and outreach from the Commission on Presidential Debates.

“I learned more about how democracy works in the U.S.,” she said. “I could never experience such a political event in my country, as we are in a different political system. This was a great opportunity for me to learn more about American culture.”

In conjunction with the debate, Yu was interviewed by a reporter from World Journal, a Chinese-language daily read widely in print and online throughout North America.

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Professors Greg Magarian and John Inazu were among the spin alley experts.

Members of the Law School faculty also were called upon to offer their expertise. The national and international media sought out Professors John Inazu, an authority on First Amendment freedoms and author of Confident Pluralism, and Gregory Magarian, an expert on the law of politics and the First Amendment. The two shared post-debate insights in Spin Alley, which was set up in the Field House.

Earlier in the week, Dean Nancy Staudt moderated a panel of faculty experts focusing “Law and Politics in the 2016 Election.” Panelists were: Professors Lee Epstein, Stephen Legomsky, Ronald Levin, Greg Magarian, Sunita Parikh, and Adam Rosenzweig. Faculty reflected on current hot issues spanning tax, the First Amendment, international interests, email and public records, and SCOTUS appointments.

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Face the Nation broadcasts live from the WashULaw Library.

WashULaw also had the privilege of hosting CBS News’s “Face the Nation” broadcast Sunday morning in the Janite Lee Reading Room, as well as an interview session with undecided voters, and the “CBS Morning News” on October 10.

Estimates from Nielsen indicate that the debate was seen by more than 63 million viewers on 10 broadcast and cable networks, which constructed temporary sets around campus.

“Even if you don’t agree with everything that was said on that stage,” Alshehri said, “It was remarkable to be part of the democratic process.”