FACT CHECK: Would Virginia State University Be The First HBCU To Host A Presidential Debate?

Christine Sellers | Fact Check Reporter

In a May 17 post shared on TRUTH Social, 2024 presumptive Republican nominee and former president Donald Trump claimed Virginia State University (VSU) is the first historically black college or university (HBCU) to host a debate.

Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin said Biden is “turning his back on students, Virginians and the nation” by apparently turning down an Oct. 1 presidential debate scheduled to take place at VSU, according to Fox News.

In his May 17 TRUTH Social post, Trump claimed VSU is the first HBCU to host a debate.

“On behalf of the future Vice President of the United States, who I have not yet chosen, we hereby accept the Fox Vice Presidential Debate, hopefully at Virginia State University, the first Historically Black College or University to host a Debate – Date to be determined. I urge Vice President Kamala Harris to agree to this. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” Trump wrote.

On Nov. 20, 2023, VSU released a statement via its website announcing it had been chosen to host a 2024 presidential debate by the Commission on Presidential Debates. In the statement, the university noted that it was the first HBCU to receive the invitation.

“Virginia State University is proud to announce that it has been chosen by the Commission on Presidential Debates to host a 2024 Presidential Debate. This is a momentous occasion for VSU, as it is the first Historically Black College or University (HBCU) ever selected to host a General Election U.S. Presidential Debate. The debate, scheduled for October 1, 2024, is the second of three scheduled general election presidential debates,” the statement reads in part.

“The selection of VSU as a host for a 2024 Presidential Debate reflects the university’s commitment to shaping future leaders and cultivating political discourse. The debate will provide a platform for the candidates to present their policies, engage in constructive dialogue, and showcase their leadership abilities,” it continues.

Likewise, national media outlets such as The Hill and NBC News, as well as local media outlets such as WRIC and WTOP News, all reported Virginia State University had been selected to host a presidential debate during the 2024 election cycle.

Furthermore, Virginia State University spokesperson Gwen Williams Dandridge confirmed via email to Check Your Fact that the university is the first HBCU to host a presidential debate during the general election.

“We are the first HBCU selected to host a ‘General Election’ U.S. Presidential Debate,” Williams Dandridge said. (RELATED: Fact Checking Trump’s Claim About Michigan’s Newcomer Rental Subsidy Program)

The Associated Press reported Trump and Biden agreed to participate in two presidential debates during the 2024 campaign, with one hosted by CNN on June 27 and the other hosted by ABC News on Sept. 10.

Biden’s campaign, though, “rejected two additional debates,” one hosted by Virginia State University and one hosted by the outlet in partnership with Telemundo, according to NBC News. Trump’s campaign, who accepted the invitation to participate in the two debates, criticized Biden for the decision in a statement to NBC News.

Virginia State University also voiced their disappointment that the two candidates might not participate in its previously scheduled debate via a May 17 statement.

The statement reads:

“Virginia State University is disappointed to hear media reports suggesting that the U.S. presidential candidates may not participate in the scheduled October 1, 2024, debate at VSU. A presidential debate at VSU is a huge win, not only for our students and campus community but for the greater community in general.”

“As the first Historically Black College or University (HBCU) ever selected to host a General Election U.S. Presidential Debate, VSU recognizes the event’s significance and welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the democratic process.”

“We will continue to work closely with the Commission on Presidential Debates and other stakeholders as we assess this situation. VSU will continue to provide updates and further details as they become available.”

Similarly, the Charlotte Observer, WFRX, the Staunton News Leader, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch all recently reported the debate at Virginia State University is now “up in the air” following Biden’s apparent cancellation.

Multiple experts offered their perspectives on Trump’s claim with Check Your Fact.

Dr. Tammy Vigil, senior associate dean and associate professor at Boston University’s College of Communication, told Check Your Fact that Virginia State University would be the first HBCU to hold a “general election debate” if “all parties agree to participate.”

“If all parties agree to participate, Virginia State University would indeed be the first HBCU to host a general election debate. VSU released a statement confirming the fact in November 2023 when the Commission on Presidential Debates first announced its locations for the debates it was planning. The only ‘wiggle room’ on this claim is that some scholars differentiate between the presidential and vice presidential debates and which will occur at VSU, but that is a minor distinction not very many people would make,” Vigil said via email.

Prof. James M. Farrell, a communication professor at the University of New Hampshire whose expertise includes political debates and campaigns, agreed with Trump’s claim.

“President Trump is sharing what the University itself has said,” Farrell explained, directing Check Your Fact to a WTVR article indicating Virginia State University would be hosting one of the 2024 presidential debates.

Prof. Alan Schroeder, a presidential elections expert and emeritus professor at Northeastern University’s School of Journalism, shared a different view of Trump’s claim.

“It would not be accurate to say that Virginia State is the first HBCU to hold a presidential debate, since the debate has not happened yet and at this point it appears unlikely the event will happen as originally proposed. A more accurate way to state this is that Virginia State would be the first HBCU to host a presidential debate, should the event actually take place,” Schroeder said.
Following Biden’s apparent refusal to participate in the debate set to be hosted by Virginia State University, Fox News is considering hosting a Vice Presidential debate at VSU if the original debate does not proceed, according to the Progress-Index.

Check Your Fact has also contacted a Trump spokesperson and the Commission on Presidential Debates for comment and will update this piece accordingly if one is received.

Christine Sellers

Fact Check Reporter