ICC-hosted Debate Raises Political Passions in Students
The blue walls of the spacious Cayton Center housed more people than usual. The often present crowds of cliques, divided into tables were now a minority. Instead, a group of students sat stone-faced before two podiums, their eyes glued to the two speakers debating the issue of women’s rights. Brooke Harrington, a representative for the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) and the Associated Students Director of Sustainability, championed the ideals of gender equality. On the other side was Gabrielle Montgomery, who represented the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). She argued that “third-wave feminism specifically causes division, not inclusion.”
This impassioned episode was the result of the Inter-Club Council (ICC)’s Left, Right, and Center political debate, held in the Cayton Center on Tuesday morning, April 16. The debate was spearheaded and moderated by Amirreza Toloei; a student who did not identify with either political club on campus. Toloei organized the event with the help of the ICC as a platform for students to exercise their free speech rights.
Enthusiasm for the event was evident from the start; some students cheered for arguments they found agreeable, while more controversial points were met with silence. As discourse continued, the students in the Cayton Center became less subtle in their skepticism. Initially, some smirked, and others rolled their eyes. These displays of emotion soon made interest in the event contagious as more students began filling in behind the seated audience. However, the rising number of attendees in the room mirrored the rising tension in the room.
The tension came to a head once Harrington and Montgomery began debating the issue of abortion. Harrington asserted that rape victims are a sizable portion of the women who get abortions. Montgomery responded by saying that rape victims had suffered enough and should not be “made to” suffer through an abortion.
This clearly struck the wrong chord with one student. “Made to?” exclaimed Jordana Owens from the audience. “Made to?” She shook her head and sighed loudly.
At the end of this discussion of women’s rights, the moderator asked both representatives if they had found anything they agreed on. Montgomery was blunt.
In addition to Women’s Rights, Jacob Shofet (YAF) and Yusef Brooks (YDSA) debated on the healthcare issue, while Caleb Gomez (YAF) and Lucia Aguilar Cole (YDSA) debated on the immigration issue.
Despite the tense reactions to her debate with Harrington, Montgomery saw the effectiveness of the event in raising political awareness through the audience response.
“Regardless of how the audience felt, it’s definitely more important that they were willing to come out and even hear me out in the first place,” she said.
Montgomery also said the event allowed her to persuade people to stand with her ideas by giving her safe, structured platform to express her ideas.
“A few people came up to me afterwards and said that I changed their minds and they agree with me, which is awesome,” Montgomery said.
Harrington was also optimistic about the audience response.
“Even for the people in the Cayton Center that didn’t know it was happening, and just happened to be there, they were getting involved and actively clapping or cheering for any point that they relate to,” said Harrington.
The presence of a structured debate between two openly political clubs was also well received by most of the representatives, who had used this opportunity to find common ground with those they disagreed with.
“I think it was nice when there was certain leeway given to each presenter. Like when Lucia had made a point, and Caleb in his response agreed with her but differed in the approach. I think things like that are important,” said Harrington.
Montgomery also took back her frank denial of any agreement with Harrington once the event ended.
“Actually, after the debate I was sitting and thinking, there is one thing that I do agree with her on. I do think that it’s very stressful for women to have to go through that decision of choosing to have an abortion or not,” she said.
Despite this, Owens still had her own thoughts on the event’s attempt at utilizing free speech to find commonality.
“I think it’s a good attempt, but I do think you really should be able to see what the values are behind the arguments, and you really should be careful before you just say something as stupid as ‘forcing women to have abortions,’” said Owens. “I’m all for looking at both sides, but if you look at something that’s completely incorrect it just completely pisses me off."