American Democracy Project using Discord to connect during debates

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By: Kate Luce


This pandemic is forcing campus organizations to get creative with how they communicate with one another. The American Democracy Project uses Discord, a messaging program that uses channels, to connect with students, not just at IU South Bend, but throughout the United States.

“The national American Democracy Project, an initiative of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) came up with the idea as a way to encourage all of their member campuses to watch and discuss the political debates. They contacted us at the same time that we were trying to figure out how to replace our normal in-person debate watch parties. We knew we would not be able to gather in a large group to watch in person with food and drinks and were looking for an online option,” Elizabeth Bennion, founding director of IU South Bend’s American Democracy Project, said.

All American Democracy Project campuses were asked to join the Discord server. At the beginning of the first debate, over 700 students were actively participating in the debate watch party server. With future debates happening, they hope to grow that number.

“We have 40 institutions from 25 states who are planning to join us on our National Debate Watch. We’ll be encouraging all to join with The Commission on Presidential Debates on tweeting before, during and after the debates; the day after the First Presidential Debate and the day after the Vice-Presidential Debate, we are pairing with The New York Times for a National Times Talk, open to all ADP campuses. But on the night of the debates, we’ll be exclusively on Discord—and that’s where you come in,”  Catherine Copeland, Program Coordinator of The American Democracy Project, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said.

Students had the option to join students across the country, in the IU System, or at IU South Bend.

“At Indiana University, the American Democracy Project directors have been interested in connecting our campuses and pursuing joint civic education and engagement programming. This seemed like a perfect fit! We created the #IU-system-channel to include students, along with faculty, staff, and alumni, from IU campuses across the state. Students from IU South Bend, IU East, IU Kokomo, IU Northwest, IU Southeast, and IUPUI are all being encouraged to participate by civic engagement leaders on their campuses,” Bennion said.

During the debate, students involved were respectful, but also had their opinions. Trump supporters, Biden supporters, and those who did not support either, all came together to talk about the debate with respect.

“They disagreed on key issues, but did so in ways that prompted thought and critical reflection. I was extremely impressed by the level of discourse on our channel on the Discord server. And, of course, everybody bonded over our common IU identity and commiserate about the poor quality of the debate. There was a lot we agreed about, and also a lot about we disagreed. I appreciated the questions students used to push their peers to explain their positions or to consider other positions. I feel like this could be a model for people, and politicians, nationwide,” Bennion said.

Right now, not much is happening on the server, but once the vice presidential debate happens, they will meet once again on the server. The plan is to use the server again once again for the two other presidential debates, the two gubernatorial debates, and the 2nd district congressional debate. 

In addition, the ADP has invited Indiana Campus Compact and the Indiana Debate Commission to join the Discord and promote debate parties to public universities, private colleges, and community colleges all over Indiana to join the server.

“We encourage everybody to join us on Discord and to invite their friends! We also encourage folks to set up their Discord accounts early and to explore the server, accept the rules, and find our channel before the beginning of the debate. They can do it now,” Bennion said.

The ADP is encouraging students to join them for Party at the Polls on Oct. 24. They will be giving out free t-shirts, masks, buttons and goodie bags outside of the Community Building at River Crossing from 10:30-11:30 a.m. At noon, the group will be taking photos outside of the County-City building in downtown South Bend with Titus the Titan to encourage students to vote.

For information of future events, visit and click on the event tabs. The next virtual debate watch party will happen on Oct. 7.

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