Cartoon versions of Mike Pence and Kamala Harris face each other on red and blue backgrounds, respectively
Illustration by Maya Binks

RHMS, Forensics Club co-host debate streams

On Sept. 29 and Oct. 7, the rhetoric and media studies (RHMS) department and the Forensics Club co-hosted live streams for the presidential and vice presidential debates. 

According to Director of Forensics and Instructor Joseph Gantt, the presidential debate watch party had up to 25 participants total, including a panel of staff members from the RHMS and political science departments. The vice presidential event had a similar number of participants. 

Early on during the vice presidential debate watch party, the event experienced what is known as a “Zoom bombing.” Zoom bombing is where a meeting becomes intruded by “Zoom bombers” who tend to utilize hateful or obscene language and partake in lewd actions. During the live stream event, racial slurs, fatphobic comments and derogatory terms for women were said and the “Zoom bombers” drew phallic objects on the shared screen.

Yancee Gordon ’21, a RHMS major, was watching the stream when the Zoom bombing occurred.

“The Zoom bombing was confusing at first,” Gordon said via email. “Since most Lewis & Clark students are pretty casual and don’t mind jumping into conversation, I didn’t immediately recognize that it was someone who was not supposed to be there. Once I heard the awful language they were using, however, I felt really uncomfortable.”

Gantt handled the situation by immediately ending the Zoom meeting and moving to a private link created by one of the panelists, Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Media Studies and Director of General Education and Ethnic Studies Kundai Chirindo. 

Once there were no more disruptions, the debate was underway. Participants and staff members utilized the chat function and made comments throughout. They mentioned fracking, and phrases that Sen. Kamala Harris said such as, “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.” They also asked the panelists why candidates would ignore the questions posed to them by the moderator and discuss whatever they wanted. Some joked about cutting Vice President Mike Pence’s microphone while others enjoyed the unexpected spotlight stealer: the fly that landed on Pence’s white hair. 

In a forum after the debate, students asked about how many questions Pence answered and why Harris seemed to take Pence’s bait regarding her controversial prosecutorial record. Panelists opened up the floor to their own questions for the participants to engage with. Panelists discussed how Harris acted more like her nickname “Momala” (a nickname given to her by her stepchildren) than a former prosecutor in order to be viewed as more relatable. There were also discussions of racial and gendered expectations that allowed Pence to go on speaking over Harris and the moderator without repercussion. 

Panelists said this vice presidential debate was more important than others in the past, though still inconsequential to the race in terms of voter influence. During the debate, Harris and Pence were asked if, in the event of “presidential disability,” relating to both presidential nominees’ ages and President Donald Trump testing positive for COVID-19, they are qualified to become president. Harris listed her capabilities by way of her resume while Pence discussed his work and on-the-job experience over the past four years.

These events were coordinated to engage students in the election as a continuation of department tradition, though the debates are typically watched in person. Gantt said that Zoom, despite technical difficulties, does have its benefits. He said that the chat feature allowed for further engagement in real time because conversations would have to be withheld until the end at an in-person event. Gantt also said the event served as a way to come together during the pandemic.

“We wanted to do all four debates at this time because I think there’s a need for connection, as much as we possibly can and anything we can do to promote community on campus (during) this semester is a good thing,” Gantt said. “So having more opportunities rather than fewer opportunities was something that we thought would be helpful.”

Daniel Newcomb ’22, an RHMS major present at the livestream, commented on how the event added to the socially-distanced community and made the campus seem less small. 

“I like seeing the scheduling of events and being able to hop (onto) them at my convenience, though part of that may just be that Gantt also has semi-in-person classes where I first heard of the debate watch,” Newcomb said via email. “I genuinely don’t think I’d come to the debate Zoom parties if I didn’t have that in-person connection of someone asking me to my face if I wanted to come.” 

Although the second presidential debate was canceled on Oct. 9, the RHMS department has a live stream planned for the third debate, and there is an election night watch party sponsored by ASLC. However, due to the complications at the last event, there will be more precautions for those who can attend, such as spreading a more private link and having panelists keep an eye on who is in the meeting rooms prior to being let in. For more information on these upcoming events, reach out to the department (rhms@lclark.edu), Gantt (jgantt@lclark.edu) or another RHMS faculty member. The department’s administrator, Terry Moore (terry@lclark.edu), can also provide more information.

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