Betty Valencia, a Chapman leadership studies doctoral student who is also running for the Orange City Council, said she received a text message from one of her campaign supporters asking her if she knew of any rooms at Chapman that could host a speaking event for a “government official.”
“(My contact) couldn’t say the (name of the) official, but it would be someone who would fill the room,” Valencia said.
Former President Barack Obama’s location scouting team reviewed Chapman as a potential location for his Sept. 8 rally, according to Jamie Ceman, Chapman’s vice president of strategic marketing and communications. The rally was ultimately held at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Obama’s location scouting team visited Chapman the morning of Sept. 5, Valencia said. She accompanied the team on a tour of the Musco Center, the Harold Hutton Sports Center and Memorial Hall.
The team was most interested in Memorial Hall, Valencia said, as it has a history of hosting renowned political speakers like Martin Luther King Jr. in 1961 and political activist Angela Davis in April 2018.
However, Memorial Hall was booked for the day of the Obama rally, which Valencia believes had a role in the team’s eventual decision to hold the rally at the Anaheim Convention Center. Chapman administrators could not verify what was booked in Memorial Hall on Sept. 8. She heard the final decision from the same supporter who originally contacted her at around 8 p.m. Sept. 5.
“We didn’t get a lot of information (on why Chapman was not selected),” Valencia said. “They said ‘Sorry it didn’t work out,’ and that’s all we got. I was disappointed because we didn’t know the ‘why.’ They had to make the decision within hours.”
Valencia attended the rally at the Anaheim Convention Center, and had been considered to be a speaker by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, she said. Public tickets for the event were hard to come by, Valencia attended the event as a Katie Porter campaign guest, she said.
“We were very fortunate (when) they asked me if I had a ticket, so me and my wife went,” Valencia said. “There were few tickets left for anybody else, which was unfortunate. It would have been great if we had more people attend.”
Ted Davis, a junior communication studies major who attended the rally, said he believes holding the event at Chapman would have reached a younger voter demographic and bolstered Obama’s intention to mobilizing young voters.
Davis, who attended Obama’s inauguration in 2008, said Obama appealed to the audience in a less formal way than in his previous speeches.
“It was a 20-minute talk trying to get young people to vote and emphasizing the importance of midterm elections,” said Davis. “It was a mix of fun Obama and political Obama.”
Dory Ann Carter, a communication studies major who also attended the event, said it would have been “awesome” for Chapman to have like Obama to speak on campus.
“This rally (had) limited access and I was fortunate to go,” Carter said. “I hoped they would it open it to the Chapman community.”
Ceman said that if Chapman had been chosen, the rally would not have been officially hosted by the university. Organizers would have had to pay a rental fee that all outside groups who want to host events on campus are charged. Even so, she says that this would have been a beneficial event for the Chapman community.
“I think that a university campus is a place where students can be exposed to different viewpoints and should welcome the healthy discussion and debate this type of forum would have brought us,” Ceman wrote in an email to The Panther.
At the event, Obama voiced his support for seven Southern California congressional Democratic candidates who are running for election in historically Republican-held districts that Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 election. According to the Washington Post, about 900 people attended the rally, during which Obama encouraged attendees to vote, saying that, “the only way we reverse (the) cycle of anger and division is when each of us citizens step up.”
“(My favorite part of the rally was) definitely hearing Obama speak and his ability to naturally connect with people in the room,” Carter said. “To tell a story and relate it to the candidates and rallying people together and getting people energized to vote.”
Davis believes holding the rally at Chapman could have created controversy, since the university would be holding an event associated with the Democratic Party.
“It definitely had a tone of ‘Reclaim the government if you’re a liberal,’” Davis said. “There are conservative students and professors on campus … (and) I think there are definitely cons. Some (students) would not love having a liberal speaker on a not-super-liberal campus.”
There was some controversy at the rally, with protesters stationed outside the venue, according to the Orange County Register.
“Some of those (protesters) are the same going around city council. It’s the same crew,” Valencia said. “So I think in any healthy environment, there are going to be voices that disagree. That’s democracy.”
Valencia also says that the university’s willingness to host important political figures shows progress for Chapman.
“I’m looking forward to what our future history is going to look like. I don’t think we would have seen Angela Davis or Dolores Huerta a few years ago,” she said. “We are seeing an evolution in Chapman and the students are making a difference. We are showing the community that we can disagree with civility.”