Free ‘Macs’ and campaign controversy lure Northwestern undergrads to presidential debate party

By Nia Prater

Students squeezed themselves onto couches placed around the room or sat knee-to-knee on the grey carpet in the main lounge of the Northwestern University’s Communications Residential College Sunday night. Seating was at a premium. Even a bench from the grand piano in the corner and a lone table by the window became prime locations.

The students were spending their Sunday evening, not doing homework or relaxing, but poised in front of their lounge’s 60 inch flat screen television, watching Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton square off in the second of their presidential debates.

This was the dorm’s third watch party of the semester, having previously hosted residents for the very first Clinton-Trump debate and the vice presidential debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence just last week.

There were cheers, groans and, at times, even loud bursts of laughter as the students reacted to the quips thrown by Trump and Clinton.

Faculty chair Roger Boye started the evening off, by reiterating his earlier promise that the first students to arrive in the lounge would receive a free “Mac”. A quick dash into a side room and Boye returned with the students’ prize: boxes of McIntosh apples. They were met with applause and quickly passed all around the room.

ABC correspondent Martha Raddatz, one of the moderators of the televised debate, urged the audience in the Washington University auditorium in St. Louis to be quiet and refrain from making any noise. That memo didn’t seem to reach these undergraduates at Northwestern, who frequently clapped or snapped fingers after a snappy retort from one of the candidates. Not even shushes from their fellow students who were intently watching could silence the group.

When the other moderator, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, asked Trump about his recently revealed lewd tape from 2005, Cooper did not hold back, saying “That is sexual assault,” about Trump’s words. The statement got plenty of exclaimed yeses and hands raised in approval from the students.

Mia Zanzucchi, a junior, is a non-resident member of the Communications Residential College, one of the Northwestern dorms that is organized around an academic theme. Zanzucchi attended this watch party after missing the first one and catching only half of the VP debate.

“I was on Twitter like the whole entire time and this has been…like an entertaining election, but it’s also like not what you want it to be,” said Zanzucchi. “Like, I was more entertained by the things I was seeing on Twitter than by the election itself.”

Zanzucchi said the debate didn’t help to change her perspective on the 2016 race, having made up her mind months ago.

“I have been Hillary since Bernie dropped out of the race,” said Zanzucchi. “I’m from Kentucky, but I’m a Democrat, so I feel like my political views have been polarized more because I went to high school with people who not only support Trump but would also probably implement even harsher things if it was up to them.”

Jared Ross, a freshman who will be voting for the first time this year, said he found the debate “definitely interesting.”

“I mean, I’m a Hillary supporter,” Ross said. “I thought in the context of what’s been going on, Trump debated pretty well. I don’t agree with most of what he says, maybe all of what he says, but I thought for him, he did decent.”

The night ended with David Zarefsky, the former dean of Northwestern’s School of Communication and a rhetoric scholar, leading a post-debate discussion with the very engaged students. Zarefsky spoke about recent political behaviors, linking them to “people who were left behind by economic change and don’t feel that anybody’s listening to them.

“It’s those sorts of perceptions that give rise to a strong anti-establishment conviction,” Zarefsky said. “And those have come up off and on at different times during our history.”

Photo at top: Northwestern students were drawn to a presidential debate-watching party by the controversy on the campaign trail and the promise of free “macs,” which turned out to be McIntosh apples. (Nia Prater/MEDILL)