Wright State University is harnessing the enthusiasm created by hosting the first general election presidential debate with a project designed to educate students about the political process.
The Wright Vote Project will feature candidate forums, panel discussions, issues research, a film screening and a campus appearance by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.
“The excitement surrounding the debate provides an opportunity for us to expand and amplify the important activities that we undertake each year around voter education,” said project organizer Kimberly Barrett, vice president for multicultural affairs and community engagement. “It lines up well with the university’s mission of transforming the communities we serve by promoting civic engagement.”
Wright State will host the first presidential debate, on Sept. 26. The debate is expected to be in the national and international spotlight and attract thousands of media members.
Barrett hopes the debate will spark a renewed interest among students in civic engagement and the whole electoral process.
“I know that we’ve seen a lot of cynicism over the past few decades related to politics,” she said. “If you want to change the world — at least our world and the way that it works — politics is one way to do this. Voting and being an informed voter is a key way of doing that. People talk about activism and making a difference. Here’s a way to make a difference that is right in your backyard.”
The Division of Multicultural Affairs and Community Engagement is partnering on the project with the Division of Student Affairs and the League of Women Voters.
“We’re going to do everything we can to engage the students,” said Susan Hesselgesser, executive director of the League of Women Voters of the Greater Dayton Area.
The league will help coordinate candidate forums, participate in a program with the Women’s Center on women and the vote, and support Wright State in its plans for the debate.
Hesselgesser said the goal is to give students an eye-opening view of the democratic process.
“I think it’s more powerful when they meet candidates, ask questions and begin to understand the importance of choosing their representatives and the next president,” she said. “It’s a serious decision.”
Hesselgesser said working with college students can be invigorating because they are usually not old enough to have become skeptical of the political process.
“It’s important to get the young people in the process because they are the next generation,” she said. “We are handing it over to our kids. The sooner they get involved in the process, the better they will be able to lead.”
The project had its official kickoff March 24 at the Student Union with a candidate forum featuring state senators and representatives.
The project will also have a presence at April Craze, a campus celebration that marks the end of spring semester, on Friday, April 15.
In August, the project will sponsor an event for faculty and staff that will feature Jay Newton-Small, author of “Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works.”
And in September, Ohio Secretary of State Husted plans to come to Wright State to discuss the importance of being involved in the electoral process.
Hesselgesser said having the debate on their campus will be incredible for Wright State students.
“I think it will be something they will remember for a lifetime,” she said.