Government & Politics

‘An inherently communal thing’ — UMKC hosts campus watch party for debate night

Debate watch party at UMKC

Pizza and politics mix as UMKC students chow down on free pizza at Pizza 51 and watch the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
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Pizza and politics mix as UMKC students chow down on free pizza at Pizza 51 and watch the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Christian Minor already knew he wanted to vote for Donald Trump before he attended a watch party Monday night at the Pizza 51 restaurant near the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus.

But the 18-year-old business management major from Des Moines, Iowa, said he needed to see the controversial Republican presidential nominee “make himself look more presidential.”

Media reports that Trump is racist or unqualified are overblown, he said. But Minor said he understands that appearances matter, particularly to undecided voters, and that the unpredictable candidate needed to show some restraint and professionalism as he debated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on Monday night.

“I feel like he could do a little bit better,” Minor said as he watched Trump interrupt Clinton during a livestream of the first presidential debate from Hofstra University. “But he’s controlling himself better.”

Alice Chishimba, 27, already knew she would be supporting Clinton when she helped the Associated Students of the University of Missouri (ASUM) register new voters before the watch party hosted by UMKC’s political science department, the ASUM and other school groups. The event was part of a series of programs called ElectFest ’16 that UMKC is hosting before the Nov. 8 election.

The political science major, who became a United States citizen in 2007 after emigrating from Zambia, said she has been inspired by Clinton’s background, as well as her rise as the first female presidential nominee. Her voting decision is fueled as much by her belief in Clinton’s qualifications as it is by her dismay at anti-immigration rhetoric from Trump during his campaign, she said.

But despite her faith in her candidate, Chishimba said, scandals such as Clinton’s decision to use a private email server during her time as secretary of state made her crave some sort of reassurance about trustworthiness from Clinton during the debate.

“I want to be trust her,” Chishimba said. “I’d love to see her own some of the things that have happened.”

For 12 years, Pizza 51 has partnered with UMKC in hosting school events at the pizza and salad shop near campus. But shop owners, school officials and student organizers said they were pleasantly surprised by the turnout for this year’s new ElectFest ’16 fall programs, which will include two more presidential debate watch parties, three voter registration drives and an election night watch party at the same location.

The spectacle, drama and contention exhibited in what has widely been called an unconventional election may be unprecedented, but it’s also causing voters, especially young people, to tune in.

“People feel very strongly about the election on both sides,” UMKC Department of Political Science Chairwoman Mona Lyne said. “We’re trying to take advantage of attention on this election.”

More than 200 people registered to vote or changed their voting addresses Monday. Students packed onto the Pizza 51 patio, and the organizers quickly ran out of T-shirts and pizza before the debate started.

Some have called the election polarizing, but on a college campus, voters from both parties came together on a patio for free pizza and big screen view of the political process. Sitting side by side, some clapped and nodded enthusiastically as Trump called Clinton’s email scandal “disgraceful.” Others hollered and cheered when Clinton said Trump lived in his “own reality.”

“An election is an inherently communal thing,” said Mary Allison Joseph, UMKC political science department administrative assistant, who pitched the idea for ElectFest to the department earlier this year. “I like the idea of the UMKC community coming together through this communal goal that our nation is experiencing.”

Katy Bergen: 816-234-4120, @KatyBergen