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WEST CHESTER — Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump rallied on the porch of Ruby Jones Hall at West Chester University on Thursday afternoon.
Well, sort of.
University students in John Kennedy’s American Political Parties class took on the roles of the big three presidential candidates as part of a three-part project.
“We typically don’t have students do the broad impressions that they were doing, but some of the candidates do lend themselves to broad impressions, I suppose,” Kennedy said. “It’s an attempt to sort of replicate what a campaign really does.”
The three phases of the project consist of Thursday’s campaign rally, a debate with the candidates, reporters and even heckling audience members and ends with commercial advertisements.
“Each of the teams has a media person who is responsible for putting together a 30-second positive ad and a 30-second negative ad,” Kennedy said.
This project has been a tradition in Kennedy’s class, getting its start back in 2002. It’s never just about the presidential races either, as he has had students portray congressional and gubernatorial races.
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Even during non-election semesters, he finds something hands-on for his students to do.
“I try to do something like this in all my upper-level classes,” he said. “If it’s not an election season and I’m teaching a course, we might do a mock congressional hearing, which we did last fall in my Congressional Politics class.”
Over the years, he has had some interesting “candidates” and even had one rally where the candidate’s actual daughter happened to be passing by.
“One of the interesting ones was a few years ago when we were doing the U.S. Congressional race for the congressional district in Bucks County, which is the 8th District,” he said. “Someone was simulating Mike Fitzpatrick and his daughter was a student of ours and just happened to walk by and she saw the signs and came walking over to ask what was going on.”
The 2016 presidential candidates have brought American politics to the forefront of the nation and, in many cases, have polarized the people as well.
With names such as Trump, Clinton, Sanders, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, still in the mix, it didn’t seem to be too difficult for the students to get into character.
“I give the students credit for their attempt at the improvisation,” Kennedy said. “This was a little unusual in that sense. I’ve had a few over the years, but the two we saw today with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are unique candidacies.”
In the end, Kennedy’s project is about giving his students a chance to learn through more than just a textbook.
“It’s something that takes us out of the classroom a little bit and engages them in a positive way,” he said. “It gives them a feel for putting together speeches and running advertisements.”