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Democratic Debate

Texas Southern University basks in the Democratic debate spotlight

Entire campus, Houston community recognize this rare and historic opportunity

Texas Southern University shared a rare international spotlight Thursday night as the historically black university hosted the third 2019 Democratic presidential debate, and it didn’t disappoint.

“Oh, my gosh, I think it’s a one-of-a-kind experience,” said senior Adunola Osinuga. “I don’t think that everyday people get to visit the second-largest HBCU in the nation. But I do think that it’s an awesome opportunity to really see what type of rich tradition and cultures that a university of this magnitude carries, to even have the opportunity to experience the Democratic debate on their campus.”

That was the reaction of Texas Southern students and others about hosting the Democratic presidential debate at their university, located in the 3rd Ward neighborhood in Houston. It has a diverse population of more than 10,000 students.

Graduates of the second-largest HBCU in the country include congressional representatives Mickey Leland and Barbara Jordan, gospel artist Yolanda Adams and NFL Hall of Famer and TV personality Michael Strahan.

Breanna Lindsey of Houston officially opened the debate by singing the national anthem.

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The 10 Democratic presidential candidates sparred over subjects including universal health care, gun control, foreign policy and President Donald Trump. The audience of approximately 3,500 contained TSU students and administration, candidates’ political supporters, Democratic Party officials, community members and several protesters, who were thrown out after disrupting the debate.

“I actually believe that TSU was represented quite well,” said senior Cameron Flowers. “Very, very pleased with how the students didn’t just come to the actual debate. Not leaving early, not trying to make an exit, or when the issues that we weren’t necessarily wanting to hear, not blurting out anything but necessarily there to witness history. At the same time, making sure that our voices were heard and that our bodies were seen. It’s a great number of TSU students that do care about the current issues and the current topics that are affecting so many people in the nation right now.”

Talks to arrange the event began after the university hosted the She the People presidential candidate forum in April. Members of the university started to hear rumors that the Democratic presidential debate candidates were coming to Houston, and they immediately thought of the possibility of having them come to Texas Southern.

“You would’ve thought we hit the lottery and got the best news in the world,” said university president Austin Lane. “Immediately, you saw pride in our student leaders, alumni and communities that we serve. If I could give you all the emails and text messages I’ve been receiving about how people are so proud of our university, it would blow you away.”

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Preparation for the debate started two months ago. Guard rails and fencing went up, streets were blocked off, and trucks converged on the campus to build a compoundlike area around the school’s Health & Physical Education Arena.

“For us when we negotiated our deal with ABC, we negotiated the ability to receive internships,” Lane said. “So a lot of students from the school of Public Affairs, from Communications, Journalism, you name it, are serving as interns and really getting up close and personal instructions from ABC and the other networks.”

Soon after details were finalized, the buzz began to build among student leaders. Then, the official announcement was made, sending the students into a frenzy.

“Social media let me know,” said senior Marcus Matthews, who serves as Student Government Association president. “Texas Southern University had it posted on their Twitter page back, and then the word spread like wildfire.”

For junior Aaron Harrison, he had questions as the news of the event spread.

“Why Texas Southern University? Why an HBCU? Why here in the middle of 3rd Ward Houston, Texas?” asked Harrison. “That’s something, one, I want to make sure our students truly analyze when speaking to ABC. I know that I’m extremely happy, for one, having the opportunity to have them on our campus, because it brings awareness to HBCUs. It brings awareness to not only just HBCUs, but to Texas Southern University in itself. It helps bring awareness so that it helps with our recruitment. It helps bring students in.”

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Flowers, an SGA member, publicized the debate and made students aware of the debate topics, including reparations, universal health care, criminal justice reform and climate change. Matthews looked over each candidate’s plans, eyeing what might be in store and what they’d said in the past.

Students, faculty and people in the TSU administration said that hosting the debate demonstrates the power of the black vote, giving a predominantly black school visibility and academic credibility on the world stage. It is their belief the event gave students potential job opportunities, chances to meet influential people and the exposure that might result in more applications to the university.

Kevin is a junior mass communications and print journalism major from Baltimore. He's a reporter for The Spectrum student newspaper and is a big fan of the Washington Wizards.