The mere mention of words like “political debate” may cause some college students’ eyes to glaze over.
That’s not the case with members of Dr. Bucky Dann’s “Social Problems” class at Southwestern Community College.
Since the start of the fall semester, they’ve been studying up on regional and statewide issues in preparation for a series of debates that will be hosted in the Burrell Building conference center at SCC’s Jackson Campus over the next few weeks. Dr. Dann’s students will select and ask all questions of candidates at each event.
“A lot of times, debates are for older people,” said Gabrielle Beam, a 19-year-old Bryson City resident who’s pursuing an Associate of Arts degree at SCC. “I don’t think many people expect a teenager to care, much less know about these kinds of issues. So it’s cool to have this opportunity.”
The first debate, set for 7 p.m. on Sept. 25, will feature the six candidates (Independent Jack Debnam; Republicans Doug Cody and Charles Elders; and Democrats Boyce Deitz, Brian McMahan and Joe Ward) who are vying for three seats on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. On Oct. 9, Democratic N.C. Representative Joe Sam Queen (D) will debate Republican challenger Mike Clampitt (R). And on Oct. 30, N.C. Senator Jim Davis (R) will face challenger Jane Hipps (D).
The public is invited to attend all three, and WRGC radio (540 AM) of Sylva plans to broadcast each one live.
“It’s really important to be unbiased,” Beam said. “The great thing is that our classmates are really diverse. We all come from different backgrounds, and we’re all going to have input into which questions are asked. I think it’ll be fun.
Another of Dr. Dann’s students, 16-year-old Early College student Kendra Graham, said she and her classmates are taking seriously the responsibility of being granted such significant roles at the debates.
“I’m a little nervous to be honest,” said Graham, who lives in Cullowhee. “But it’ll be nice to surprise people who may not think 16- or 17-year-olds are engaged in the political process.”
“We want to style our questions so that each candidate can answer from a neutral zone and know that they’re not being picked on,” Graham added.
To prepare students for the commissioners’ debate, Dr. Dann has invited Jackson County media to attend a class session and provide insight on some of the critical issues facing Jackson County.
Dr. Dann said he’s been impressed by how his students have embraced this challenge.
“Preparing for this debate has involved a lot of research,” Dr. Dann said. “Having our students ask questions that they’ve prepared and selected for these events is a key element of the learning process, and I’m very proud of their approach to this event. I am confident that everyone who attends will be impressed with our students, and more importantly, we’ll all learn a lot more about the candidates and where they stand.”