Political Science Now

Dominican University of California College Debate 2016: Meet the Delegates

by Gigi Gokcek, PhD and Hanna Rodriguez-Farrar, PhD, EdD

College Debate 2016: Meet the Delegates

As the 2016 U.S. primary elections wrap up in early June, over 130 college students from across the United States will converge upon the Dominican University of California campus in Northern California to begin training as College Debate 2016 delegates. The delegates represent universities, colleges, and community colleges located in 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The Commission on Presidential Debates designated Dominican as a Voter Education Partner to engage young Americans in the democratic process and inspire them to vote in the November election. At an estimated 69.2 million strong, young Americans are a significant potential voting bloc in the 2016 presidential election.

From June 1-3, the delegates will participate in sessions focused on civil discourse, digital citizenry, and social media activism. During the summer months and as the Republican and Democratic Party Conventions get underway, they will plan and organize events and activities on their campuses and through social media. In September, these delegates will return to Dominican for the culminating event – a moderated Town Hall – to be streamed live to colleges and universities throughout the United States. As campuses across the country host viewing parties, these delegates will catalyze discussions about the issues that are salient for American youth. The issues America’s youth identify will be presented to the moderators of the presidential debates, with the goal of having the candidates address them in the presidential debates.

So who are the delegates? They attend large, small, public, private, four-year, and two-year institutions throughout the United States and the District of Columbia. Delegates come from University of Hawaii (Manoa, Hawaii), Paul Quinn College (Dallas, Texas), Casper College (Casper, Wyoming), Arizona State University (Tempe, Arizona), Georgia Military College (Milledgeville, Georgia) and Tufts University (Medford, Massachusetts) just to name a few of the over 100 institutions to be represented in the June convening of the delegates. (More delegates and institutions will be part of the September Convention.)

The majority of delegates are female (63%) with the race/ethnicity breakdown of 50% White, 16% Hispanic, 15% Black, 13% Asian, and 6% Multi-Racial.  Rising seniors are 40% of the delegates; 32% are rising juniors; and 21% will be sophomores. While approximately 35% of the delegates are majoring in political science, the students are quite varied in their academic interests from majors in dance to biochemistry to mechanical engineering to accounting.

On the Delegates web page, we provide not only the names and pictures of the students, but also a short statement from each about the issue that matters most to him or her in this upcoming election.  As this is a social media campaign, each delegate’s contact via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram is listed with his or her institution and major.  Below is a word cloud featuring all of the issues that the students stated in their delegate applications.

Not surprisingly, education was the top mentioned issue, but healthcare, immigration, civil rights, social justice, foreign policy, women’s rights, and the environment are also among those identified.

The delegates offered numerous ways to engage their classmates, peers, and friends in the upcoming election.  As expected, many want to organize voter registration drives on their campuses.  They intend to work with their faculty members on their respective campuses to organize issues-based events to help educate their classmates.  They recognize the interconnectedness of on-campus student organizations, with which they will engage in order to create joint programming. Recognizing the power of social media and their own dependence on it, they will use this medium to inform their peers, direct them to reliable information, and highlight ways to be more engaged.  As a variety of activities take place on campuses across America, the delegates will work with each other to share what is happening respectively at their universities, colleges, and community colleges.  For example, some of Wake Forest’s Wake the Vote activities will be known and available to the students at Casper College in Wyoming through the Casper College Delegate.  Programs organized by Washington University in St. Louis’s Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement will be shared with students at Miami Dade College in Florida.

College Debate 2016 is focused on the issues rather than the parties, to promote civic discourse at a time when civility in politics is waning. In order to ensure a diversity of opinions and positions on the issues at the College Debate 2016, the delegate application process required each student to complete the Pew Political Typology Quiz.  The responses to the Pew Political Typology Quiz revealed that the delegates’ opinions on a variety of issues differ from the general public.  The following represents the statements on which the delegates agreed more than the general public by several percentage points.

The June gathering of delegates will focus on promoting civil discourse, understanding responsible digital citizenry, and avoiding stereotypes.  There will be a screening of “Bring it to the Table,” with filmmaker Julie Winokur; speakers include California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, PBS The Open Mind host Alexander Heffner, and Dr. Sybril (Bennett) Brown. Throughout the sessions, delegates will use social media, with #collegedebate16 as an identifying tag, to share their insights and ideas with their classmates, peers, and friends.

The lack of civic dialogue and meaningful discourse regarding the issues is creating mistrust that is dividing the country. Dominican University of California’s College Debate 2016 aims to use the power of technology and social media to address this mistrust by bringing America’s youth together to engage in meaningful conversations about the issues that matter most to this generation. Paraphrasing the founder of Upworthy (one of the fastest growing digital media companies of all time), Eli Pariser’s commencement address at Dominican University of California on May 14th: this country’s biggest problems can be solved by connecting to one another, connecting to a sense of hope, and taking action together to stand up for what we believe in. The College Debate 2016 delegates will be using technology to discuss rather than yell, listen rather than ignore, and emphasize rather than condemn.


Gigi Gokcek, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Dominican University of California. She earned her Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Hanna Rodriguez-Farrar, Ph.D., Ed.D., is the Senior Advisor for Strategy & Planning at Dominican University of California.  She earned her Ph.D. in History of Art and Architecture from Brown University and EdD in Higher Education Policy and Leadership from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Dominican University of California is an independent university of almost 2,000 highly diverse undergraduate and graduate students. Located in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, Dominican integrates inspiring teaching and supportive mentoring with internships, community service, research, study abroad, and leadership opportunities.