Selçuk Demirel

Ekrem Ipek ’19, from Istanbul, usually spends his Monday nights working on a problem set.

But on Sept. 26, just minutes before 9 p.m., he found a seat in the balcony of a packed Richardson Auditorium. Together with several hundred other students, faculty, and community members, he was there to watch the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Mary Hui ’17
Ipek said he didn’t want to miss this debate because so much hinges on the election: If it produces “surprising results,” he said, he plans to leave Princeton and study electrical engineering in Germany instead. “If crazy things happen here, I have a backup plan,” he said.

Across campus, there was a sense of importance attached to the first debate between the two candidates as students carved out time from their academic work. Some stayed in to watch with their roommates, the sounds of the debate filtering out of dorm-room windows and doors.

At the Frist Campus Center, some students multitasked and did their class readings as the candidates squared off on the television monitor. A Whig Hall viewing event with popcorn, pretzels, and cookies drew about 90 students; about 40 listened in quiet concentration at a Nassau Weekly party in Patton Tower.

“If you don’t [watch the debate], it’s like, why?” said Danielle Stephenson ’20, who was watching in her Fisher Hall common room with a fellow zee, Lyra Katzman ’20.

By and large, the sentiments of the audience were clear: pro-Clinton. When she called for equal pay for women’s work, the crowd at Richardson broke out in cheers; when she slammed Trump’s “trumped-up, trickle-down” economics, the crowd roared and clapped. Rowdy laughs broke out when Trump decried Clinton’s ads against him, saying, “It’s not nice, and I don’t deserve that.”

For some students, watching the debate was a class assignment. Classics professor Andrew Ford, who is teaching a class this fall titled “Rhetoric: Classical Theory, Modern Practice,” required his students to evaluate the candidates’ rhetoric.

Megan Laubach ’18 said she noticed how Clinton referred to Trump as “Donald” throughout the debate, while he referred to her as “Secretary Clinton.” Jay Sourbeer ’18 said Clinton seemed more at ease, compared with Trump’s sniffling and taking “a million sips of water.”

Discussing the debate in Ford’s class the next day, students evaluated the candidates’ logos (appeal to logic), ethos (appeal to ethics), and pathos (appeal to emotion). Sourbeer said “it seemed like the debate really had nothing to do with logos, with actual arguments.”