UConn students prepare for mock presidential debate

Associate journalism professor, Michael Stanton, will be holding a mock ‘Clinton vs Trump’ debate for his Newswriting I students this Tuesday, Oct. 25, at 11:00 a.m. in Storrs Hall Auditorium WW16.  (DonkeyHotey/Flickr Creative Commons)

University of Connecticut associate journalism professor Michael Stanton will be holding a mock ‘Clinton vs Trump’ debate for his Newswriting I students next week Tuesday, recruiting a Trump supporter and a Clinton supporter to serve as surrogates for the candidates in the debate.

Students Marissa Piccolo, a Hillary Clinton supporter, and Michael Grischuk, an advocate of Donald Trump, will be representing their respective candidates. Stanton will serve as the moderator to the debate, presenting topics and questions submitted by the journalism students for the debaters to answer.

The purpose of the debate, Stanton said, is to give his students the opportunity to experience reporting on a live event.

“I like the idea of simulating covering a live news event,” Stanton said. “They’re interacting with it, taking notes, asking questions...I always like to get the students into as many live events as possible.”

Stanton said he sought out students from both sides of the political spectrum.  He found Grischuk through a Daily Campus story published in August, when the UConn College Republicans denounced Trump and ceased their official support of the candidate.

Grischuk, a Trumbull resident and fifth semester communications major, opposed the group’s decision, discussing his support of Trump in the article. Currently, Grischuk said, he no longer attends UConn College Republican meetings.

“I am not necessarily fully in support of Donald Trump as a person,” Grischuk said. “But I am in support of him as a candidate. I feel that that the methods that [the club] used to come to the conclusion [to not support Trump] were based on too small a sample size.”

Stanton said he found Piccolo, also a Trumbull resident and a senior studying political science and economics, through her involvement in the UConn College Democrats.

I like the idea of simulating covering a live news event. They’re interacting with it, taking notes, asking questions...I always like to get the students into as many live events as possible.
— Michael Stanton

“I’m a bona fide Hillary supporter,” Piccolo said. “I’ve been a Hillary supporter for a long time.”

Both Piccolo and Grischuk said that they are preparing to represent their candidates to the best of their ability during the debate.

Piccolo said she plans on studying Clinton’s character as well as her policies.

“There’s some quirks of [Hillary’s] persona and how she presents herself, and how she speaks, that I feel I’ve picked up on,” Piccolo said. “I’m going to look back at sound bites from these past few debates... certain ways she’s portrayed her vision for the future. I want to stay as true to character as possible.”

Grischuk said that he has been studying Trump’s policies as well, mainly through Trump’s past speeches and his website.

“I’ve been keeping track of all the statements they made in the news about Trump,” he said. “I try and live stream his rallies. It’s almost like studying for an exam.”

Though Piccolo said that she is going to attempt to recreate Clinton’s famous red pantsuit from the first presidential debate, Grischuk confirmed that he would not be wearing a toupee.

Both students have their reasons for participating in the debate and supporting their respective candidates. Piccolo said that she hopes to make the debate a learning opportunity.

“I think Hillary’s done a very good job in the debates of taking the high road,” Piccolo said. “[She] pivots towards what really matters and what voters really care about. This can be an educational experience for students.”

Grischuk emphasized the importance of being open to new perspectives, discussing his experiences as a Trump supporter attending one of the country’s most liberal colleges.

“It’s a mental exercise,” he said. “There’s a strong social pressure to keep to yourself about your views. You need to speak up, and you need to stay steadfast in your beliefs.”

Grischuk said he hopes to bring a new perspective to students through the debate.  

“Being exposed to opposing ideas makes you think about your own,” he said. “[Trump is] the protest candidate. He’s extremely against political corruption… he wants to put American interests first, like taking care of veterans and building our infrastructure. I [want to] try and bring a human perspective to a candidate that’s been thoroughly slandered by the media machine.”

Overall, both students said that they are eager to participate in the debate next week. Though they have been preparing independently, Grischuk said that he met Piccolo for a brief meeting last Tuesday.

“[Marissa] seems to be a very nice person,” he said. “She seems very intelligent and well spoken, so I’m looking forward to meeting with her.”

Piccolo gave her impressions of Grischuk as well.

“Like myself, he was excited about the opportunity,” she said. “He was very cordial and polite.”

Stanton said that he thinks both students to be professional during the debate, unlike the actual presidential ones.

“I expect them to be civil and to represent their generation,” Stanton said. “I found [the students] to be very polite… I expect they’re going to focus on the issues.”

The debate will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 25, in Storrs Hall Auditorium WW16.


Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.