Conn College students gather to watch presidential debate
New London — More than 100 Connecticut College students clustered into a room at the student center Monday evening to watch the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Sitting on couches and chairs, they watched the flat-screen TV at the front of the room, at turns chuckling at feisty exchanges between the candidates and at other moments quietly looking on as the candidates discussed the economy, police shootings, and taxes.
The event was sponsored by the three clubs on campus — the Connecticut College Republicans and Conservatives Club, Connecticut College Democrats, and the college's chapter of the Roosevelt Institute — as well as the Office of Student Engagement and New Student Programs.
Jack Elsas, 19, a government and economics major, and one of the founders of the recently created Connecticut College Republicans and Conservatives Club, said before the debate that he personally has had a difficult time with both candidates and has not yet made a decision.
Enzo Cerrutti, 21, an American Studies major, and a vice president of the college's chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, said he's supporting Clinton, highlighting her experience. He stressed that he was only speaking for himself and not the club.
But regardless of politics, both students standing side by side each other on Monday evening agreed that the economy was a major issue for the upcoming election.
"I think the economy is one of the most important issues, especially coming out of college in two years and hoping to have a job to provide for us," said Elsas, adding that national security and social security are also important.
"I'll agree with Jack also that I'm really looking forward to the discussion on the economy," said Cerrutti. "I think wealth and inequality is one of the greatest problems we are facing as a country, and both candidates need to be able to address that in a way to be able to be president of the United States."
Students were mostly quiet and as serious during the debate as the candidates, but they became animated during some of the lively exchanges.
One young woman began snapping her fingers in the air, when Clinton said she believed in "making college debt free so more young people can get their education."
Treat Hardy, 21, said he's a moderate Republican and would be voting for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.
"I think we should encourage a business-friendly tax structure that's also fair for everyone across the population," he said. He said that while Clinton was the most qualified, she also has been dishonest.
During the debate, Hardy clapped when Trump said he would release his tax returns if Clinton released her emails.
The students were somber as the candidates outlined their responses to recent police shootings, but a few students shouted in disagreement when Trump said "stop and frisk" had worked well in New York.
Liza Miller, 19, who participates in the college's club for Democrats, said she would be voting for Clinton. She said she is taking a gender and U.S. governments class, which has helped her think about the election.
"I think she's really qualified, and I think that more than that, there are some interesting dynamics that happen with her gender and everything which may lead to some disapproval of her," said Miller.
Kendra Baity, 19, who was sitting next to her said she was a Bernie Sanders supporter and didn't know who she would be supporting, but has made up her mind it wouldn't be Trump.
She said she would have watched the debate anyway, but came to watch it together with other students "to be part of the political discussion with peers my own age."