Presidential Debates

International Students Play Important Roles when Presidential Debates Come to Campus

Remembrances of Kathy Steiner-Lang and Martha Turner

In just over a week – on Sunday, October 9th – Washington University in St Louis will be hosting the second U.S. presidential debate of the 2016 election season. This will be the 5th time WashU has had such an honor, making it the one institution that has hosted more U.S. presidential debates than any other venue. As in years past, the international community on campus will be very much involved when the presidential candidates and the press converge on campus for the debate.

Kathy Steiner-Lang, Assistant Vice Chancellor and Director of the Office for International Students and Scholars, and Martha Turner, Director of International Student and Scholar Advising, have provided their remembrances of international student involvement in some of the past presidential debates that have been held at WashU:

1992 Presidential Debate: George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot

In 1992 WashU hosted its first presidential debate. This was a rare year in that three candidates were included in the debate: George H.W. Bush was running for reelection against Democratic candidate Bill Clinton (who went on to win the election) and independent candidate Ross Perot. The University had less than a week to prepare for the event. At that time, the OISS invited international press and the Department of State to a reception of about 50 international students, each representing a different country. In the end, a French student did a radio interview with one of the major national radio channels in France, and a Japanese student was interviewed for a newspaper article.

To decide which students could attend the debate, students were randomly chosen from among the student body, and the lists of those who were chosen were posted around campus.  OISS went through the lists and contacted international students who had been chosen to make sure they knew they had been picked to attend.  A number of international students did attend the 1992 debate, including a graduate student from Thailand and an undergraduate student from Russia.

1996 Presidential Debate (CANCELLED): Bill Clinton and Bob Dole

Unfortunately, although Washington University was selected to host a presidential debate for the 1996 election cycle, it was cancelled when the candidates decided to have only two debates instead of three. Nonetheless, the university still garnered media attention, and one of our international students was interviewed by a local TV news program.

2008 Vice-Presidential Debate: Joe Biden (Barack Obama) and Sarah Palin (John McCain)

In 2008 WashU hosted the vice-presidential debate between Republican Sarah Palin (running mate to presidential candidate John McCain) and Democrat Joe Biden (running mate to presidential candidate Barack Obama – the current president and vice president). This was the most-watched vice-presidential debate in US history.

A lunch was held for press from around the world to meet a diverse group of WashU students.  Due to presidential candidate Barack Obama’s strong connection to Kenya (his father is from Kenya), the Kenyan press had a strong interest in the 2008 election. As a result, there were many press members from Kenya, and some Kenyan students who attended the press luncheon were quite surprised and excited to see that a famous news anchor from their home country was there. Some of the students from Kenya were also interviewed by Kenyan media.

2016 Presidential Debate: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

This year Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton will be facing off against Republican candidate Donald Trump for their second debate of the 2016 election season. The event will be held on Sunday, October 9th at the Washington University Athletic Complex.

Student Union President Kenneth Sng will at some point meet and welcome both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to campus. Since Kenneth Sng is the first ever international student to serve as Student Union President, this holds special significance to the international community at Washington University. Having the candidates greeted by an international student serving as student body president holds even greater significance considering how issues surrounding immigration policy have become so prominent in this election.

In addition, some of our international students will be in attendance at the debates, and some will even be working as volunteers during the event. The international press will be on campus, and again Washington University in St. Louis will be in the spotlight as an institution that is welcoming to and composed of individuals from all over the world.