As the presidential debates for the upcoming elections begin, Weber State University has given students a way to watch the debates and discuss them as a group.

Today from 7-8:30 p.m., and again on Oct. 11, students are invited to join the American Democracy Department for a livestream broadcast of the presidential debate and participate in an open discussion afterward.

“We wanted a place for all students to be able to come, watch and participate,” said Mandie Barnes, the WSU Student Association leadership vice president. “Some students may not have access to the debates, and since this is so important, we wanted to make the opportunity available to everyone.”

The debate, which is the first in a series of four — three for the presidential candidates and one for their running mates — will focus primarily on domestic policies like the economy and health care.

“There aren’t a lot of people out there who care about politics who don’t know who Mitt Romney or Barack Obama are,” said Gary Johnson, an associate professor of political science at WSU. “They’re looking for some fireworks, a little bit of drama, a little bit of reality television, and that’s cool, as long as people are watching politics. The debates are full of substance.”

The time will be divided into six segments of approximately 15 minutes and moderated by Jim Lehrer, an American journalist and the executive editor for PBS NewsHour, while the estimated viewership will be approximately 50 million.

“I feel the greatest benefits of watching the debate is first, formulating an opinion of where you may stand on the issues facing the American government today, and second, discussing that opinion with fellow students, even if others have an opposing view,” said Nick Nava, American Democracy Department chair and former student senator. “It is crucial to realize and accept others’ opinions and to share a mutual respect of those opinions.”

Nava helped organize the presidential debate viewing event.

“I expect that students will not only realize that current issues facing our nation are of great importance, but recognize that officers of the American Democracy Department, as well as student government, encourage participation and taking advantage of the right to vote,” Nava said. “We encourage all of our student body to be here Wednesday evening, not only to watch the debate, but discuss their opinions with each other afterwards.”

WSU students interested in attending the event are encouraged to bring their friends and families with them, regardless of political affiliation, for a night of education, communication and friendly banter.

“There’s a diversity,” Johnson said. “You want to do what we’re supposed to do as citizens, and that’s having deliberative discourse. Hear what other people have to say, do this together and there’s a sense of community, and even though I may not be voting for the same guy as you are, we’re sitting down, we’re talking, and we’re finding out that we have much more in common than what separates us.”

The event will take place in Ballroom A of the Shepherd Union Building.

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