Blue and red "Vote 2020" badges.
Photo by 3dfoto, iStock.

As mail-in ballots were about to arrive in registered voters’ mailboxes, California voters joined the more than 65 million viewers who tuned in to last Tuesday’s highly anticipated debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

There was a lot to digest during and after the Sept. 29 debate, which covered the Supreme Court and the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, the ongoing fight against COVID-19, the economy, racial tension, climate change and questions of election integrity. But CSUN communication studies professors John Kephart III and Joel Lemuel helped unpack the heated arguments for Matadors who attended the first session of “Debate Watch!” — an online series for CSUN students, faculty and staff to view and discuss the debate together.

“[Presidential debates] are central to decision making, and they are really important for voters,” Kephart said. “But even if you can’t vote … these are still phenomenal ways for you to stay informed and to participate in civic engagement.”

Kephart and Lemuel gave their assessments on Trump’s and Biden’s performances, summarized the night’s most prominent moments and led a Q&A discussion with the audience and panelists for just over an hour after the debate. The event “had tremendous student engagement,” said Kephart, who hopes to give audience members more opportunities to interact with each other in the next “Debate Watch!” sessions.

“Debate Watch!” is only one of the many online events in the campus initiative dubbed CSUN Act Now, leading up to Election Day on Nov. 3. CSUN Act Now is a collaboration between students, professors and administrators to increase voter engagement and organize civic education events. It is led by the We the People Campus Team, a group of students, staff, faculty and community members across campus who encourage Matadors to actively participate in the democratic process and in their communities. Anyone is welcome to join this team here.

“People often want to be more civically engaged, but they’re just not sure where to start,” said Julia Heinen, CSUN interim director of community engagement. “And while voting in the election is a very important way, it’s just one of the ways to be engaged.

“The CSUN Act Now events will help Matadors get involved in contemporary issues facing our society, to highlight the strong connection between civic engagement and the classroom,” Heinen said. “Together, we can make a difference, and the CSUN community can help make meaningful change on critical issues this year and in the future.”

This month, CSUN students will host California Proposition discussions, create election PSAs and moderate a Q&A with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, said communication studies professor Jessica Baty-McMillan, who is also a member of the We the People team.

Future “Debate Watch!” sessions will include the vice presidential debate on Oct. 7 and the remaining presidential debates scheduled for Oct. 15 and 22.

On Oct. 6 and 7, the Associated Students’ “Informed & Confident: What’s on the Ballot” events are open forums for students to learn about and discuss the statewide propositions that will appear in the California ballot.

Associated Students’ popular event, Big Lecture, which has in previous years featured notable figures such as Anita Hill, Jesse Williams, Laverne Cox and Viola Davis, will take place online Oct. 15. This year’s speaker will be actress Yara Shahidi, who is best known for her role as Zoey Johnson in the celebrated series “Black-ish.” She also was named among TIME Magazine’s annual “30 Most Influential Teens” and Forbes’ “30 Under 30” for her humanitarian works and contributions to the television industry. The event is free and exclusive to anyone with a CSUN email. Attendees must register here to access the livestream link.

CSUN’s Department of Journalism has joined forces with CSUN Act Now to offer a number of news literacy events before and during Media Literacy Week, Oct. 26-30.

An ongoing student art competition to redesign the “I Voted!” sticker opened on Sept. 28 and will continue accepting submissions until Oct. 20. Three winners will be selected to receive gift cards.

More CSUN Act Now events scheduled this month and beyond can be found on their events page.

“We will not stop engagement after Election Day,” Baty-McMillan said. “We will continue to provide opportunities for our students to unpack the election throughout November.”

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