U. Mississippi, Community To Help Show 'real' Oxford To Debate Guests

This story was written by Nicole Spinuzzi, Daily Mississippian
With the first presidential debates just six months away, the University of Mississippi and the city of Oxford, Miss., are working diligently to host an authentic and successful debate.

The goal is to make the debate an educational and memorable experience while providing outsiders with a taste of the "real" Oxford.

"This is about all of us together," said Gloria Kellum, vice chancellor for university relations. "This is about Mississippi; it's about Oxford; it's about Ole Miss."

Working as the co-chair of the Lafayette-Oxford-University Presidential Debate Committee, Ron Hipp said he and his committee, who range from students to retirees, are working with the university and Oxford to plan community events for the week of the presidential debates.

Among the ideas the committee has thought of is the involvement of Oxford and Lafayette students ranging from kindergarten through high school.

"The kindergartners might sing patriotic songs or put on a play or do something like that," Hipp said. "At some level we want to get everyone involved to whatever extent is possible and they're capable of."

Hipp said he also hopes to involve campus political groups in a debate at some of the high schools, where students would have the opportunity to take on the role of the candidates and discuss the issues each campaign represents.

Other suggestions from Hipp's committee include a transportation system, which will transport journalists and visitors from the Square to the Ole Miss campus, banner and sign-making contests around the Square and a community-wide venue for people to bring lawn chairs to the Square to watch the debate live. Although many suggestions have been brought to the table and are already in the works, Hipp said his committee is still open to suggestions.

Christy Knapp, vice-president of the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation, is working on the economic and business angle of the debate.

Knapp said the foundation's primary goal is to accommodate the 3,200-plus journalists expected to attend the debate.

There will only be about 700 hotel rooms available in Oxford at the time of the debate; however, the foundation plans to use condos and homes that are typically rented out during the football season to accommodate the remainder of the expected visitors, Knapp said.

"We are going to work on setting up a Web site that will be password-protected for journalists who are qualified to be able to come here so that they can go online and look at the available housing that we have in the area and be able to book a room or a house or whatever is offered online," Knapp said. "We hope to have that in place before June 1."

As for the number of Oxford residents and Ole Miss students able to attend the debates, including representatives from student media, the number of available tickets is yet to be determined, Kellum said

The amount of available tickets will be dependent on the candidates and how many tickets are available to their campaigns. All remaining tickets will be given to the university, she said.

The Presidential Debate Student Steering Committee is currently formulating ideas about how to distribute tickets to students, Kellum said.

As for the marketing and public relations angle, Kristin Walker, account executive of the Cirlot Agency, said the agency has already developed the logo for the presidential debate, a single graphic incorporating and symbolizing both the university and the actual debate.

Cirlot also launched the official debate Web site Friday. The Web site provides viewers with access to information and updates regarding the debates, special links for the media, a message from Chancellor Robert Khayat and an official countdown clock, Wlker said.

To access the website, visit www.olemiss.edu/debate.
© 2008 Daily Mississippian via U-WIRE
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