Written by

Screenshot of the UB's live chat with Whitman students Oct. 16.

Who says America’s youth are disengaged? Whitman may be in the “other Washington,” but Whitties not only tuned in for last week’s presidential debate – some also posted minute-by-minute commentary as part of a live chat on the UB website.

“I had an opinion on almost every subject brought up in the debate, so it was nice to see what other people thought and to voice my own opinion live,” said Jane Carmody ’14, a politics major from Albuquerque, NM who participated in the chat.

The UB set up the chat to appear alongside its live-streaming of the debate so that students could comment in real time about what they were seeing on their screens. Community members who logged on to watch the candidates spar were also able to follow the students’ conversation.

Six Whitties participated in the chat, the first online event of its kind for the UB and the only planned live blogging of this year’s presidential debates. Putting their critical thinking skills to work, the students offered not only observations about the candidates, the moderator and the issues discussed, but thoughtful analysis as well.

“At first, I was extremely nervous to participate because I assumed I was not as qualified to comment as other students,” said Molly Emmett ’15, an English major from Long Beach, Calif., who chimed in about Libya, immigration and tax breaks for the middle class.

“But then I realized that’s the sentiment many young voters carry, that their voice isn’t smart enough to be heard, that their vote doesn't matter. Submitting my feedback in ‘real time’ was exhilarating because I had to process what was happening and then formulate my response without much time for editing. I definitely paid closer attention to the debate overall.”

UB City Editor Alasdair Stewart ’94 and Online Services Manager Carlos Virgen moderated the chat, which lasted from about 5:30 p.m. until almost 8 p.m. when students finally signed off. The conversation is accessible on the UB website, where it will remain archived for future viewers.

“I was happy with the chat, and I’d definitely favor doing it again,” said Stewart. “I think Carlos and I are of a similar mind about the rationale for projects like this one, which is that they encourage thoughtful discussion of the news and are a local angle on a national story. Whitties are a good fit because of their political engagement and willingness to participate outside of the classroom, too.”

In recruiting students to participate, the UB reached out to a cross-section of campus leaders, basing their invitations primarily on recommendations from ASWC.  Most of the live bloggers watched the debate in Maxey Auditorium, where campus and community members congregate to watch the debates.

“Maxey is a really fun venue because there are some politics professors and other politics majors there to sit with and have fun quietly discussing some of the responses,” Carmody said. “Live blogging could get a little distracting, but I thought it was interesting to have comments come up on the screen so rapidly after a candidate made a great point or an awful point. I would be busy typing up a response to what Romney said, and then his time would be up. You have to be a good multi-tasker!”

To view the full record of the live chat, click here.

—Gillian Frew '11