GW hosted a debate last week for the five candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in the D.C. mayoral race. The forum was billed as an event for students, by students and about students’ issues and concerns.
Instead, the event was taken over by University administrators to showcase GW. The debate turned into a muddled affair in which everyone came off looking bad – the candidates, students and especially the University administrators who organized the event.
The mayoral forum was sponsored by The GW Hatchet and the Student Association, along with several Washington media organizations. It was the brainchild of GW senior Adam Siple, the driving force behind GW Votes, a campaign to register students to vote in the District. It was maddening to see Siple and other student organizers relegated to the sidelines while University administrators ran the show into the ground.
The problems began at the door. Students were told that tickets and a GW ID were required for admittance to the program. Those who arrived at the door without tickets were brusquely told they could not enter the debate. Thus, a large number of students were turned away from what was supposed to have been their event.
But turning away students came back to haunt event organizers when the debate began and the Marvin Center theater was one-third empty. And many of those in the seats were not students, which raises the question: Why were tickets and GW ID necessary in the first place?
The debate assumed a circus-like atmosphere – one woman blew a horn and another audience member continually heckled candidates – which the event’s organizers and members of the University Police Department made no attempt to stop.
In addition to the low student turnout and inappropriate audience behavior, there was an abysmal lack of meaningful discussion between candidates. Instead of a thoughtful debate on issues of concern to students, the audience was subjected to unstructured, endless sound bites and sniping between the candidates.
After sitting through almost 90 minutes of candidates’ often-repeated answers, audience members got their chance to ask questions. But the question-and-answer session lasted only a few minutes, and candidates never responded with substantive answers.
All in all, the mayoral debate was not for students, about students or by students. The next time the University administrators want some cheap promotion for GW, they shouldn’t disguise it as an event that will address student issues.